Fossicking is prospecting or rummaging through often abandoned mine areas to find precious gems, gold, fossils and the like. It is a recreational activity done by hand. In Queensland fossicking requires a licence as well as determination, hard work, stubbornness and a dose of good luck.
Our four days fossicking on the Gemfields located on the Central Highlands Region of Queensland, about 40 mins drive west from Emerald, was an attempt to find sapphires and other precious gemstones. By the end of our time on the Gemfields we had found a few ziconias (yellow) but no sapphires. Still we had fun, enjoy the company of recently and newly made friends and had an experience we never would have gotten by being in the office.
Days 1 & 2
Ground was dug at Big Bessie in someone’s old hole and from a creek at a fossicking site near Rubyvale. We then used our “equipment” – a couple of buckets, a shovel, a sieve kindly given to us by Daryl’s father, water, towel, a table and hope to try and find our riches. Our finds were four small gem fragments (see picture at the end of the article).
Days 3 & 4
For days three and four we moved sites to where a friend we met in Tasmania has been fossicking for a few months (escaping the Victorian winter) and there we got to fossick more like someone who has a clue about what they are doing. Thanks to the generosity of others we got to use equipment including devining rods, proper picks, a trommel, a willoughby and two sieves (different mesh sizes).
Turns out for the use of the equipment neither Daryl or I are sapphire deviners and luck was not with us. Our friend felt so sorry for us he very kindly gave us a small sapphire he had found for our ‘collection’.
What We Found
Our total find was four small zirconias found on day one. Thankful too to be gifted a sapphire (closest to the 5c piece).
Would We Try Again?
Absolutely! Although this is definitely an activity for the winter months in Queensland. It’s dusty, hard work and finds aren’t guaranteed but it sure is fun and the allure of finding that great gemstone one day is strong.
There are local places offering buckets of wash and sieves to use if you want to have a go at finding a gem without digging at the fossicking sites. It’s a great way to have a go and with many salting the wash you are pretty assured to find something which is probably preferable if you have children. For us we loved getting in the dirt, trying our luck (we are not sapphire deviners) and making friends. If we are back near the Gemfields again one day we will definitely have another attempt.
Where We Stayed
Botanical Gardens, Emerald
Review: A overnight stop close to town and the supermarket. Botanical Gardens are a nice to wander through. Sure there is the highway and train line over head (1-2 trains a day) and the ground is dirt BUT who cares? There also clean toilets, bins and water. Dog friendly. Thanks Emerald.
Big Bessie Campground and Fossicking Area
Cost: $37 (one week camping permit and required fossicking licence)
Review: Great spot to camp. Huge amount of space. No amenities. Dry but it gets under your skin in a good way. Bird life is amazing. Tried fossicking but no luck. Buy water 10c/20l and dump point in town. Camp fees apply and need fossicking licence; buy online.
Glenalva Fossicking Site
(Not on Wikicamps)
Cost: Included in the one week camping permit
Review: No amenities. No water. Flat camping area near the fossicking area. Currently very dry due to drought conditions. Solitude can be found here.
Emerald RV Campground
Cost: $15/night unpowered
Review: Stayed here a night after visiting the Gemfields. Unpowered sites on grass area is a good low cost camp option. Use of facilities. Showers incl. Laundry $4/load. Social campfire in the afternoons. Friendly staff. Water and dump point on site.
FYI fossicking licences and camping permits can be purchased online through the Queensland Government website.