Yowah, a strange name and a strange place, but I love it here. The town is situated over 900kms inland from Brisbane and 130km west of Cunnamulla. Yowah’s population fluctuates markedly with the seasons with a residential population of only about 60 people, this boosts to around 250 during the cooler months.
There’s a caravan park with a small shop attached that has essentials available including fuel and food, also a recently opened Rural transaction centre which houses a cafe, a library, laundry and information centre. The cafe here is great and well worth a visit, I had a fantastic burger and the fish, chips and salad for $10 can’t be beaten for value.
But why do people come here? it’s in the middle of nowhere, services like power were only recently connected here and in summer the temperature can regularly hit 50 degrees. Why do they come? Because they’re nuts.
Yowah nuts are small hollow ironstone concretions which can become filled with opal in a solid crystal form, or possibly an opal matrix. The opal can have fantastic colour play or be a potch opal which may be lovely colours but doesn’t have the sparkle of the colour play opal. The picture above shows a conglomerate of small yowah nuts embedded in sandstone, they have some interesting patterns though there’s no sparkle, opal and ironstone matrix that doesn’t have colour play is often called picture opal.
You can often make out shapes in the patterns of the cut opal nuts. If you stare long enough at the opal above you can see all sorts of different things in sections of the patterns.
One of the best things about Yowah is that you can find opal here yourself with hardly any effort at all, there’s a large public fossicking area right on the edge of town and I spent many days in there collecting bits and pieces. It took me a while to get into the larger pieces, mainly because real information about how to fossick here is difficult to find. Everything I’d read said that you need to dig for the nuts and break them open, so I spent hours digging and found no “nuts” as such, I was cracking open any rocks I found without any luck. I saw many others while I was here doing the same thing, lots of digging and using a pick to break through the hard ground, then lots of breaking rocks open but everyone I spoke to was having little to no luck.
I then decided to speck or noodle and this was fairly successful, doing the chicken walk, bent over at the waist slowly walking around scanning the ground for any bit of colour or anything shiny. I figured that I couldn’t really keep doing this the whole time I was here and although I was getting a fair few bits the pieces were generally very small, I wanted something a bit bigger.
So this is the set up, a couple of sieves and stand, a spade, a tub of water, a hammer for cracking and some likely looking dirt to dig in. Fill the course sieve with dirt, shake it around on the stand till there’s nothing but rock pieces left, pour this into the other sieve to keep your coarse sieve dry, dip the rock into the water and rustle around the rock matter to get it all wet and clean off the dirt. Hold the sieve up to the light and carefully look over all the rock for signs of the good stuff, this can be done by resting the sieve on the stand on a good angle to catch the light.
I spent two days digging here like this and found lots of opal, as you can see above, the area looks like it’s been dug over dozens of times already, but if people weren’t sieving and washing and they were only looking for whole nuts then they would miss most of the broken nuts covered in dirt that I was finding.
OK it’s a bit hard to tell whats here, just looks like a stack of rocks doesn’t it, so I waited for some better light late in the afternoon and got some pictures of just the small container of some nice bits.
Some of these bits are beautiful even if they aren’t all filled with the valuable shiny opal, some of the patterns and colours are amazing.
Yeah, don’t look at my dirty fingernails… Hey I’m mining.
This next one is a lovely little chunk of blue green matrix with lots of colour play on all sides of the piece.
While I was digging and sieving I had a few people come and say hello, one couple told me they had been talking to someone else further down the fossicking area, a guy who wasn’t seriously looking, he buys and sells stuff at gem shows and drives a Pajero. Hang on, not a pommy guy called Dave? I’d spent a fair bit of time down camping and chasing sapphires with Dave at Inverell, what a small world, we hung out for a few days here at Yowah, it was nice to have a familiar face around.
Speaking of nice things, I thought someone had tipped an old succulent pot plant on the ground in some bush at the fossicking area, except on closer inspection it’s something I’ve never seen before, what a great find.
If you look a little closer.
The bower of a bowerbird, it was amazing, the more you looked at it the more you realized how much work had gone into it, each bit of rock, glass, tek screw, nail, spoon, plastic was collected and brought back here before being carefully placed where he wants it. And things were carefully placed, bits of red reflector were placed further from the bower, in close were the whites and greys, with obviously his special bits right in the middle.
A small bed in the middle of pure broken glass with some marbles to one side, then carefully placed bits in the side of the bower, bits of metal buckles, screw in hooks, bits of white plastic all placed into the bower at the same angle. At the entrance to the bower at the bottom of the picture there’s one piece of circular aluminium placed in each side of the bower. Very cool!
Birds weren’t the only ones who liked to try and spruce up their homes, the local humans also liked to try and make things look a little nicer.
A fancy gate, doors and even a bay window trying to spruce up a tin shed.
Not sure how they ended up with those gates but I liked the sign “We came here with nothing and we still have most of it left.”
This following house was covered with bits of broken Yowah nuts including many that had opal in it.
The walls on the other side of this old derelict house also had glazed plates, old jugs and china cups embedded in the walls. I love this little town, I found it so much nicer than Lightning ridge, there’s character and things of interest. They had an artesian bore in the town which water flowed continually from at 57 degrees, over one million litres a day.
The caravan park had a bathhouse with bathtubs you could fill with the hot artesian water, you then stripped off and lay back in your hot bath inside your little room that has no roof, you lay back soaking while staring up at the stars, lovely after a hard day out digging and fossicking.
Get out and see Yowah if you can, it’s a lovely little place, there’s the caravan park which has powered and unpowered sites, there’s also an enormous free camping area where there are toilets, showers and water supplied. I opted for the free area and it’s great to think that my only expense has been food while I’ve been camped for a week. OK, a bit more than food, I did buy the bits of polished opal I’ve used in this blog post.
The above piece of picture opal is covered with little pin pricks of opal colour throughout, it’s hard to see in this picture.