Way north

I’ve done some driving in the last week or two, I’m sitting at Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory and it’s about 36 in the shade. Strange to think that only a couple of weeks back I was suffering from the cold back in Tingha, in fact I still have the little fan heater out in the back of the troopy, figure I could pack it away now as nights rarely get to 10 or less. The picture above was somewhere in Northern Queensland just before dawn, the sky was the bluest blue I’ve seen in a long time.

Yesterday was a day of decisions and I’m not sure that I made wise ones. I had stayed at Karumba the night before, or Bart town as I’m calling it, see the picture and perhaps you’ll get it.


I made a special trip right into town to find the information place, just so I could get an “I karumba” picture. Anyway, staying in Karumba on the gulf of carpentaria was a real let down, not my sort of thing at all, I’d made a big push the day before and drove for 8 or 9 hours to hit the coast. First time I’d seen the ocean since I left Tassie.


And hey the ocean was nice, but $25 for a tiny uneven sandy site at a caravan park jam packed full of people is not really my thing. All I was there for was a shower and to use the toilet, and I had to queue for both of those. Three times I walked over to have a shower in the evening and it was full, twice in the morning I walked over for the toilet, when you finally get in, there’s nothing like a warm toilet seat. They had 170 sites in the caravan park, they were all full, and most were powered sites, at $43 for a powered site, you do the math… I was sleeping within about 3 metres of other people in a roof top tent, and isn’t it strange that when people get into their tent, they seem to assume they’re entering the “cone of silence”. If they are inside and can’t see anyone outside, then surely no one can hear them.. I did get disturbed early in the evening while I was kicking back watching a movie by people wandering passed saying “troopy legend”…  Ahh, the other troopy owners further down the camp. By the time I looked up and pulled out my earphones they were gone.. Then in the morning they wandered passed again with a “legend”, this time I got to return them with a Legend call….!!! You have to be a troopy owner to know what I’m on about, and preferably a member of the Troopcarriers of Australia facebook group, they are all legends.

Plane or Troopy? I’ll take the troopy.

The people staying there are mainly long termers, they were very well set up with their vans and awnings and boats, they all had their happy hour gatherings, and everyone seemed to know each other. Personally I don’t like being a sardine, there’s no way I could stay there any longer, I was originally going to stay 2 nights but left in the morning.


Now looking back through some of my pictures I’ve jumped forward quite a lot, there was a whole section I left out about leaving Woolongong then fossicking for Labradorite in Springsure. Catching up with Bill and Deb in Rubyvale and going down Bills mine to see how mining sapphires is really done. Then leaving Rubyvale because of the stupid doctors phone call. Ahh, so much I’ve missed, I guess so much has happened. Alright, we’ll go back to Labradorite, yeah, silly name but you can fossick for it in Springsure which is only about 130km from Rubyvale. So a simple straight forward procedure to go fossicking, visit the hardware store in town and pay $5 for your mud map, then follow the map and go dig your goodies. Now there’s two things I’ll need to point out here, firstly if the person in the hardware store tells you to go through electric fences, DON’T BELIEVE HER. Secondly, the last distance on the mud map says 6km to the gully for fossicking. It’s not, it’s over 8km according to my speedo.

Fossilized wood

At 6km there is a gully or dry stream bed and I wandered up and down it for miles, through the fences as the lady had suggested, picking up some lovely specimens. When I arrived back at my car there was a note under my Wiper. “This is not the fossicking area, only fossick in the signposted area. NEVER go through electric fences.” This was when I decided to drive further down and I found the fossicking area at about 8km. Ooops. Oh well drive to Rubyvale.

Labrodorite chunks

Bill showed me some faceted pieces of labrodorite from the Springsure area and they look beautiful, a sparkling golden almost honey coloured gem. I’ve got quite a few smaller pieces that would be nice cut and then some larger pieces to keep as specimens like in my hand above.

Sapphire mine

I had the rare opportunity to go down Bills sapphire mine while I was in Rubyvale. Normally he never takes anyone down there as there’s risk involved, it’s a 50 foot climb down a little metal ladder into the ground, and then of course a 50 foot climb back up. But first here’s the “up and over” and processing plant in operation. Beware, the clip is a bit noisy.

And then we went down the mine. This next short clip is Bill filling the up and over and sending the dirt up. As with all things, there’s a system, 5 shovel loads into each drum so it’s not too heavy, then send it up, this pile should be about 34 loads. This is what he calls a batch or run. He spends one day at the end of the tunnel he’s digging at the time, then the next day he wheelbarrows the dirt down the tunnel to the bottom of the shaft, about 13 barrows. Then on the third day, the day I was there, it was processing day.

And now this final clip is following along one of the drives in his mine, this is the route he barrows the dirt at the moment. (excuse language near the end)

Such an interesting day experiencing what goes on mining up here. So his whole process for 13 barrow loads takes 3 days and he told me that for the last 3 loads he’d got nothing. That’s 9 days of hard work, 39 barrow loads of rock and dirt for nothing. He knew that this latest batch would have something though as he’d found a couple of sapphires as he was mining and transporting the dirt. All up from this 3 days work he got a few bombs, not much use for anything, a few little chips and maybe half a dozen small cutters, then one 10 carat blue/blue sapphire with a crack in it. worth about $100 because of the crack. How do I know? I bought it from him.

Blue on blue sapphire

I guess this puts my previous fossicking experience up here into perspective. I found nothing out fossicking at Glenalva in the time I was there, but then I probably only did the equivalent of one of Bills runs.

Boring sunset

It was also enough to turn me off the idea of fossicking out in one of the public areas as I’d planned.

Now I guess this leads me full circle to where I started this post, talking about bad choices just after I’d left Karumba up in the gulf. I began by following highway 1, strange that you might expect highway 1, the number 1 road that loops around Australia  to be a big highway, but up here it’s a gravel road, bordering on a track in some places. I drove to Burketown and out the other side where I had to make a decision, continue on the “highway” following parallel to the coast or head south in search of some better roads perhaps.

Don’t trust stupid brochure tourist maps which are all colourful, the road I took south was pretty horrible. I was crawling along some sections at about 30km being shaken to bits on the rocky surface with only about 200km to go. Every now and then I’d get up to 50km or even 60 in the good bits, so it was a long bumpy trip to get down to the black top. Still my trip was better than some others. I’d noticed a trickle of water on the track every now and then in the dry dust and after 20km or so there were two caravan parked in the middle of the road, one had a busted water tank I guess. They shouldn’t have been out on that road with “semi offroad” vans like they had. Still I guess they know that now.




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