This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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1999 Travels July 26


We had another day out at Mud Tank.

Kept digging in the new, promising, direction that was started on Saturday, and seemed to do very well.

John had “borrowed” the mesh top off an empty campground rubbish bin (intended to keep the crows from spreading the rubbish) and that helped sieve out the biggest rocks and really speeded up the through put. But it was still hard work.

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A lot of earth has been shifted, here

Mid-afternoon, we went back to camp and the welcome shower. My mining clothes – I use the same ones each time – were really muddy and stiff. When we have finished fossicking here, I will have to decide whether to try washing them, or just throw them out!

I had time to cook vegie and barley soup, using the stock kept from yesterday’s shanks. We had some of that for tea, with cold pasties.

The moon is getting on for full. The effects of this light outside, at night, are really pretty. The moon light seems to shine off the mulga leaves.

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Dusk at Gemtree, with full moon. The shading from blue to mauve is typical of Central Australia at this time of night

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1999 Travels July 25


Had a pretty slow start this morning, in the chill.

Eventually got organized and decided to try some easy specking for garnets. Drove east along the Plenty Highway, for about 30kms, to where Gemtree have a lease where they take tour groups after garnets.

We decided to try our luck in the area over the road from that. There were a couple of camps set up by the road and a lot of diggings near the road. We drove in off the road for a couple of kms, following a little track. This ended in a clearing on bare ground, with lots of mallee and mulga scrub about.

We left Truck in the clearing and walked about, looking at the ground, and actually specked some garnets. Rather to our surprise, I might add. This was really just an exercise in going out for a while, rather than anything serious!

Ate our lunch at Truck, then tried some systematic specking. Picked up a few bits. We used the compass and GPS to walk in a straight line over the flat flood plains, through the scrub. It was a good thing that we did because it was really easy country in which to get lost – flat, featureless, and with fairly thick scrub for those parts. I would not have been confident of finding my way back to Truck, after walking a little way. Our method got us back to the track we’d driven in on, not too far from the clearing where we’d parked.

This was different country to where we’d been digging before, and quite a different experience. I found it slightly spooky.

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This is really easy country in which to lose all sense of direction

We got back to Gemtree mid-afternoon, after driving 70kms.

I cooked lamb shanks for tea.

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1999 Travels July 24


Last night was very cold – close to zero, I think. The cold wind was still blowing today. I think it affects my sinuses, hence the headaches.

We went back to Mud Tank for another go at the zircons. John has the mining bug!

We did not do as well, today. John may have gone a bit deep and got out of the wash layer. Later on, he changed direction and depth and seemed to do a bit better.

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John in the deepest part of his excavation

Someone else had been digging in the hole, yesterday, in our absence.

It was tiring work, seeming to be harder because of the cold wind.

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At Mud Tank – not sure if it is in use and I wasn’t going to check!

We went back to camp mid-afternoon, cleaned up, then sat round the fire for a while, before tea, talking with our neighbours. Discovered that she knew John’s brother, from Teachers’ College, and that he used to make furniture, so there was plenty to talk about.

Tea was soup, cold pasties, coleslaw and Chelsea buns.

We decided not to go across to paddy melon bowls – it was just too cold and we were weary.

John spent the usual time on his computer. I read and went early to bed.

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1999 Travels July 23


Today we needed a quiet day to rest the mining muscles!

The cold wind that started blowing yesterday, from the east, continued today. It really chills things down.

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Part of the Gemtree camp ground

I had a headache for much of the morning – wondered if I was brewing a cold.

It was baking day for John. He made potato bread and rolls, Chelsea buns and some pasties. Quite a marathon session.

I had a marathon of my own, doing three loads of washing, including the bedding.

We sorted through the zircons brought back on one of the previous days – I am sure there are a few cutting stones in there.

An Englishman who was camped nearby, with his young family, showed us some amethyst crystals he had collected from Wylie Station, in the Hamersley Ranges of WA. He gave us a mud map sketch of the location.

Some new people set up in “our” clearing – a couple from Melbourne, who are also members of the VKS Radio network. They have relatives in Alice Springs and do a lot of 4WD track exploring around Central Australia. They drive a Disco – the more luxurious brother of our Truck!

Tea was pasties – yummy.

John spent the usual hours on the computer after tea.

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1999 Travels July 22


Yesterday’s success was a great motivator, and we went back to the zircon fields, for more.

Before leaving, I wrapped my Band-aided cut thumb in gladwrap, then John coated it in electrical tape. I put it in a plastic bag and wore the green glove over all that! It worked, and kept the dirty wash water away from the wound. Exposure to that could have been asking for trouble!

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Sorting the washed gravel – with glove on my injured hand

We dug some more in the same hole as yesterday, and seemed to do well, again. Of course, many of the pieces of zircon that are found will, on closer examination later, prove to have cracks or flaws that will make them unsuitable for cutting.

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Zebra finches came in to drink in the washing water puddles

I got very muddy from the wash process water splashing on me. As the day goes on, this water gets more and more muddy. We can only carry a limited amount of water out there, so it can only be changed once during the day.

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This is not a clean pastime!

The chilly wind started to blow again, through the day.

Got back to camp about 5.30 and headed for the shower. Alas, there was no water! A pipe had broken. They were trying to fix it. I was all itchy from the mud on me. Washed hands and arms in the van sink.

Tea was corn chowder, cold fish cakes, and coleslaw.

After tea, the good news was that the pipe was fixed and we were able to shower. That was a relief as I’d have hated to go to bed the way I was!

I dressed the thumb, which was very sore, with a melolin dressing and gauze pads. John had a look at it and was quite impressed with the damage! He promised to tell me when he sharpens knives in the future.

It was a cold night.

John was on the computer again, until the power went off. At least, this is ensuring that he cannot lose track of time and stay up too late.

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1999 Travels July 21


After breakfast, we went out to Mud Tank and went fossicking on the flats there.

We seemed to do quite well, working in an old hole and enlarging it.

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Our makeshift zircon fossicking gear

It was hard work. John worked in the hole, digging out the soil and gravel, onto the big, coarse sieve that he made. Then he uses his “rocker” to sieve that product twice more, through finer sieves.

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John sifting dug material, using a sieve on the rocker stand he made

Then it is my turn to wash that final sieve full – using our red camp gear container, full of water. Then I turn it out onto our table – again, camp gear – and sort through the wet stones to pick out anything that might be worth keeping.

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A sieve full of washed gravel, ready for inspection

It is a good division of labour.

We took a break and ate lunch, then dug on for a while. Went back to camp mid afternoon.

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John is following the layer of gravel

After I had cleaned up, made spicy corn chowder soup, and then fish cakes, for tea.

John had sharpened my vegie knife this morning, apparently, without telling me. Because it was unexpectedly sharp, it bounced off the board when I went to cut onion, and sliced some nail and the end off my left thumb. There was much blood! I band-aided it up, without telling John, who was outside, because he gets cross when I cut myself! Later, at night it became very sore, and I eventually had to confess about the reason for the bandaids.

We were quite weary from the mining and did not spend much time out at the fire.

John played computer games until the power died.

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1999 Travels July 20


I went to the Office and booked us in here for another week. The trip to Alice and replenishment of some supplies meant we could stay longer here. I asked about the aquamarine that I’d read about, and was told that what they get out in these parts is a show of colour in a milky base – not something that is worth cutting. So we will not worry any more about that!

Whilst at the Office I succumbed to temptation and bought a Gemtree polo shirt – cost $30, but seems high quality fabric.

Took a packed lunch and headed off to do the full circuit of the Cattlewater Pass/Pinnacles Bore Track, this time.

We drove west, to the garnet fossicking area, and took the track to the south again, but continuing past where we’d been before. Followed a short side track to an old mica mining area, to the west of the main track, and poked about for a while. I feel frustrated that we are such novices and do not know more about what is good material and what is not.

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Waste heap at Blackfellows Bones mica mine, seen from a distance

We continued on the track to the Blackfellows Bones mica mine site, which was quite extensive. Could see the waste heaps glistening from a distance. Had to drive across the Ongeva Creek flats to get to this. It is an attractive site, with mountains all round.

There were remains of bough shelters that had been used by miners. The prolific bird life out here indicates that there must be water somewhere fairly close by. This could possibly be cattle watering troughs, as we are on a station, after all. I spotted a Horsfields bronze cuckoo.

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Bough hut remains at the bottom of the hill, and Ongeva Creek valley

While John was pottering about with his eyes to the ground, I climbed a hill and took photos.

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Ongeva Creek valley

The morning had disappeared quickly and we ate lunch at Blackfellows Bones mine.

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Mica mine

Then it really was time to keep going, if we were to get round the circuit. Continued broadly southwards, though the track wound around a lot. Its quality varied, being quite rough in parts. There were a few places where we actually needed to engage the low range.

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Outlook from the Cattlewater Pass Track

Yesterday, at the first gate, we’d seen a couple of camper trailer rigs setting off down this way. They would not have found it easy going at all, and would not have had much fun in some places.

Stopped at a prominent white quartz outcrop beside the track for a look around it. Found some shiny black stuff – didn’t know what it was except that it occurs in quartz!

07-20-1999 01 quartz hill at FA10 area

Another quartz outcrop

This really was a very scenic drive, through different types of rugged hills. Had to cross a sort of earth dam wall at one point. The track traversed river flats – the Hale River, then we crossed scoured, rocky plains to emerge out onto the Arltunga road at Ambalindum Homestead. It was about 5pm when we reached here.

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On the Cattlewater Pass track

Turned east on The Gardens road and once we reached The Gardens Homestead, it was familiar territory, from our previous drive. We turned north. The sun was almost setting as we passed the Pinnacles Bore. We were very pleased that we had the easier part of the circuit track to drive in the dusk. It was dark for the last part, and almost 7pm when we got back to Gemtree.

It was a long day, but a great drive – one we will remember as a highlight. We covered 215 kms today.

Tea was tinned soup, fried ham and cheese sandwiches. It was late, of course.

The moon was almost half full. It is beautiful here, at night. I love the sense of space.

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1999 Travels July 19


After an early lunch, we drove off to explore the old mica mining area, on Mt Riddock Station.

Mica was mined in the Harts Ranges from the 1880’s to 1960; this area was the main source of mica in Australia. As a heat resistant material, it was used for a variety of applications, such as “windows” in the doors of fuel burning stoves of the times. Mica is found in flaky sheets.

We turned off on the track to the garnet fossicking areas, but kept going south for about 10kms from the highway. The whole area is very scenic, with ranges all round, and the broad valley of Ongeva Creek cutting through. The tracks are rather slow driving. There is a maze of them and we drove slowly around, seeing what was along some of them.

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Quartz hill outcrop at Mt Riddock

We came across a prominent quartz outcrop on a hill. There was lots of clear and smoky quartz pieces lying about here, and we gathered some of this.

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Quartz outcrop, with pieces of quartz around its base

The first mica mine, nearby,  was supposed to have aquamarine crystals occurring, according to our fossicking literature, and we had a look around, but did not really know what it looked like.

Moved on to a second mica mine – not far – and in scrounging around, John found some garnets in a creek bed, so we sieved for an hour or so there. I was not sure if what we found there included any cutting stones, though.

07-19-1999 05 mica sheet at old mica mine .jpg

John with a piece of mica at an old mica mine

It was lovely, being out in such a beautiful area, on our own, in the sunshine, just pottering about.

07-19-1999 03 corkwood tree

Corkwood tree in the old mica mines area

Got back to Gemtree at 5.45pm, a bit stiff after all the clambering about, and digging. We drove 120kms today.

Tea was tinned soup and chow mein with rice.

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1999 Travels July 18


Another camp based day. This is such a pleasant place that just being here is enough, without going somewhere every day.

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Our Gemtree camp

John worked on the tax and financial paperwork for much of the day. This is never a fun task and he was not a happy camper.

I read, knitted, sewed, and generally stayed outside as much as possible.

C and A did the zircon fossicking tour this morning, and came back with ten cutters.

Tea was packet chicken noodle soup, cold roast chicken, mashed potato, and salad.

Again, we spent some of the evening sitting round the campfire.

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1999 Travels July 17


Today was a camp based day, after the activity of the previous two.

John was well into reading a suspense novel I had finished with, and read for most of the day. He also sorted through stuff that he had “filed”, looking for tax relevant materials. This made him grumpy!

I sorted the garnets from the other day. There may be a few cutters amongst them. I was disappointed with the lot from the top site though, as they were mostly fractured. Apart from that, I read and wrote up the diary.

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Local wild correa, or native fuschia

The new people at the back, who were roared at last night, turned out to be C and A, the couple with the two young girls and the broken camper that we had helped out on the Mereenie Loop Road. They had recognised our van when they came in yesterday, but decided to wait until daytime to catch up with us. They gave us a 6-pack of beer as a belated thank-you for our previous help. We chatted for some time. C had gotten sick of Alice Springs, too, and they’d had a few days camped out at Ormiston Gorge, which she said was great.

We had an early roast chicken dinner, then went over to play paddy melon bowls at 8pm.

You get one melon, with your name written on it in texta. They play several rounds – men Vs women. You queue up and take it in turns to heave your “bowl” at a big one sitting in the middle of a circle, some distance away. Those that end up in the circle, score. It is a damn sight harder than it sounds! Paddy melons are uneven shaped and very hard to direct. The men won!

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John playing paddy melon bowls

Damper was served afterwards. We had one little piece, which was all we felt like, and then went back to the van. The night was quite chilly.