Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Brisbane to Sapphire Jan 2013

Jason picked up the campervan from Cruisin' Campervans and promptly got pulled over by a policeman for straddling 2 lanes.  He talked his way out of it with just a warning, but then got lost trying to find me waiting with a dinghy load of stuff at the riverside park next to our mooring.  I baked for 40 minutes in the sun and he was frustrated by the mishaps of his last hour, so we had frayed nerves and hadn't even left yet!  It took us 3 trips in the dinghy to get all our 'stuff' we needed for 30 days in a campervan.  Our friend, Kennedy from Far Star, came down and ferried Jason to shore after putting the dinghy up on YOLO.  I gave Kennedy the last of the fish from our freezer that we couldn't fit into the van and we headed off late in the afternoon to try to view a potential haulout yard up the coast.
This was to be our home for the next 30 days.  The van was quite comfy and large but it was a bit demanding to drive as the view out back was blocked by the shower and toilet (which we never used).

A flock of pink, white and grey gullahs, which are pretty birds that make an awful lot of noise.  This was a field next to where we parked the first night.
   A colorful lorikeet was also in the trees there.
Grave's Hill sapphire fossicking area. We spent a night here after digging in the red-orange dirt all day in the heat, not knowing what I was really looking for.  A small group of cows came wandering by the van and got spooked when they realized we were there.  Not many folks around here...  We are just outside the town of Sapphire.
 This cheeky magpie wasn't spooked at all.  In fact, he quickly took to eating crackers out of my hand and waited for me to tip some water into a bowl so he could get a drink; water is pretty scarce out here.  He came back the next morning looking for more handouts, too.  He would've come right into the van if we'd let him.  He wasn't afraid of us.

Our camping spot at Grave's Hill fossicking area.

Our friendly magpie.
Karen mining for sapphires in the dry wash of an ancient creekbed.

Karen wielding the pickax while sitting on an upturned bucket.  It wasn't comfortable, believe me!

Once the buckets are filled with freshly dug dirt and rocks, I dumped the bucket into the far end of this 'trawler' and cranked the handle to sift out the really big and really small stuff, leaving the rocks and gravel of a size to pick through for sapphires.The rocks are fed back into the bucket at my knee.

After the trawler comes the "willoughby", a tub o water with a handle on a spring.  Two layers of mesh-bottomed pans are loaded into a ring that hangs just into the water and you pump the handle up and down to wash the rocks.  This clay is tough to wash off so it takes quite a few dunkings to clean up the rocks.

Maybe a few more dunks to wash off the water.  All the water had to be carried out here in the truck in jugs, so the water doesn't get changed often and our guide, Keith, has to shovel out the mud from the last group to use the willoughby.  My foot is standing on the dried pile of mud that has been removed from this tub previously.

Once washed, you flip the pans over onto this mesh-covered barrel for inspection.  The sapphires are heavy and if washed properly in the willoughby, will tend to sift themselves to the center of the pans, so you look there first.  After inspection there, I spread the rocks out to make sure there aren't any more sapphires hiding in the rest of the pan.

Keith is helping me sort a batch to make sure I'm not missing anything valuable.  He's been doing this for decades.  Now he just takes tourists out here to his spot and lets them dig and keep what they find; he  calls them "tag along tours". He charges to lead you out, brings the water and all the gear, shows us how and where to dig, and helps us sort through the pan-fulls of rock and gravel wash.
Jason's contribution to the effort--sit and chat with Keith.  The German guy on the left came out with us but didn't talk much.  He had his area to dig and I had mine.  We both worked hard while Jason and Keith yakked.  Keith supplied the tea and biscuits/cookies for a break, too.

This was my hole where I dug out a few small sapphires.  It is rock hard clay and pebbles, hard stuff to mine by hand.  You can see the buckets get lots of use and abuse.
  Hartmud using the willoughby.  We had to take turns using the trawler and willoughby.

The willoughby.
My hole at the end of the day, with my tools and buckets lined up.  
  I spent half a day sweating and breaking my back digging bucketfuls of rocks and dirt to yield these sapphires and a tiny red zircon. I won't have them cut and polished; I treasure these gems just as they came to me!  It's hot, dirty exhausting work, but I can understand how 'gem fever' can take ahold of some folks.  I could spend time here doing this....  but my butt wouldn't handle the bucket seat.

The World's Largest Van Gogh "Sunflowers" oil painting on an outdoor easel in Emerald, Queensland.  Emerald is where you turn off the highway to go to Sapphire.  Why this was in an outback town in Australia is beyond me, but it is/was a world record.  Goodland, Kansas had someone erect a giant easel with a copy of another one of Van Gogh's Sunflowers paintings, so there are at least 3 of these massive easels out there in the world.

Enough of Emerald and Sapphire and on to Opals.

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