Gayle Beveridge is a past winner of the Boroondara Literary Awards and her work has appeared in Award Winning Australian Writing. Gayle is passionate about family, writing, photography, and with Victoria’s beautiful Bass Coast which she now calls home.
Published September 27th 2021
Find Your Own Sapphires on 'The Gemfields'–We Did.
We had been looking forward to our stay in Queensland's Sapphire Fields, so on arriving at Rubyvale, our first call was Bobby Dazzler, to book an introduction to fossicking and to the sapphire mine tour. We grabbed a welcome coffee before moving on to our cabin at Sapphire Caravan and Cabin Park. There are only 8 kilometres between Rubyvale and Sapphire and together they are 'The Gemfields.' At the caravan park at the top of a hill in a bush setting, we had booked a stone cabin. The outer walls were rock. It had a carport and a large under verandah outdoor area with a good outdoor setting; what a great start!
Under The Big Sapphire Ring' at Pats Gems - Photo copyright Roger Marien
The Sapphire Caravan and Cabin Park has a wildlife feeding area with feeding every evening and it is an experience not to be missed. We wandered over and watched as seven wallabies and several rainbow lorikeets had a feed. Two of the wallabies were carrying joeys. Cockatoos, crows and magpies are also frequent visitors. The lorikeets will eat from your hand, but that's not my thing, so I passed on that.
Wallabies at the Wildlife Feeding Area at Sapphire Caravan Park - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
A wildlife bonus in this place is green frogs in the toilet. There was a warning about them in the park literature. We were to keep toilet lids and amenities doors closed to prevent nasty surprises. The Sapphire Caravan and Cabin Park is at 57 Sunrise Road, Sapphire. They can be contacted on (07) 4985 4281 or click herehttps://www.sapphirecaravanpark.com.au/ to visit their website.
Lorikeets feeding at the Sapphire Caravan Park - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
Bobby Dazzler Sapphire Fossicking and Underground Mine Tours
We had been looking forward to searching for sapphires, and the place to do that was at Bobby Dazzler in Rubyvale, which offers a three hour Guided Bootcamp Fossicking Trail. First, we got a fossickers license, a one-month family license that allowed us into any designated fossicking area in Queensland. Our miner guide took us to a dry creek bed. We learned to look for large rocks which have not yet been dislodged. She called them Billy boulders. We were looking for an area that others hadn't already disturbed. We were also looking for the ash layer in the creek bank, evidence of the past volcanic activity that created the sapphires. Next, we were looking for areas that sapphires might be trapped amongst the embedded boulders and in tree roots. Other good signs are a quartz layer and the presence of ironstone. When we had found what we hoped were the right conditions, we scrounged around with a shovel, loosening the dirt in that area and put it in buckets for processing.
Digging for sapphires in the roots of a tree in the dry Policeman's Creek at Rubyvale - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
Back at Bobby Dazzler, we shovelled dirt from our buckets into a sieve. We sieved away as much dirt as possible and then immersed the sieve in a tub of water, shaking and turning, crumbling mud balls, removing larger stones and plant matter until all that was left are the smaller stones. These were then emptied onto a square of linoleum and we sorted through, moving from the outside to the centre, looking for the stones that glint in the sunlight, the blue, green and yellow. We picked them out with plastic tweezers and placed them in our jar for the experts to check later.
Sorting through washed stones for sapphires at Rubyvale - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
After lunch at Bobby Dazzler café, we had our photos taken with the 'Big Miner' and head off on the underground mine tour at Bobby Dazzler. This mine is reputed to have once been the most productive on the Queensland Gemfields and here we got to step back in time and see how the miners worked.
Kitted out in hair net and hard hat ready for the mine tour - the entrance is behind me - Photo copyright Roger Marien
Bobby Dazzler is at 1688 Rubyvale Rd, The Gemfields (Rubyvale). They can be contacted on (07) 4981 0000, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to visit their website.
Muggachino's Strudel Hut
On the way from Sapphire to Rubyvale for lunch, we stopped to photograph items of interest–a Tropic of Capricorn sign, a drive-through bottle shop alone in the countryside, mining equipment, and old diggings.
Muggacinos Strudel Hut - its reputation preceded it - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
Muggachino's Strudel Hut had been recommended. Apparently, the strudel was to die for and we had resolved not to leave without trying it. As is the case with most businesses here, and there are not many, the Strudel Hut is run from the proprietor's home. We had coffee and strudel, apple for me and cherry for my husband. It definitely lived up to its reputation. We sat outside in the leafy and tranquil garden.
Relaxing at Muggachinos Strudel Hut - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
Muggachino's is at 24 Keilambete Road, The Gemfields (Rubyvale). They can be contacted on 0407 861 048 or click here to visit their website. They are open 7 days a week from 9pm to 4pm.
Digging for our own Sapphires
Having had our introduction to sapphire fossicking, we hired some equipment from the caravan park and struck out on our own. We stopped by the trading post for buckets, tweezers, and gem bottles. Although we had a rough map of designated fossicking areas in The Gemfields, we returned to Policeman's Creek in Rubyvale and continued the digs we started on Tuesday. We picked and shovelled away at quartz layers, prised 'billy boulders' from the creek banks and sieved our 'wash' until we have filled four buckets. The 'wash' is the sapphire bearing dirt.
Policeman's Creek in Rubyvale where we dug for Sapphires - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
Back at the Sapphire Caravan and Cabin Park, we cleaned our wash in Willoughby's, which they provided free to guests. A Willoughby is a levered bridle for a sieve, above a tank of water. The sieve of wash is placed in the bridle and the lever pumped, repeatedly dipping the wash in the water. Extracting the sapphires relies on the principle that they are heavier for a given size than all other stones except diamonds and will therefore be at the bottom of the sieve. When the stones were cleaned, we flipped the sieve onto a piece of carpet atop a table and with large plastic tweezers we sorted through the stones looking for 'colour.' This is best done in sunlight, as gems tend to glisten when wet. We worked until we lost the light and found a few small pieces each. We were searching for zircons as well as sapphires.
We try fossicking on our own - Photo copyright Roger Marien
It was hard work in 31-degree heat. We had no choice, we had to eat ice-creams and fortunately, they sold them at the caravan park office.
Rubyvale–The Town and Surrounds
The Gemfields are such an interesting and exotic place. We made the short trip from Sapphire to Rubyvale often, but we saw so much on the way. A Bottle-O on the outskirts of Sapphire in a shed, a hand-painted sign by 'A Wombat and Anne E Kidna' asking motorists to slow down, mining equipment, a business sign on a rusted car planted bonnet-end-down in the ground, a shanty with a 'Buckingham Palace' sign, brolgas, emus and lots and lots of cows.
The short trip between Sapphire and Rubyvale is an interesting one - Photos copyright Gayle Beveridge
At the Rubyvale Gem Gallery, we saw samples of raw sapphires and some magnificent cut stones. A multi-faceted yellow sapphire was on sale there for $46,000. We watched a short video about the mining and cutting of the sapphires before lunching at the pub again. The Rubyvale Gem Gallery is at 3 Main St, Rubyvale. They can be contacted on (07) 4985 4388 or click here to visit their website.
Bushwalking in Sapphire
I wanted to explore the area and set off on a morning bush walk. I headed down a dirt track at the back of the Sapphire Caravan Park. A small sign nailed to a tree, Gemfields Automotive, pointed down the track, which meandered off into the bush. I followed it and disturbed a number of wallabies which quickly hopped away. At the end of a trail was a dead end and a home, presumably the domain of Gemfields Automotive.
Watch your footing - digs are scattered throughout the bush - Photos copyright Gayle Beveridge
A second less used trail veered off to the right, and I took that and walked on. A tree had fallen but was held aloft by others around it. I walked under it and followed the trail to a rocky creek bed. The creek was dry and appeared to have been that way for a very long time.
Bushwalking in Sapphire - Photos copyright Gayle Beveridge
Some of the rocks were two or more metres across, spanning the entire creek bed. I picked my way through and before long, I had company. A lady walking her Jack Russell terrier directed me along the creek to another road, which passed some old car wrecks and wound around to the other side of the caravan park.
I came across plenty of these oldies while bushwalking in Sapphire - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
Not far from the creek, I came across white claim pegs, reinforced with at least three warning signs to keep out. Further along, old wrecks were scattered about, a car graveyard, five in all. Beside the track, there were fossicking trenches.
Do you think they want us to keep off their claim? Serious stuff in Sapphire. - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
Holders of fossicking licenses are not permitted to dig more than two metres deep. To dig deeper or to sink shafts requires a mining license. They all appeared abandoned, but two had buckets in them. I had read that leaving a bucket in the diggings signifies that you are returning and all others should stay away.
Sapphire Town Walk
There were no formal walks, but I set off to explore Sapphire. I passed a long shelter stacked full of 44-gallon drums of all colours. Nailed to a power pole, I came upon a handwritten sign advertising pick sharpening. Overhead whistling kites were circling in cloudless blue skies.
Essential services in Sapphire - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
I wandered past shanty style homes built on the common, where permanent dwellings were not permitted. The dwellings, usually based around a caravan, were made from anything that comes to hand. It is hard to imagine how some of them remain standing.
A 'salubrious' domicile in Sapphire - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
On the northern side of Sapphire, which I would think is not more than a kilometre from the southern side, is Pat's Gems, which is also a café and restaurant. Outside, a charity stall was selling little vials of sapphire samples. I bought one each for the grandchildren. It is here that we found Sapphire's 'big thing'–a giant sapphire ring, where my husband and I had our photo taken the day before. Pat's Gems is at 1056 Rubyvale Rd, The Gemfields (Sapphire). They can be contacted on (07) 4985 4544.
My husband and I under the 'Big Sapphire Ring' at Pat's Gems in Sapphire - Photo taken by an unknown tourist
Then I walked to the southern end of town to the common, near the trading post. I passed the pharmacy, housed in the most informal of buildings with a shed made from corrugated iron with ill-fitting and oddly sized doors. The trading post is housed in a wide building with a welcoming shady verandah. Back home, we would probably call this a general store. They sell basic takeaway foods, including pizzas, ice-creams, hardware, mining equipment, and they recharge phones. There is a Brag Board with chalked boasts and next to that a notice board where miners sell claims, equipment and all manner of things.
The Sapphire Pharmacy (top) and the Sapphire Trading Post (bottom) - Photos copyright Gayle Beveridge
On the common, I photographed old fossicker's trenches. Amongst the discarded boulders, I found a rock with beautiful crystals along it. Another was honeycombed but shiny like plastic and another still was almost orange and looked like a roughly bound piece of plasticine. All of them were both interesting and beautiful.
Chasing sapphires in Sapphire - a fossicker's trench on the common - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
As I wandered around the common looking at the sapphire diggings, cows were meandering through the streets. India isn't the only place this happens.
Wildlife in the Bush
We set aside a day for rest and relaxation in the bush. I left my husband at the cabin relaxing under the verandah and reading the newspaper and followed a track into the bush. Now and then a wallaby bounded away.
A wary wallaby in the bush at Sapphire - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
I was looking for birdlife in the ironbark forest but did not find much. Perhaps they were hiding from the heat of the day. I passed a murder of crows and much later came upon some fairy-wrens and double-barred finches flitting about together. In the distance, the largest emu I had seen crossed the track and behind it were two chicks. The chicks have a black-and-white stripe. They were well camouflaged in the bush and I couldn't get my camera to focus to take a snap. Emus seem to be in the area in numbers as we had seen flocks by the roadside between Sapphire and RubyVale.
Emus by the roadside in Sapphire - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
Further on, I noticed an interesting insect nest, silky white and woven around a thin branch. There was another nearby. Then an old wreck of a car, on its roof. After three quarters of an hour and I turned back. There were many tracks, but I was careful to stay on the one, it would be easy to get lost.
Rubyvale and Sapphire are 'The Gemfields,' in the Central Highlands of Queensland, 332 kilometres west of Rockhampton on the Capricorn Highway and 941 kilometres from Brisbane via Rockhampton. We made the 400-kilometre road trip from Sarina (near Mackay).
Our wonderful stone cabin, a true home away from home at the Sapphire Caravan and Cabin park - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge
We chose to stay at the Sapphire Caravan Park, at 57 Sunrise Road, Sapphire, in one of their wonderful stone cabins, which I can't recommend enough. They can be contacted on (07) 4985 4281 or click here to visit their website. There are a number of caravan and cabin parks in the area and accommodation is also available in The Rubyvale Motel, the New Royal Hotel, and in the Rubyvale Gem Gallery. Click here for a Google list of places to stay.
I must have been following you around on your trip. Lovely opals. I could not get over the dryness of the country out that way, completely different from my trip to Cunnamulla in May of this year.