Unfortunately I’ve been fairly rushed through the state of New South Wales because I needed to get up to Queensland for caravan modifications, the van was booked in and I had to make it here for the appointed date. So here I am now sitting in a hotel room just outside of Brisbane, I’m homeless in a different state, and only just writing up about New South Wales.
After leaving Bega I skirted around Sydney and spent a night at a caravan park just north of Sydney on the coast. Arriving there on the thursday they pointed out I could only stay one or perhaps two nights at the most because there was a long weekend coming and they were totally booked out. This didn’t phase me I wanted to move on, just driving around the outside of Sydney was bad enough. I don’t like towing a big caravan through city areas with lots of traffic, so I was heading inland as quickly as possible.
Hah, good old google maps, I know I said I don’t like city streets with lots of traffic but this was getting a bit extreme. The image doesn’t really show how dramatic it was, but by looking at how wide the car bonnet is against the width of the road, you might get an idea, and my van is wider than the car. Now notice the small rock face to the left behind the sign. Yes, this road was very narrow, often with cliffs and rocks right beside the road, extremely twisty and windy with many hairpin bends and very steep. Just for an added bonus, I came across two trucks coming in the opposite direction while on this road.
I made a run from the coast up to a free camp at a place called Burning Mountain with plans to stop overnight, then continue up to Tamworth and beyond the next day hoping to escape most of the long weekend rush. Burning mountain was a great spot, not many level places in the camp area so I ended up down near the road, see not every camp spot is lovely.
Yeah, near the main highway and a train track, parked in a gravel pit, but it’s flat and it’s free. As I went to leave here my indicator on the van wasn’t working, it had caused issues in the past but would always start working again with some jiggering, now it was just gone completely and with the long weekend traffic on the road I decided not to drive anywhere, I’d book an auto electrician in Tamworth and head straight there after the weekend.
So three days here in a gravel pit, at least the burning mountain walk was interesting and I walked it daily for some exercise. I’m shocked at some people though, and myself as well for posting the following picture.
Yep, that’s a human poo on the ground in the car park at burning mountain, and that blue building behind? Two perfectly good flushing toilets, and reasonably clean too. I just don’t get some people.
Onto nicer things. Burning mountain is literally a burning mountain, as you walk up the trail signs tell you of the history and ask you to look at the evidence around you. There are areas where no undergrowth grows under the trees, where cracks and drops in the ground have opened up. As you reach the peak you find an area of ash and scorched earth.
You might notice the land collapsing in the background as well, and just to the left, small plumes of smoke would drift up from the ground, the mountain is literally on fire. A coal seam buried deep under the earth has been burning for more than 15,000 years moving at a rate of about 1 metre a year.
Onto Tamworth, the country music capital, I was back in a caravan park for a couple of nights while the car was in to be fixed and the caravan park was a lovely surprise, right beside a river, it felt like I had the place to myself.
Beautiful grassed areas with autumn leaves dropping and sunny weather, it really was a great spot unlike most caravan parks where you are jammed into small bays with dirt and concrete surrounding you.
Having the car fixed allowed me to walk around Tamworth a fair bit, nice enough town though I’m finding large towns and cities to have more in common with each other rather than finding any differences. One thing I noticed here and further through NSW, reverse in 60 degree angle parking, it’s everywhere.
leaving Tamworth I head towards Inverell, known as the ‘Sapphire city’ due to the large quantities of sapphire and other gems found throughout the district. I wanted to give this a bit of a go so headed to a camping/fossicking property called Billabong Blue, they were shut so I went to another called 7 oaks just down the road. The track into their fossicking area is very rough and quite long, I was beginning to wonder if I’d made a huge mistake taking the van down there, but finally came to the camp site.
This was my work site for the next 4 days. Walk over to the dirt pile in the foreground, fill buckets with dirt, take them back to your spot, fill your sieves with the dirt from the bucket, then dip the sieves into the half drum of water in front of you. Now shake, twist, and dance the sieves around on your fingertips in the water until all the sand and mud is gone and you’re left with rocks. Check the top course sieve for any large sapphires among the bigger rocks, then remove the fine sieve from underneath. Flip the fine sieve over dropping it onto the up turned blue drum with hessian draped over it. The fine rock layer should flip out neatly, and if you have used a good sieving action, all the heaviest rock will have collected into the centre of the sieve at the bottom, and these are generally the ones you want. So after flipping out and over, the good stuff should be smack bang in the middle.
Grab tweezers and remove anything which looks good, namely sapphires, zircons or possibly diamonds. Initially your told to look for glassy, shiny things, sometimes they are obvious, sometimes not so. Day one you tend to pick out everything, including every piece of quartz you find but you soon tire of that and it’s mostly a search for blue or green.
I think that now that I have my heater being installed in the caravan I might head back there for a few more days. My bucketing and sieving was being done at a rate or perhaps 6-8 buckets an hour, perhaps up to 10 at the most and it’s back breaking work.
There was a machine for sieving the dirt that can be hired for $40 an hour but while I was there the water levels in the creek were too low and the machine couldn’t be used. The last day I was there it poured with rain, I worked through it all and got drenched and covered with mud, the others at the camp sat back in a shelter and laughed at me. I was compared to the mad Canadian who had done the same a couple of years back.
However, all that rain meant the machine could now be used and it’s able to sieve through about 30 buckets an hour. All you have to do is fill buckets and tip them into the machine, when squirt it all with the hose. As everyone kept telling me, it’s all about working as many buckets as you can.
This first trip netted me perhaps a dozen cutters, stones that I’ll be able to send off to be faceted, and this image shows some of them, along with some faceted stones, nothing of brilliant size of quality but hey, real ones. There are also loads of stones with too many cracks, inclusions, or they’re just too small to bother with.
It’s also going to take some time to get the photography right for these, a simple photo from above shows very unexciting rocks, it’s only when you get some light from below as well as the top or side, that you get a better idea of what they really are.
In case you were wondering, I bought the 4 stones while I was there from a gem dealer/fossicker David, they are local Queensland stones cut in Thailand.