Sapphire, Rubyvale & Emerald

Don’t you love the names of these towns? I do.

Sapphire and Rubyvale are twin small towns only 6km apart that sit in the heart of the Queensland Gemfields. The Minors Common is an 11,000 acre property that contains both towns. The property was created in the 1890’s and within the boundary a miner was able to mine, build a dwelling and run a few livestock. The Miners Common is the last of such titles remaining in Queensland. Miners are still able to access these rules and build a dwelling but current mining laws do not allow for permanent dwellings on mining claims so there are some very interesting buildings in both towns.

We had booked via phone to do the Miners Heritage Centre Mine Tour and arrived about half an hour early and found a park near a huge dump truck. The Heritage Centre is also a jewellery store and we browsed thier collection of gorgeous jewellery while we waited for the tour to commence.

Our guide for the tour was a 3rd generation local lady named Kate and, after giving our group a short safety talk, proceeded to lead us down into the mine. The first part was easy, it was a set of low steps that led down to an underground museum that we could check out on our way out. Then we went further downwards until we were 17m underground.

Kate explained that the main diggings in the area are to be found along Retreat Creek at Sapphire and Policemans Creek at Rubyvale.

John Archibald Richardson first discovered sapphires in the area in the 1870’s and by 1890 commercial mining had begun in Retreat Creek. Kate also explained how in the old days mines were dug with a pick and shovel in open pits or trenches. Sometimes they also built square shafts that they would climb with their back braced against the wall of the shaft.

We were shown where to find gems in the layer of ground called ‘wash’. This is the layer just above the granite bedrock. This layer can be just inches thick or five or six feet wide.

During the 1970’s the price for rough sapphires led to large scale mechanised mining which resulted in huge amounts of gems. During this time Australia produced over 80% of the worlds sapphires. This amount has declined however we still produce around 50% of the worlds sapphires.

Sapphires are very hard, only diamonds are harder gems. This makes sapphires very suitable for jewellery. I didn’t know that sapphires come in all sorts of colours. I always thought they were blue but they can be all shades of blue, green, yellow and even pink and purple. They can also be multi coloured. Yellow sapphires are very rare so they are highly valued.

Some very famous gems have been found in the area including the ‘Pride of Queensland’, the largest cut yellow sapphire in the world and is 169 carats. It is owned by a private collector in the US.

These days tourists have a big role to play on the Gemfields and can come out, purchase a fossicking permit and can fossick at the 5 different designated fossicking sites. You never know when you might find a beauty.

In 2000 a lady tourist found a 200 carat sapphire and she named it ‘The Millenium Sapphire’. She said it was just lying there. It was sold the following week at the annual Gemfest for $85,000.

Kate showed us some tiny ‘microbats’ that live in the tunnels and cling to the roof. They are tiny little creatures only a couple of centimetres long and they like to snuggle into the holes made by the jackhammers.

Our mine tour lasted for about 45 minutes and we thoroughly enjoyed it. I was glad to get back above ground though as it was quite dusty down in the mine.

We had a bit of a laugh at some of the amazing dwellings in these little towns. Kate had explained that while there are some freehold blocks in the towns you cannot mine where there is a house and you cannot build a permanent dwelling where there is a mine. So many of the houses are put together using all sorts of scrap. There was a lot of caravans plonked on sites. When a mining lease is over all tunnels have to be filled in and the site has to be cleared hence nothing permanent can be built.

The gorgeous looking pub in Rubyvale is built from logs and local stones. We loved the look of it.

We left The Gemfields and headed further east to the town of Emerald. As we neared Emerald we came across the first irrigated paddocks that we’d seen for a long time. Irrigated wheat and cotton is grown there. We saw huge round bales of cotton that had obviously just been harvested being loaded onto trucks to be taken away for processing or sale. We passed a few B-Doubles with up to 10 of those huge bales on the trailers.

After a drive around the town to orient ourselves we stopped off at Coles to pick up some groceries then found a lovely shady spot next to a large park for a spot of lunch. Prawns, salad and fresh crunchy bread…yum.

We decided that we would book into the Emerald Cabin & Caravan Park for the night so that we could go to the movies. That’s something we hadn’t done in a very long time. The new Avengers movie Black Widow was showing at 6pm.

However we really wanted to give our motorhome a good wash first. We tried both the car washes in town however we were too tall to fit in either of those. What to do??? We spied the Showground where there is a public Dump Point. Maybe they would have a tap we could use to hose the motorhome down. Sure enough we found a good grassy spot, not far from the dump point, where there was a set of taps and set to work cleaning off ‘The Outback’ dust from our little home on wheels. Wow….she looks so much better now. All sparkling and white again.

We checked into the caravan park and quickly got set up on the grassy site. We even had a concrete slab for under our awning. Oh it is nice to have a long shower without having to worry about running out of water. That’s probably the thing I enjoy most about staying in a caravan park but I would still much prefer to be on our own camped near a creek, river or billabong.

Off to the movies we went. It was about a five block walk to get there and we met a friendly lady along the way who was on her way to work at one of the local motels. She walked some of the way with us chatting away. What a friendly lady. Just the sort of person who should be in hospitality.

Black Widow was certainly an action movie. I haven’t seen all The Avengers movies but Richard has and apparently they are all like that. Action action action. It was full on. It did have a bit of a storyline though.

Back at the motorhome I got some washing done, Richard checked our portfolio on his MacBook and I sat down to write this post.

We’ve booked into Takarakka Caravan Park at Carnarvon Gorge for three nights from Thursday so we’ve got three days to explore around the area. Wonder what we’ll discover tomorrow?


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