Great fossicking adventure with students.July’89

Travelling through inland N.S.Wales and Queensland’s favourite fossicking areas and rocky places, then the beautiful Carnarvon Gorge, Fraser Island and Lady Melville Island, giving me a great opportunity to learn more about Australian rocks and gem-stones in their natural settings.

It all started in July of 1989 when I joined in on a three week educational camping trip with a dozen  students from the Steiner School in the Thora Valley west of the town of Bellingen where I was living at the time.

Class assemble on the road - a great group to travel with

Class assembly on the road – a great group to travel with!

The excursion  was by led by their teacher Bob and supervised by two of the parents and I was lucky to be invited along to bring the number of adults to four. Bob was already aware of my keen interest in gem stones and their use in healing.

The focus was mainly on learning about the wonders of the environment and in particular about Australian gemstones and where to find them,  concluding with a week’s holiday camping on Lady Musgrave island, a tiny uninhabited atoll at the southern end of the Great Barrier  Reef off the Queensland coast.
We set out  from Bellingen in a small convoy –  Pamela and I in her family car, and Bob, Jim and the schoolkids filling a van and pulling a trailer carrying all the necessary gear.

We drove west  along Waterfall Way up the Dorrigo mountain and across the plateau to Armidale – lots of interesting countryside on the way – and stopped off at Guyra – an area rich in a variety of rocks and crystals including jaspers, garnets and even diamonds.   Old workers cottages from the early days of the areas settlement were interesting to see.

It was then on to Glen Innes – a pleasant prosperous town in an area which is often referred to as Celtic country. It once had a tin mining industry as well as other minerals.

I also visited there later on in 1992  when staying at nearby Bingara –  my friend Kath took me to watch the opening ceremony of an Australian version of the Standing stones, recently erected on the outskirts of Glen Innes to honour the many early settlers of Celtic origin in the region and throughout Australia.

A large crowd had gathered quietly around the stone circle at dawn and finally our patience was rewarded when we heard the sound of bagpipes approaching through the early morning mist.

Prayers were said and speeches made and when the crowd dispersed I was able to leave behind  a small quartz crystal activated during the ceremony, placing it discretely  in the earth between the three stones in the centre of the circle.

The standing stones reminded me very much of Stonehenge but in fact they were modelled on the ‘Ring of Brognor’ in the Orkney Islands in Nth. Scotland  – there are 24 stones all recently hewn from local  basalt representing the hours of the day. Much thought had been given to the symbolism of the whole arrangement –  the Southern Cross alignment is there too.

From there we headed into Rocky Creek Gorge not far from Bingara – lots of creeks and waterholes between cypress pine covered mountain ridges where gold , sapphires and tourmalines could be found.  We were shown rock formations caused by a glacier and learnt to identify ‘fluvio-glacial conglomerate stones’ left behind as the glacier slowly retreated a few million years ago. The colourful conglomerates were created as a variety of stones of all shapes and sizes  became cemented together by the sheer pressure of the glacier’s movement

The Organ Pipes at Sawn Rocks, M.Kapatur

The basalt Organ Pipes at Sawn Rocks, M.Kapatur

From there we were heading further west into a higher mountainous area  passing by the Nandewar  Range which is a part of Australia’s Great Dividing  Range  that extends almost the full length of the continent from north to south .

We stopped to take in the splendid Organ Pipes at  Sawn Rocks  –  giant basalt rock formations that form part of Mt. Kapatur,  not far off  the road near Narrabri.  There was an Eagle spirit dreaming site above the organ and a birthing site and cave below.
I remember seeing a huge eagle’s nest right at the very top, a great omen for the journey, I thought! and I found myself toning a song of greeting to them, sending the sound up through the organ pipes!

I later learned that Mt.Kaputar was one of an alignment of ancient volcanic mountains created by a sub-surface ‘hot spot’ as the earth’s crust passed over it some 120 million years ago – a line of power running diagonally across the land through Wollumbin / Mt. Warning to the north- east near the coast, on to Mt.Kapatur and then The Warrumbungle’s  sth. west of there and beyond.  I was already aware that this is just how the islands of Hawaii were formed and continue to be, as molten earth and lava is thrown up from the sea floor in the Pacific ocean.

We weren’t far from Narrabri, so Pam and I left the highway  to buy supplies there.   I liked the town and the picturesque countryside surrounding it. It lay between the spectacular Nandewar range and the huge area of semi-arid woodland known as the Pilliga Scrub.  I well remember spending a few weeks in the little town of Baradine on the edge of the scrub, managing the only pharmacy for miles around. way back in the late 50’s!

Once we stocked up, we drove north across the undulating Moree plains, meeting up with the crew again in Moree. We found them already having a great time swimming in the town’s Artesian hot spring Baths, and were quick to join in – a great experience – the water rich with minerals and the temperature at 42 degrees,  greatly relieving my stiffness after a full-on day’s travelling!    We found cabins to stay in at the main campsite and settled in for the night.

with Steiner kids at the rapids

Cooling off at the rapids along the way

Next day, Saturday, was fossicking day – our first chance to become rock-hounds, and learn the art of noodling for opal amongst the mullock heaps  left over by the real miners!

Once we had picked through the dumps of clay for some promising bits of ‘colour’ the next step, we learned, was to make for the puddling dam where we could  put the opal dirt through a noodling machine, clean it up and recover any little bits of opal worth saving. This was the exciting part for the lucky ones.

By Sunday it had begun raining gently and we spent the morning cleaning up, then visited  Alf and bought a small selection of stones, then off back to make one last visit to the puddling dam     and the Hilton?

Our next destination was the famous Lightning Ridge opal fields not far west of Moree  where some of the most magnificent opals in the world have been discovered.

Next morning we went to the diggings there for more  noodling  experience. – another chance  to improve our skills at picking through the coloured opal chips  and distinguish them from the “potch’ – the colourless opal bits as we looked for the tiny tinges of colour – often bluey green – showing through the well picked through more potch left behind for the amateurs fossickers.

All in together in the hot spring baths at Lightening ridge

All in together in the hot spring baths at Lightening ridge

I didn’t have much luck with the fossicking, but we were all rewarded with a another great swim in the local artesian bore baths which were also wonderfully warm and steamy — naturally heated from hot springs below,

Next it was more shopping, one last swim and some supper before heading off for an all night drive, still heading north across the Queensland border near St George and stopping about 2 am for a short sleep just north of the city of Roma.

When we woke up Bonnie, Pam’s daughter, told us excitedly that as we slept she had clearly seen a light moving quietly along the skyline which had just the right shape for a spacecraft!

When the sun came up we continued driving through dry open countryside, dodging long road-trains,  and occasionally catching sight of wildlife including skittish emus and ‘roos, as well as cattle.  We were already well  on our way up into central Queensland – next stop the Carnarvon Gorge National Park.

We arrived in plenty of time to set up in the Park’s well organized  camping area not far off the highway. It had its own well-stocked shop as well as the usual amenities.  It was a beautiful tree-filled spot, so clean and quiet  – quite a contrast to Moree.  A bit more rest and we were soon ready to start exploring the splendid Carnarvon Gorge.

It is a huge rocky  oasis which has been declared  a National Park right in the heart of the dry dusty centre of the state. We learned that the Gorge is a whole 30 km. long and its canyons can be up to 600 meters deep in places where the waters of innumerable springs from the Great Artesian Basin have carved into the sandstone plateau of the Great Dividing Range.   ( I have since renamed it the Great Uniting Range, by the way.)

The area is sacred to the aborigines where they would have gathered for ceremonies and food and protection though not living there on a daily basis but leaving behind evidence of their long history through their rock art on the walls of caves as well their middens and tools.

Our first walk together took us a long way into the main Gorge    We spent a little time resting on the stone floor of a beautiful long overhang that we discovered.  It was surrounded by lush tropical vegetation – palms, ferns, lichens, with a shallow stream of fresh bubbling water running beside the full length of it and disappearing  into the undergrowth.

Even today I can recall feeling the intensity of the presence in the rocks of the ancestral spirits. As we sat there in the stillness the urge built up to let sounds pour out from deep within me.  What sung me was no customary toning, but the long, strong earthy vibrations of the didgeridoo which had remained held within nature’s crystal ‘microchips’ in the ancient  rocks – a powerfully blended recording of many Coroborees and other tribal gatherings.

Before we moved on, we looked around for the right little crevice in which to give a crystal back home to the earth, and the kids programmed the crystal by singing a new song into it.

Just as happened at Uluru the year before and other sacred places where I was prompted to place crystals, two black crows flew in and trotted down to the far end of the cave, indicating  a narrow crevice in the rock floor where the crystal wanted to go!

That done, we went on to find the Balloon Cave which was famous for the aboriginal rock carvings and drawings on its walls and overhang.

Atop St. Mary’s Peak at Wilpena Pound two years earlier wearing my much loved pink leather Akubra. It made me very happy to have an eagle feather added to it!

Next morning it was time for more washing and cleaning up, then off on another great walk up to the lookout,  We rested to get our breath back and sang to the eagles and this time it was the crows that responded .

Back down again it was time for a snack from the shop. I was wearing my pink Akubra and, to my surprise, without any prompting, the shop’s manager  bent under counter and produced a splendid Wedge-tail eagle’s feather and put it in my hat! More magic!

After a shower and some supper we joined in with other campers for a great bush dance.  What a way to finish off the first week of our adventure!

friday.   Eagles accompanied us as we left the gorge. What a farewell!   After we went looking for George the Horse caravan site we were lucky to find a few precious mementos of the visit near the entrance to the gorge as we were leaving – a few fossilized pieces of ancient timber scattered among some rocky rubble.

Bob’s plan from here was to reach the  Sapphire gem fields further north  in time for the August  Gemfest  at Anakie, one of the four little towns where fossickers knew that they had a good chance of scoring the odd semi-precious stone.

The Virgin Rock near Springsure

The Virgin Rock near Springsure on the way to Emerald.

Travelling along the Dawson highway on the way there we came to the small town of Springsure  near the Mt. Zamia range where ancient macrozamia palms can be found.

Pam and I decided to split off and drive a little way off the road to the Rock Springs rest area to get a glimpse of the  remarkable Virgin Rock with its Madonna-like image standing out, high up on the side of the mountain.

Sixty miles further on we all finally arrived at Emerald, the main town on the Capricorn Highway which straddles the Tropic of Capricorn.  There is  a sapphire mine nearby and a cluster of other little towns – Sapphire and  Rubyvale, named for the stones found in the area and also the Willows.

After driving around we found a good campsite at Sapphire, in readiness for the gem festival at Anakie the next day.  The Gem fest provided a great opportunity to learn lots about the semi precious stones, including the ones found in the area which gave the towns their names and a vast array of stones and jewellery from all around Australia, all on display in lots of different booths in two large public halls and some tents .

I had been enthusiastically expanding my gem collection and was gradually creating a set of gem elixirs to use in my healing practice ever since I had received inner instructions to do so on returning from my visit to the Boulder Opal fields three years ago.

I was like a child in a lolly shop selecting the specimens  but I was especially drawn to a beautiful chunk of clear green polished Chrysoprase, almost the size of my fist. This too is an Australian stone as many of them were, and came from a mine near Bundaberg. It looks a lot like Chinese Jade and rumour had it that the mine might be closing because China was running out of its famous green jade and our chrysoprase was providing a handy substitute.

My piece would later play a central role in the story of my return north a few weeks later to meet up with the hump-back whales while they were still frolicking around  in the waters of Hervey Bay before their return to Antarctica .

Polished half of a thunder egg from Mt.Hay

Polished half of a thunder egg from Mt.Hay

From the gem-fields we headed east to Mt. Hay, a 118 yr. old volcano near the city of Rockhampton. It is famous for the ‘thunder eggs’ found there – their name coming from an old belief that these round or egg-shaped rocks fell from the sky during thunderstorms!  One never knew what would appear when the very hard rounded ball of rock was cut in half.  The core could be composed of spiralling patterns of crystalline agate, chalcedony, jasper – sometimes with amethyst, citrine  or smoky quartz crystals in the hollow centre. Usually beautiful geological masterpieces! – though sometimes they could disappoint.

Rockhampton's handsome Post Office. the sandstone for the façade was mined in nearby quarries.

Rockhampton’s handsome Post Office. the sandstone for the façade was mined in nearby quarries. Source:





It It was a bit strange driving into a big city after all the bush travel.

Rockhampton on the Fitzroy river  is the main city along the coast of central Queensland.  It has a fine main street along the river with a number of impressive  buildings from the Victorian era, especially the original Post Office with its elegant sandstone façade.

Another was the Criterion Hotel – I remember that I enjoyed staying in it one night way back in 1956 when some friends and I drove through the town on our way up for a holiday sailing around the Barrier Reef.

Another unexpected treat before we left ‘Rockie’ was a visit to an aboriginal display of their art and traditions at the Dreamtime Culture Centre, a very fine museum of both aboriginal and Torres Straight Island artefacts, situated in a pleasant bush setting  just north of the city.   What a very well-rounded out and fun teaching experience this whole trip was turning out to be!

Time to rise and shine and get on the road again!

Time to rise and shine and get on the road again!

After that it was time for sharing pizzas in the park for lunch and then a long drive south on to Bundaberg , arriving at midnight at Fay’s home on the ocean at Moore Park,  just out of Bundaberg, where we camped on the side block of her property.

I was surprised how cold the night was in spite of being so far north.

The plan for the next part of the trip was to have a week’s holiday on Lady Musgrave Island, a tiny uninhabited coral cay not far off the coast from Gladstone at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef.  It lay  just across from Bundaberg and could be reached by catamaran.

Preparations began the next morning, but I was already travel weary and suddenly realized that I needed to stay behind and rest up a little and join up with the crew a little later. Pam was happy to leave me with the car, and her friends encouraged me remain at Bundaberg for a day or two while the rest of the party set off  with great excitement to catch the ferry for the island.

Soon after they left I realized that Bundaberg was not far from Fraser Island  and the idea took shape to spend a day or two down there. When I felt recovered enough after a good  rest I  packed up the car and headed off for Hervey Bay, staying overnight in a van at Point Vernon which jutted out between Gatekeeper’s Bay and Hervey Bay.

On arrival I went for a walk out onto the Point to take in the full panorama, then bought some supplies then settled in for the night.  Very early the next morning  I caught the bus for the boat terminal and joined in a tour of the island.

I had decided to begin in style and stay for at least one night in the comfort of the Eurong Beachfront Resort which was in a beautiful setting on the Pacific side of the Island.

I had come because I had heard so much about Fraser island, but wasn’t prepared for how beautiful it turned out to be.   It is said to be largest sand island on the planet, created over aeons by the weathering down of the nearby coastal ranges – the rock surfaces were finally ground down age by age, building up a sandy base on the volcanic bedrock of ocean floor.

This process also accounted for the creation of Stradbroke and Moreton Bay islands further south nearer to Brisbane, as well as the whole of the Great Sandy National Park along the coastline opposite.

The island is about 120 miles long and 24 miles across at it widest point. Its aboriginal name is K’gari – said to mean ‘sandbar’.  It is surrounded by clear turquoise water rich in all manner of sea-life. The splendid hump-back whales gather here with their young on their way back down to Antarctica. Here they can shelter and play in Platypus Bay on the west side of the island together with plenty of dolphins for company as well as turtles and manta rays.

It must have seemed like paradise to the aboriginals who lived in the area and came here regularly up till the late 1800s when  timber-cutters and merchant seaman drove them out.

It was a relatively short drive through to the centre of the island – a lush subtropical rainforest area which thrived on sandy soil  around the Central  Station camping area on Wannggoolba  Creek where we stopped to explore.

This was the historic heart of the island. It was known to be a women’s sacred site – a birthing place – but later became the centre of  logging activity from 1920  t0 1950, leaving behind  the remnants of a small village.

it was a real joy to pause here and breath in the cocktail of rich forest smells given off from a wealth of different species of plant life which juggled for space, creating dense layers of texture and tone, and a dance of light and shade.

The Kauri pines dominated the top ceiling of the forest, mixing it with tall piccabeen palms and gigantic King ferns, with a rich carpet of mosses and lichens and smaller ferns below.

Much of the growth was sustained by springs that fed lots of trickling streams of the purest, clearest fresh water you could imagine where you could sometimes spot eels and turtles and the odd fish.  in some places  it was so clear I had to look closely to be sure that there really was water flowing over the pure white sand!

As we got closer to the ocean side there were stretches of coastal heath, and patches of mangrove swamps and in no time we had arrived at the Urungan Resort which was only about 19 kms. from the centre..

Once settled into my room at the resort it was time to take in the view looking  north along the island’s 75 mile beachfront and then have a very refreshing swim in the turquoise-blue sea before exploring a little way up the beach by foot.

Up early the next morning planning more beach walking and a swim after I checked into the Dilli village campsite. It was in a grassy park-like setting by a pretty creek and close to the beachfront. I booked a cabin there for the night then set out. I had enjoyed the luxury of the resort but this was more my style and matched my pocket-book!

Along the beach there are a stretch of spectacular solid sand cliffs which hold back the huge dunes.  These have been eroded by nature into fantastic shapes, and are renowned for the sparkling coloured sand created by a cocktail of minerals,  especially at Rainbow Gorge and the Pinnacles,    ( I stored away a sample of the rainbow sand to make a gem elixir from it when I returned home).  Much of this sand is made up of a mix of quartz and clay creating a sort of cement  which firms up the cliffs. The sparkling white beach sand is said to be 98% quartz crystal. No wonder it feels so good to lie on!

Another unique feature of the island towards the southern end are a series of what are called ‘perched’ lakes high up in the dunes up to 100 meters above sea-level – organically lined with peat and sand and surrounded by tall sub-tropical forest.  These  hills have been created over time by ‘sand-blows’ – whole dunes swept across the island propelled by powerful winds still moving at the rate of 1-2 meters a year!

I  was amazed at the sight of beautiful Lake McKenzie, the most accessible of the lakes not far in from the resort. It has its own beach encircling it, great to swim in, fringed by trees that I was helped to identify as paperbarks, blackbutts, hoop pines and brush box.


This once proud  shipwrecked liner – the “Maneho”- It has lain here rusting away since 1937.

Further along, north of Happy Valley lying at the water edge was the wreck of the Maneho, driven in by a cyclone in 1935 apparently just one of many shipwrecks in the area. It had once been a trans-Tasmanian liner – now a great home for the fish.

We also spotted a couple of fine looking dingoes – apparently the only pure-breds remaining on the Australian continent, so they at protected and no other dogs are allowed  to come here.

Apart from that, the island has a good variety of animal life  – plenty of the well-known Australian mammals and a great assortment of reptiles, frogs, lizards and goannas, to say nothing of the insects!

Four wheel drives abound as there are no real roads but together with sand-mining, they constitute a continuing threat to the local eco-system. Apparently the beaches are flat and firm enough to also allow light planes to come and go safely!

The northern area of the island was designated  National Park and were fairly inaccessible though the two rocky headlands, Indian Head and Wabby Point had always been important to the aborigines for sacred ceremonies.

When I returned to Dilli village late afternoon I had a good rest and a quick swim in the creek, and wound up the day sharing a tasty meal and a fun evening with a friendly group from Newcastle.

One more stroll up the beach next morning and followed the track in to see Lake Wabby, another beautiful lake and known to be the deepest one.  There was time when I got back to Dilli Village for another champagne and chicken lunch and then make the return to Hervey Bay.

What a rich experience these couple of days had been! exploring the beautiful beaches and tiny lakes surrounded by rich tropical forest.   I promised myself to come back soon to this area to see the whales which come up from Antarctica and gather there in the Bay every winter.

All too soon it was time for me to return north to join up again with the group for a couple of days beach-life on Lady Melville Island, then help with the preparation for the long return home.  It didn’t take long to  drive back to Bundaberg and then cross by catamaran to the island.

It was good to be back with everyone again – they were all tanned and happy and had had a great time together.  It was a treat for me to stop still and just relax on the beach and swim in the brilliantly clear blue-green waters of the large coral reef that surrounded the island.   It took me back to memories of my first independent  holiday as an adult in 1957 when I travelled north to the Barrier Reef    by car with three friends from Sydney by way of celebrating having graduated as pharmacists.

The tiny island only  occupies 14 hectares so it took no time to stroll around it. I was surprised to see lots of graceful she-oaks up here which ,together with the lanky pandanas trees, provided plenty of shade along the edge of the sand.

The pandanus or breadfruit trees are truly in their element along the Pacific beaches  Salt doesn’t bother them and you can see that their aerial ‘prop roots’ surrounding the base of the trunk help them to stand firm even in the worst of wild weather, and they can spread by having fruit that looks a lot  like a pineapple that can happily float across the water from island to island to find a new home!

It wasn’t so easy to venture into the centre of the island where Pisonia trees held sway. These flowering trees with large leaves formed a thickly forested area where small birds often became trapped because of the sticky fruit. The bushes are often called Bird Catchers in New Zealand for this reason.

Snorkelling  along amidst the richly coloured coral formations was a magical experience for everyone, weaving  and dodging the myriad brilliant little fish and other strange creatures on the ocean floor. These included a couple of varieties of small sharks that seemed very much at home within the reef and took very little notice of us.  Bob helped us understand the nature of coral from a geological point of view –

There were also lots of sea-birds, including the mutton birds who came to the island to build their nest in the long grass in summer.

pandanus shading the rock pool

Pandanus shading the rock pool

The day before we left the young girls and Pamela and I had a special little women’s ceremony together. We bathed in a beautiful rock pool, then meditated together sharing a beautiful amethyst crystal we had brought from Sapphire which we  then placed in the woods under a pandanus tree.

We then noticed undisturbed baby turtle tracks and followed them back down to the beach.

That night I recorded a short inner message in my journal while I sat on the beach under a brilliant starlit sky and reflected  on the whole wonderful experience that Bob had so carefully mapped out for his pupils.

It read  ” The journey has been one of preparation for you and for the group of children.  They are now able to function free of fear of survival…….  There will be a continuation of the rhythm of travel within your activities when you return home if you allow yourself to sustain it without looking for the need to readjust and recuperate.”

The Bunya forest north west of Brisbane

The magnificent Bunya forest north west of Brisbane

On the last day, after we had pulled up camp, there was time for just one last swim before we returned to the mainland, and then we were all back on the road again heading home.

One last memory that lingered was driving through the splendid Bunya Mountains National Park north of Brisbane at sunrise, and the powerful play of light through the tall Bunya pine trees. – another place I would love to return to sometime!

Having come full circle through New South Wales up into Central Queensland and back down again, we finally arrived at Pamela’s home at Dundurrabin on the Dorrigo plateau, just up the mountain from Bellingen. It seemed wonderfully appropriate that this day  was also the 2nd anniversary of  the Harmonic Convergence.

Before I returned to Bellingen the next day we planted a final crystal by the creek near the house, giving thanks for such a safe and satisfying journey. I then drove down the mountain, arriving just in time for a family celebration – my eldest granddaughter Elana’s  7th birthday!