We have a family connection to Emerald. My grandmother grew up here and a photo of her father and brothers can be found on a wall of the city’s IGA supermarket.
They used to run one of the pubs in town. My second cousin still lives here but as luck would have it, she was in Brisbane when we passed through. One day we’ll go back for the family history tour.
Emerald is also the gateway to the Gemfields region of Queensland. Just 45 minutes out of Emerald are Sapphire and Rubyvale – towns not named for nothing! (Although ironically Emerald is named after a pioneer’s property ‘Emerald Downs’.) Here you can try your hand at fossicking for sapphires and zircons yourself.
I would recommend you learn what to do and what you’re looking for before you head out to the fossicking sites. We went through the tunnels of a once working sapphire mine at the Miners’ Heritage Centre to learn the tricks.
We also bought a bucket of wash (the layer above the bedrock where the sapphires are found), and used their sieves, water troughs and expertise to help us pick out quite a few gems from the dirt. In fact, we collected quite a booty once our eyes became accustomed to their glass like appearance.
Back in the store they will appraise your finds, telling you which are jewellery quality, which are worth a polish and which go in your ‘show and share’ bag. We found a star sapphire here which may/may not polish up well but mostly ended up with flawed finds. Nevertheless, we were hooked.
So with dopamine and dreams of miracles in our heads, it was time to try our hand at fossicking au naturel. We made our way out to one of the public sites armed with our fossicking license (available from the Queensland government) and sheer determination. Though we soon found out that sheer determination is not nearly enough. Without sieves or copious water for cleaning, it was all but impossible to decide if anything was worth keeping.
So after an hour of dry creek bed digging, we packed up and decided to try just once more, this time at Pat’s Gems, another establishment recommended to us. At Pat’s we shovelled our own buckets of wash and again sifted through them on site. And here we triumphed! I found a lovely sapphire about the size of a 5c coin plus a couple of smaller gems that, according to Pat, should polish up nicely.
So now on our return to Brisbane, we are earnestly looking to join a lapidary club to reveal the true beauty (and value) of these stones. Regardless of whether they are actually jewellery quality or not, the real value was with the experience, which we are all keen to repeat when we next come this way for our family history tour.