Fossicking for anything other than gold within Western Australia is a bit of an oddity, something you rarely hear about, especially in the lower half of the state. In fact I’d passed over the idea of fossicking for rocks and minerals here almost completely, but while visiting friends in Kalbarri we went for a look at some old lead mining areas near by and we found some lovely samples of lead and different forms of copper.
This led to a lot more research into mining areas and potential fossicking spots around W.A., culminating in a fossicking trip beginning down on the south coast and ending, well ending somewhere north, we are in the middle of it as I type this post. First spot for us was Ravensthorpe and the target was tourmaline, we’d read reports and seen some pictures of what’s called water melon tourmaline coloured red and green. We had the “mindat.org” website which documents all of the old mine sites on maps along with reports from assorted websites, blogs and forums. With reports like “It’s hard to find pieces small enough to keep” we were looking forward to a bonanza, but we were sorely disappointed. While trying to piece together all the information we had and cross referencing it while asking locally, it ends up that all those “favourite” fossicking spots have been engulfed by the large lithium mine near town. And whats worse is that it appears these few spots were the only places where you find the tourmaline.
We visited a number of other old mine sites in the area and found some samples of malachite and azurite and pyrites. here’s a bit of a mud map to 3 of the old abandoned mines you can visit easily.
The mine site where the central blue dot is has some old machinery still there, you can see it in the following picture.
Mallachite is an interesting colour, copper causing the green colour.
The Blue of azurite, another copper ore stands out while you are fossicking. We found many other nice “shiny rocks” around the mines including a lot unknown to me, there’s are many minerals around the area. This may not look like much in the photo as it’s reflecting a grey cloudy sky but it’s all beautiful black crystals that sparkle in the light when the sun comes out.
I also found some nice samples of pyrites and a piece of raw pure copper. Overall it’s well worth a look around the old mine sites if you are passing through or in the area and you’re interested in minerals, but without the tourmaline crystals it was disappointing for us.
Then move onto Esperance before heading up to Norseman, another old mining town with a focus on Gold, but we were here for something different, agate. Noresman has the only official public fossicking area in W.A., about 10km to the west of town right by the side of the road. There used to be another privately owned “pay per visit site” north of town but it’s been shut by the land owner due to people abusing the area. I’d read reports that the public area wasn’t as good but perhaps we were just lucky.
We spent time wandering around the area looking for shinnies but it’s been well picked over and dug over. Still we were finding some nice small bits left behind by previous diggers, if you find a big enough rock hit it with a hammer and with some luck the inside will be beautiful.
A fire had been through here recently and the whole country side was decimated, much of the agate laying on the ground had also been badly effected. After some time we realized that the gravel road had been resurfaced after the fires and major works had happened along the edges of the road with a grader reforming the drains. This had unearthed lots of new material and we set about filling our bags with many different samples.
Most of what you find here is moss agate, it’s name is derived from the filaments of minerals that seep into it called dendrites, which look like moss, this following photo shows it clearly as the agate is quite clear.
The variety of colours and patterns within the small area is quite amazing.
There’s also quite a lot of plain agate in the area as well as some very unusual green clear common opal, a little hard to see in this picture but it looks quite beautiful in contrasting layers of other materials.
It will be interesting to see the final results once I do some slabbing and some tumbling. All up we stayed 3 days here but spent time looking around the area visiting local interest sites and lookouts, I only spent maybe 10 hours actually fossicking yet managed to fill perhaps over 3 buckets, way more than what I should as space is VERY limited in the troopy.
In case you’re wondering, here are some pieces I collected from Noresman after I’d cut them, shaped them and polished them.
Next stop Kalgoorlie the town known for gold, gold and more gold but we weren’t here for the gold, we were here for the waste, the junk that gets pushed to one side because it’s in the way of getting to the gold.
Crysoprase, a light green chalcedony that varies from a light green through to deep green, the green is caused by nickle and the amount of nickle varies the colour, there were also other colours, whites, browns, black green/white stripes and swirls, varying from almost perfectly clear through to milky and completely opaque.
We spent two days scrambling around on the old mine dump, picking up small green bits and hitting rocks with hammers to see whether small hints of green layers continued into rocks. The mine dump was huge, right on the side of the road east of Kalgoorlie.
The dump also had very unstable slippery sides so much care was needed. You didn’t really need to climb the sides as there was plenty of material within easy reach and if you walk around the back there are ramps up to the top.
Undoubtedly my best piece was a lovely large chunk I found on top of one pile, hard to see the full extent of it in the photo and also while it’s dirty, can’t wait to get it cleaned up to have a good look..
Next stop was an over night in Leonora, more gold mining area with an old ghost town at Gwalia, they did it tough in those days.
Then one more stop over at sandstone before heading to Cue and the emerald mines at Poona. The emerald mines at poona were a double edged sword for me, I managed to collect a fair amount of beryl and perhaps a couple of small clear pieces, but I also lost some.
This was climbing over old mine dumps again but not looking for a byproduct of a mine, this was one of only a few places in the world where emeralds have been commercially mined. The reality of this fossicking is that you are searching for the bits they have missed in their mining process. There’s lots of Beryl around and it’s fairly easy to find small bits on the old heaps and embedded in roadways around the mine site. It’s easy to see as well as the green stands out from all the other rocks and dirt, though I got fooled many times with small plants germinating with their green leaves looking very much like green beryl.
Unfortunately one afternoon I put my bag down beside the car and drove off leaving it behind with half a days worth of samples I’d collected in it. No worries I figured, it was about 4 in the afternoon and I’d be heading back early in the morning, I’ll pick it up then. I hadn’t seen another person while I was out there over 2 days, and getting there is about 70km of fairly small dirt roads out of Cue. I returned early the next morning and my bag was gone. Oh well..! I did find a lovely specimen piece of large beryl crystals in host rock.
There may be some clear emerald somewhere within this but I’m not going to break it up to find out, it’s a lovely specimen as is. I did break up a few rocks in search of emeralds and got lucky with one rock.
Ok it may only be small but it’s a lovely clear emerald crystal, I’m not willing to break the rock up any further to see if there’s more or to try and release that emerald because I don’t want to break it. After 3 days fossicking here it was time to move on again. A few days off in Kalbarri as this was where my travelling/fossicking friends live, then onto Gascoyne Junction.
The town of Gascoyne Junction is about 180km inland from Carnarvon, a tiny town just a blip on the map with a caravan park/roadhouse/general store and a few houses. Why were we headed here?
Mookaite is a lovely jasper found on mooka station about 25km out of Gascoyne junction. The colour and variety of this jasper is quite amazing, reds, yellows, purples, black, orange, white, all shades and patterns. Some of the more sought after pieces are those which are brecciated, a sort of conglomerated jasper which comes in a variety of forms.
Quite pretty stuff and I can’t wait to work with some of it, polish it up and see it shine. Then there’s all of the other mookaite jaspers in the crazy rainbow of colours.
The main area known for finding the “good stuff” is on the mooka station, the station is no longer active and you need to cross the river and head up Mardathuna rd towards and beyond mooka creek. Up here there are some commercial mines where people mine the mooka, steer clear of these. It’s also perhaps not such a simple thing because you have to cross the Gascoyne river getting there, it’s dry for most of the year but it’s certainly a 4×4 trip to get up here. We came dangerously close to getting the troopy stuck while crossing the rivers soft sand, let down the tires before you cross.
The good thing is that you don’t need to go offroad to find some mooka. We went across the river on our first day out fossicking and all the way up to mooka creek, stopping constantly along the way picking up lovely colourful bits and pieces along the way.
On the second day we began looking along the main Carnarvon/Gascoyne Junction road while we were on the way out to the main fossicking spot. To our surprise there was mookaite everywhere, well almost. Anywhere that the roadway was cut into the ground, where the grader has pushed up dirt you can usually find chunks of mooka.
We never even made it to the river, just fossicking along the side of the road we managed to fill more bags than we should have.
Another interesting aspect of our time in Gascoyne Junction was the stay at the caravan park, they had a chef from South Africa who had trained under a Michelin star chef, and he had been head chef at the top restaurant in Pretoria. Now as you might imagine, the food he was putting out of the kitchen here was simply superb, some of the best food I have ever eaten and very reasonable prices. We ate here on the first night, then headed back on the second night as well. The third night we really had to cook our own food rather than throw stuff out but we were back to eat his food on the last night before leaving. Such an unexpected treat in the middle of nowhere at such a tiny town.
And that was it, the last stop on our fossicking trip for 2020, we had to get back to reality. I had a crazy amount of rocks in the troopy, living within the troopy was becoming difficult because there was such a lack of space, there were rocks everywhere. Now I’m back south and starting to process a lot of it .
The variety of rock we collected on this trip was fantastic. I bought a cheap tile saw from bunnings and a flat lap and I’ve begun cutting rocks and shaping and polishing them to bring out their real beauty.
I plan on doing a lot more fossicking within W.A. while the borders are still closed, this 4 week trip was a real eye opener as to whats available in Western Australia.
Interested in more fossicking posts? Check out more here, fossicking all over Australia.