On The Road: Rubyvale - a real gem of a place

I'm dusty, I'm dirty and I'm tired. I'm fossicking. It sounds terrible, but it's not, it's addictive. Sapphire and Rubyvale are two towns in the gemfields of Queensland, where people come to find their fortune or just to have a hunt around in the dirt for sapphires. The local shops sell the usual bread, milk and Mrs Mac's pies, but there are also piles of sieves, picks and buckets, and tacked outside on the noticeboards are claims for sale and mining equipment in need of a new home.

I'm not a born treasure-seeker. I realised this after the first day of digging dirt, sieving dirt, washing dirt and finding nothing but dirt. I just don't have the patience for it, and instead of concentrating I make innumerable cups of tea on the portable gas cooker.

Specking is much more my thing. This involves visiting land which has been dug, and walking or crawling over the ground to find stones that people have missed or discarded. After just one day I am the proud owner of some 10 stones; small and surely not gem quality but mine, all mine.

If you don't have much time, don't have the tools or just don't like the idea of burrowing around in the ground, don't worry: you're catered for, too.

There are mine museums and places dotted around Rubyvale and Sapphire offering bags of wash (that's bags of dirt to you and me) for a variety of prices. They'll talk you through how to wash, sieve and pick stones out, and if it's a sunny day then this can be quite profitable and very satisfying.

Watch out for tourists rushing between their favourite wash seller (currently Willie's Wash), the recommended gem cutter and someone to set the stone. The ladies and gents here aren't showing off designer jewels, but there will be some great stories to go with that new star-sapphire ring.

Sitting outside the pub, beer in hand, watching the cows ambling up the main street in Rubyvale, I'm a bit concerned I'll never leave. The sound of the grey nomads playing canasta in the caravan park is all that breaks the silence. What more do I need? By next month I could be a millionaire.



Footprint's East Coast Australia Handbook is available now (£14.99)

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