Fossicking in Australia’s outback

Even though the Covid-19 pandemic has affected most of us in the last 6 months or so, I, in company with my 48 year old son, went fossicking for gems, mineral specimens and crystals during August 2020.

Australia, unlike many countries around the world, was fortunate to have the right governmental policies and geographical position to escape the trauma, heartache, misery and death that much of the world has experienced since March. I live in Queensland, the second largest state of Australia, and is situated in the top right hand (north-east) corner of the country. The state is seven times the size of Great Britain and two and a half the size of Texas, so it has a very large area to explore. Even this area was not big enough for us, so we decided to cross the western border into the Northern Territory.

Our destination was Wave Hill Station, a very large cattle property in the north-west part of the territory, just north of the Tanami Desert. The Station is some 13,500 sq klm (5,200 sq mi), or approximately 3,300,000 acres, and the fossicking site we were headed for is well into the station from the dirt road. The fossicking site is a quite large and is an agreed area where the owners have allowed access to the general public. Its location, some 340klm (200mi) west of the Stuart Highway, the main north-south highway running through the Northern Territory, insures not many people go there.

To reach the area from Queensland during the pandemic meant we needed to travel across the Territory/Queensland border that had been closed for over 3 months. As the weather is not very hospitable during the hotter part of the year, it was important that we got there during our southern hemisphere winter (June – August). The border to Queensland finally opened in July and we immediately organized our trip. We required a border pass that was available on-line and it needed to be current and no more than 72 hours from its issue time/date. We packed the old trailer and my son’s trusty XJ Jeep Cherokee (1996) full of food, camping and fossicking gear and received our border pass at 8am on the Monday.

We headed off travelling north-west through Queensland to Camooweal on the border, some 1,900klm (1,150mi away). We crossed the border on the third day after handing in our pass and being questioned by a member of the Australian Defense Forced. We were on our way and we had another 1,100klm (660mi) to go, much of that on gravel/dirt roads. Loading up with extra fuel, water and perishable food we then travelled further north/west. The worst part of the trip was the 180klm (110mi) of the roughest unmade section of the road that we have travelled on for many years. The corrugations were enough to shake the teeth out of your head, which meant one could not travel more than 60kph (36mph) for much of the distance..

We finally arrived at Wave Hill Station on the afternoon of the fifth day of travel, after some 3,000klms (1,800mi) in a Jeep that had already travelled nearly 500,000klms (300,000mi) in its lifetime. We set up camp and settled in for the night. To give you some idea as to the very remote area we had travelled to, we stayed on site for 7 days, saw no human being, no kangaroo, wallaby, snake, wombat, lizard, emu or camel, and only 2 crows. We did not even see any of the cattle on the property near the campsite, although we could see where they had been. The area was in the midst of a drought and all the cattle were gathered around the water holes and their feeding areas many kilometres away from us.

Even though we were there in the early part of August (late winter) the temperature reached some 38 degrees centigrade (about 100f) on a couple of the days. Our water supplies just lasted the distance and we left with the view to returning again another day. We still managed to dig and pickup several buckets of prehnite, amethyst, smoky quartz and other interesting mineral specimens. All in all, an interesting experience and reasonable outcome.

We returned the way we came, went though more questioning by the Queensland police at the NT/Qld border and stopped off in the Cloncurry (Qld) area for more fossicking. We travelled some 7,000klms (4,200mi) on the trip in total and the trusty Jeep got us home safe and well. But the Cloncurry story is for another day!

Wave Hill Station camp site

XJ Jeep and trailer at Wave Hill
As dry creek bed on Wave Hill Station

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