Mining Sapphires in Central Queensland
We mine sapphires in central queensland, situated on the Central Highland Gem Fields. We operate on 4 mining leases. Most of which has deep sapphire bearing wash that has a shaft going down then the tunnels spread out from there. The walls are dug with a jackhammer to loosen the ground, and then shoveled onto the wheelbarrow. Whoever is working below takes the wheelbarrow to the shaft and empties the dirt into a large drum. The drum full is pulled up via a winch on a motor that we call the “up and over”. It travels up above ground and dumps high into the Hopper at top of the sapphire processing machinery.
The medium sized dirt is dropped into the pulsater that has 8 trays and has running water moving through it. Sapphires are very heavy so stay where they are dropped and the lighter rocks move along through the pulsater to be dropped onto the tray for removal to the waste pile.
At the end of the day the sapphire trap is sorted hopefully to find the heavy sapphires and zircons. Each find is oohhed and arrred over. A torch is placed to shine through the sapphire to see if it is clear and of good quality or to show up any cracks or flaws. Lou then picks out the best stones to facet into cut gems.
Sometimes we find ‘bombs’ These are often large and un-cutable, you can’t see through them and have many cracks, they haven’t quite formed to perfection. As specimens they are very interesting, they show the growth patterns of a growing crystal and are often sought after by specimen collectors.
The dwellings on the gemfields are rather modest and often just made of corrugated iron. The white ants are rather harsh on timber and like to eat their way through it. Luckily we have power and running water from our bore.
The bird life is wonderful and in the afternoon all the different birds will come and drink out of the settling tubs. Magpies and butcher birds come to the front day and wait to be fed. Brolgas wander down the road and can sometimes be seen dancing. Horses and cows roam around the fossicking fields and the little townships. The furry jumping things known as bee tongs and wallabies get the scraps left out at night time.
Often I will sit outside in the garden with my cup of tea and notice a large kangaroo has been sitting in the paddock staring at me for the last few minutes. Sometimes I have to go flying out to chase the cows away that are leaning over the fence nibbling on a climbing plant or young tree or two.
Water is difficult to get here, as with outback Australia there isn’t a lot of water around. Our land backs onto the beautiful river called Retreat Creek, as deep as it is wide, and not a drop of water in it.
Most folk come to the general fossicking areas which cover miles and miles of ground between the small towns of Sapphire and Rubyvale to try their luck for a week or two in the cooler months. For the small price of a fossickers license anyone can have a go, and some gorgeous sapphires have been found, through sheer luck or hard work.
When it gets hot towards summertime most of the makeshift camps and slowly disappear and the caravan parks empty out. I miss talking to all the interesting people, where it is quite acceptable to roam amongst the camps and ask what they have found today, and be shown their treasures. Mostly only the die hard people with mining leases stay through summer. Some travel to cooler climates until the temperature cools a bit.
But oh the joy of finding a good stone, I still sometimes look by hand as the fossickers do, for the absolute pleasure of finding a good sapphire by yourself with only a pick, sieve and a bit of water to wash the soil in.
Gemstones found on our gem fields include:
Star sapphires: cut in a dome called cabochon they come in colours of blue to brown. The gemstone has a light in the shape of a star that moves when turned. These stars could be 4 rays or 6 rays.
Yellow and golden sapphires: Cut into many sided facets from pale yellow to gold in color, it is often only Australians that know that sapphires come in many colours.
Green Sapphire: Often when found as a rough stone, you can turn the gem one way and it is green, turn the stone over and it looks blue. This is called blue/green
Blue Sapphire: Most favored by our American customers, we have many royal blue stones for sale.
Parti Sapphire: Two colours in the one gemstone, this can be yellow and green together in swirls or yellow and blue or blue and green. No part-sapphire is the same and it is the only stone they can not make synthetically.
Red Sapphire: Known of course as Ruby. We do have lovely rubies in stock, but we haven’t found one yet.
Pink Sapphire: A beautiful natural gem when not heat treated or synthetic, we haven’t found a pink one yet but we can certainly access them.
Zircon: What a fascinating gemstone, often found with sapphires. Zircon has only recently joined the precious stone group after been listed for so long as semi precious. Zircon is a natural gemstone often confused with cubic zirconia which is a man made substitute for diamond. The zircon comes in many colours: pink, mauve, clear, warm brown, orange and basically every colour you can think of. We have mostly found pink and mauve but have many colours in stock.