Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to dig we go

Trip Start Jul 07, 2011
Trip End Oct 10, 2011

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Where I stayed
Gemtree Caravan Park
What I did
Prospect for Garnets

Flag of Australia  , Northern Territory,
Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The purpose of coming to Gemtree was to go on the Garnet tour, an 8:30 start from the front gate. Standard issue: 20 litres of water, 1 shovel, 1 pick, 4 sieves, 1 washing bucket, 1 smashing bucket; and 1 can.  The can is important…

Tacking on the back of the convoy, Gordon lead the team of 4WD's out further into the middle-of-nowhere (I forgot to take the GPS cords for all you geo-cachers) to the garnet claim.  Some pushy QLD (plated) dude behind us barged in and loaded our digging gear into the back of his truck so we all raised our eyebrows and knew who to ignore for the day!

The Gemtree 'claim’ is a further 40+ km down the Plenty which, at about the 35km mark, turns into a (pretty poorly) graded track.  Gordon kept a reasonable pace so as not to loose anyone (difficult since there was only one turn off), but 90 clearly wasn’t fast enough for some nut who decided to overtake everyone by driving off the RHS and spraying rocks onto the convoy.

The claim is simply a patch of dirt off the RHS of the highway where some trees have been cleared.  Over the years (?) various tours have chipped away into the landscape to create horseshoes of excavations bearing garnets.  A bit of rain and this place would have looked like the Somme.  The only enemy here was the amount of red dirt to be shifted…

Come well dressed

Clad in our Sunday best (read: cheap and nasty shorts and hats purchased in the Alice K-Mart) we proceeded to transfer red dirt from the horseshoes onto ourselves – oh and some of it got into the sieves and washing bucket.

Gordon’s drill is:
  • Dig dirt
  • Crush dirt
  • Sieve dirt
  • Wash dirt
  • Discover Garnet
  • Repeat until rich
We were pretty good at the first four steps, but the fifth proved to be a little more tricky.

Along with the cheap K-Mart attire, we’d thought to buy some washing-up gloves.  Megan immediately put these on (Chris didn’t – because that’s not a MAN thing) and got to work.  30 mins and no success.

Gordon was ready to leave us all there to get on with it, but couldn’t until we’d all found a garnet and knew what to do.  We were holding him up…


Voila – a whacking chunk of garnet which duly got placed in the can (told you that the can was important) – and the drought was broken.  Gordon left!

Back to digging…

Easy come, easy go

Meanwhile, Caitlyn got very excited at the first garnet, picked up the can, rattled it and lost the bloody thing!  (The garnet, not the can).  You just can’t imagine the sinking feeling.

So here’s the scenario:  Everyone is finding garnets, the people just 20ft from us pulled out 68 in the whole day, and we’re struggling to find one – which madam goes and throws away.

Solution: Declare a CFZ (Caitlyn Free Zone) around the can.

Richer pickings

The 68ers got to step 6 by lunchtime and took their booty back to get counted.  We got their site and from then the rate picked up.  In the remaining 90 mins we had to dig, crush, sieve etc we more than trebled our morning’s take to a sort of respectable 31 pieces.  By that time, our backs were just about killing us and the rest of the convoy had gone home for showers, so we stashed the jewels into Matthew's (nearly) Caitlyn proof snap-lock box and headed for the counting room (on the way dodging a couple of bemused cows threatening to stop traffic on the Plenty).

The look on Matthew and Caitlyn’s faces as the assessor went through the pile was priceless – clearly worth more than the value of the gems.  Both stood in front of the desk, eyes like saucers, eagerly waiting to be told that they had the best and biggest garnets ever found in the whole wide world.

Alas not, but still a respectable haul – according to the King Assessor in his Counting house:
  • 2 x size 4’s
  • 5 x size 3.25’s; and
  • 24 x smaller chunks
Accompanied by:
  • 2 x crook backs
  • 4 x grubby bodies
  • 3 x pairs of red crusty hands (Megan’s hands were still soft and white – darn that man-pride thing); and
  • 4 happy faces having had a good day out
Bait & Switch?

When you buy a new car, you think it’s all over until the "paint protection" person tries to sell you the extras.  And so it is with your haul – the (much nicer than paint protection person here) guides you gently to the ‘oh-la-la’ sparkling jewellery counter and tells you what you can have your rough rocks made into.  Of course, you have no yardstick to judge by and so much of your stones get ground away in the make-them-into-art process, that we opted to take them away for memory’s sake.

The best bit

And clearly, the best bit about the whole day (apart from the good time had by all and the shower afterwards) was sitting down around a table, sun on our faces, breeze on our backs with a cold beer talking about the whole day.

I guess that’s why they call them precious.

Dinner, another camp fire and a quick stargaze: No one will have a problem sleeping tonight!
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