Did you know there are three towns in central Queensland called Emerald, Rubyvale and Sapphire ?
No prizes for correctly identifying why they might carry these names - Yes they are all part of a small but incredibly precious area in Central Queensland - with the emphasis on precious - which are awash with sapphires called the Sapphires Gemfields.
They were found way back in the 1870s when mines were dug with picks and shovels. The mines were dug and shafted and the dirt brought up and then washed to reveal the precious stones.The mines got another lease of life in the 1960s when mechanised mining came into use and Australia supplied a lot of the worlds sapphires at the time but the business was severely affected by the influx of cheaper stones from Asia and now the mines offer interesting tourist experiences but also keep mining with limited returns.
We loved our adventure of exploring a living mine with Ruby!
She took us down the mine that she and her husband have been mining for a number of years. They have a good historical display in their shop as well as some lovely sapphires, uncut and polished. Sapphires here come in all colours which was an interesting fact - anything from yellow to green to blue and the most precious of all was one called Autumn Glory which was orange.
In 2000 a tourist found an impressive sapphire weighing 200 carats and named it the Millennium Sapphire - She said it was just lying there and she picked it up !
We had the chance to go fossicking ourselves - looking for precious stones in buckets of wash that come out of the mines and it was a great experience. Out in the warmth and brightness of the sun, sieving your bucket of wash and then carefully picking through them to see if you too have found some precious stones - we did find some, though ours were not as big as the Millennium Sapphire but our joy at learning to spot them and set them aside were probably even greater then hers.