Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Opals and Opalton Jan 2013

We left Emerald and Sapphire and headed to Opalton on our gem tour of the outback.  We'd viewed Jason's choices for potential haulout yards on the way up here, so now we got to do Karen detours to hunt more gems.  By the way, Emerald wasn't named after the gem; it reminded the founder of the emerald fields of his home back in Ireland or Great Britain so he named the town after them.

We drove overnight to reach Winton, the turnoff point to Opalton.  Winton itself has some history to it.  It used to be called Pelican Waterhole, but the postmaster got tired of writing the long name out and changed it to Winton, named after an area he was fond of back home.  It isn't far from the original starting place for QANTAS airlines and is known as the place where Banjo Patterson wrote "Waltzing Matilda", the unofficial Australian anthem.

Winton is also the turnoff to see the "dinosaur stampede", where the 3300 fossilized footprints of dinosaurs are preserved in the landscape.  The trashcans along the main street through Winton are shaped like giant dinosaur feet--so cute!
Saddles on a hitching post, another sculpture in Winton.
A raised bldg across the street from where we woke up on a back street in Winton.
A statue of Banjo Patterson with the words of "Waltzing Matilda behind him.
The plaque explaining the statues that represent the verses of Waltzing Matilda.
Part of one of the statues representing a verse of  Waltzing Matilda.  I think this is the jolly swagman's feet.Another verse, another statue.
This one represents "along came a jumbuck...".

A lizard sunning himself in a yard as we walked along the street in Winton.'Tis a glorious day for sunning.
Winton also has a huge windmill.
These views of Arno's Wall aren't even the entire thing.  He has pieces and parts of almost everything found in or around a home since the early 1900's.  It all came out of junk yards and rubbish bins.  A new way of recycling garbage into art.
Arno's front yard with homemade spaceship satellite.  
The road to Opalton was not paved.
Termite hills dotted the roadside in places.Roadside scenery near Opalton.  Note the termite hills.
A closeup of a worn down termite hill.
There were cows, kangaroos and emus along the road, trying to find shade.  You can see an emu in the background.
The sign was the only way we knew we'd arrived in Opalton at the designated  fossicking area.  I later learned that the clump of spiny growth in the left of the shot is called spinifex and it flares like a torch if lit.  Folks say to carry water and matches out here.  If you get lost, light a signal fire by setting a  match to a clump of this stuff; then stand back!  It flares like its kerosene.  I didn't try it.
This is where we parked and I started my hunt for opals.  I walked to the top of this rock formation and then just wandered away, one step at a time, looking down and breaking rocks as I found them.  I found a great cache of tailings near a ditch in a road but the ground was too hot to sit on.  When I finished my liter of liquid, I knew I had to head back, but there were no road signs and I didn't want to wander down one of the roads and have it be the wrong one.  Especially since it was about 112 degrees Farenheit (44 Celsius) and there was no shade on the dirt paths used as roads out here. I zigzagged my way back over the hillside, but when I saw a camp I hadn't seen along my way out, I knew I wasn't following my way back.  So I hollered for Jason (no reply) and then found this miner's camp by following a dog's bark when I yelled.

This camp belongs to Gary Goldfield, who may have literally saved my life by helping me find my way back to our campervan.  We walked for hours (in the wrong direction we later figured out) but he brought me to water at a Bush Camp and then managed to find the campervan after walking all over the area in the heat.

Here, Gary and Jason are exploring a mountain of rock left by a bulldozer digging trenches to look for opal.  This is after I'd drank about a gallon of water and rested for a few minutes.  Gary loved to talk, and wanted to show us around Opalton, so we all hopped into the campervan and we followed his directions across the scrubby flatlands to find sights he knew.

Jason and Gary at a waterhole created from a trench dug by a bulldozer.  The water can't seep through the clay, so it sits until it eventually evaporates. The water in the waterhole was pretty and looked awfully inviting on this stinking hot day.
 Jason and Gary checking out the waterhole in/near Opalton.
 Another opal digging hole done by machinery, no longer allowed here.  All mining here now must be done by hand.
Another bulldozed trench holding precious water.  We scared a kangaroo out from this one.
A "cut out", a style of living where a miner digs out a ditch and puts a roof and a wall on the top and a side to create living space.  A miner and his Aboriginal woman lived here for several decades, yes-decades!  Unbelievable.
 This would be an antique hunter's dream as much of the interior is still as it was when the couple lived here.  Possessions are few out here and the most valuable thing is the tin used to form walls and roofs of miner cabins/camps. 
 Once we left Opalton, (back down that dusty road to Winton and turn left) we carried on along the highway to Cloncurry.  We made use of one of the free public electric barbeques we found scattered all over the country.  We ate some of our mahi mahi or wahoo for dinner and then moved on.
I'd wanted to see the rock and mineral collection here we'd heard and read about, but the owner was out for the day so it was closed.  We had a quick look at this outdoor "museum".  We've got front yards in Michigan with as much old machinery in them.  If it won't fit in the garage, perhaps we should just put a sign out calling it a museum.

Back in Winton, this garden project blew me away.  Just a tin hovel.
Oh well, I got my opal rocks and we were off to Alice Springs.

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