“Find Your Own”- Gem Fossicking
October 20th –
Fossicking for gems worked, so we were told.
The land in the desert is sparse, the sun is scorchingly hot, the flies thick. We’ve heard the word, read the hype, received wondrous tales of glittering gems, and have now decided to follow in the footsteps of our pioneering prospectors, and spend a day fossicking in the gem fields. Believe it or not, this wasteland masks some of the best “precious stones” in the country. With some hard work, your chances of finding gems are good- though let’s not delude ourselves- you are unlikely to get rich!
The most common gems in the fields around Alice Springs are zircons and garnets. Zircons are a bit more sparkly and glittery so we opted to fossick for them over the garnets. Zircons can range from yellow, red, orange, yellowish-green, bright green, dark green, or sky blue. They can be colourless too, but we were most excited at the prospect of finding some bright coloured ones.
We decided to try our luck at fossicking first thing in the morning.
The Gemtree Park Caravan Park (only a mere 140 km NE of Alice Springs) made it easy, providing us with all the bare essentials. The required gear was squished into the back of our troop carrier. A pick, shovel, sieve, wooden sorting board, a washtub full of water, and a tin can. Our trusty guide accompanied us along a dusty 10km track out to the fields. Cut and polished zircons are beautifully colourful in the display cabinet of a jewellery store, but covered in mud it’s hard to distinguish them from gravel. The fossicking process involves separating the stones from the mud. Washing them is the main way to find them because wet gems glitter like fragments of coloured glass.
It’s worth noting briefly here that one has to be extremely enthusiastic to spend a summer out in the heat fossicking. After only a few hours, you end up sweaty, dirty, grimy, dusty, and with only a tin can of muddy stones to show for your efforts. A drier, hotter and dustier occupation would be hard to imagine!
Basically, the fossicking process involves 4 main stages.
* Firstly- you dig up a heap of gravel and mud with your shovel.
* Secondly- you sift out the dirt in a big sieve so that the mud falls back to the ground, and the rocks hopefully stay in the sieve!
* Thirdly- you wash the stones in water. This makes it easier to spot the zircons.
* Fourthly- you tip all the washed stones onto a big white wooden board, and sort them out. A keen eye tries to discern which are zircons, and which are just plain old rubble and rocks.
Lastly, you take back your zircon chips to the master gem keepers at the gem park, and they tell you if any are indeed cut-able or valuable. We managed to fill up a Campbell’s Soup can worth of zircon rocks, yet only 7 pieces were actually able to be cut into stones. Nevertheless, the whole process was enjoyable, one we’d do again at the drop of a hat!
Provided you put your back into it, even novices such as ourselves have an excellent chance of finding gem material with nothing more complicated than a shovel, a couple of small sieves and some water in a drum.