This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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1999 Travels July 23

FRIDAY 23 JULY     GEMTREE

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 12

MONDAY 12 JULY     GEMTREE

We had a lazy morning just sitting outside in the shade of the awning, reading.

After lunch, drove back to the Mud Tank zircon fields.

We tried further along on the flats, from where we were the other day, but found we didn’t have enough washing gear or water. There seemed to be a lot of clay sticking to the wash here, which made getting it clean enough difficult.  We did not find anything exciting, but John did get some tips from people working nearby.

I used the green rubber gloves we carry “in case”, today, to try to protect my fingernails a bit. Scrabbling around in stones is not kind to them. Found they turned my hands bright green – and it did not all wash off later! Lucky that we are not too “upmarket”, here.

We drove around and explored the Zircon Hill area, near the vermiculite mine. Drove 41kms today.

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The Strangways Range, seen from Gemtree

Tea was soup, oven baked frozen fish and French fries.

The fuel bowser is still out of action. We will need to conserve fuel, since we have to go to Alice on Friday, and they don’t know when it will be fixed. This is a vindication of John’s policy of always carrying 25 litres of fuel, in the plastic jerrycan in Truck. One cannot always rely on fuel being available, and where there is only one outlet for some distance this can create problems. Bowsers break down. The fuel delivery truck is held up. An unexpectedly large number of travellers require fuel. These things happen.


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1999 Travels July 9

FRIDAY 9 JULY     GEMTREE

It is so nice to wake up “in the bush”, as opposed to the urban-ness of the conventional caravan park. So far, I really love this place.

We had a camp-based day.

John made a shaker stand for the gem sieve – very clever – and a big sieve tray, like we saw at Rubyvale. The materials were bought in Alice Springs, before we left there. He felt a great sense of achievement. Looks like we will be getting serious about these gemstones!

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John making a shaker stand – to make life easier on the back

07-09-1999 John making fossicking gear Gemtree.jpg

A large sieving tray in the making – this will increase the amount of dirt we move

I watched his work, and read.

I made steak and kidney stew for tea, with suet dumplings (from a suet mix packet) – much to John’s delight.


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1999 Travels July 7

WEDNESDAY 7 JULY   ALICE SPRINGS TO GEMTREE   151kms

We were up at 7.45 and away at 9.45. Not bad, as John had a lot of stuff around our camp and still to pack into Truck. Plus, we dawdled a bit over breakfast. I ended up doing quite a bit of the outside pack up, to help speed things along. It does not usually take very long to pack the inside – most loose things from surfaces go on the bed, and I now have a system for where everything goes. The electric jug and dishwashing items go in the sink, with the cutting board. Then I put the securing screw in the bottom corner of the fridge, drop the poptop and that is my work done!

We were trying unsuccessfully, to contact our real estate agent, yesterday and today, regarding the new tenant for the unit, but not long after leaving Alice Springs, we were out of mobile range.

It is good to be on the move again.

Some 30kms north of Alice Springs, we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn. Again! Is it my imagination, or does it seem hotter today, already?

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Truck with its nose at the Tropic of Capricorn

It was an interesting drive to the north on the highway – always hills and ranges somewhere to look at. Once we turned east, onto the Plenty Highway, there were ranges ahead and on our right. The road was sealed, all the way to Gemtree, although the Plenty Highway section  was mostly just a single width strip of bitumen.

Just after we crossed the shallow dip/floodway that is the usually dry Gillen Creek, was the entrance to Gemtree campground. The entrance roadway wound around, past a large dam, with water, and then on to the office and reception building. It was a more substantial place than I’d been expecting, not nearly as rustic or rundown.

Gemtree’s weekly rate is $107 for our powered site – not cheap, but it seems a pleasant place. The managers are very jovial. They told us they have allocated us one of their best sites – number 33. We booked onto their zircon fossicking trip, for tomorrow, and that cost another $40.

Found that our site was in between two clumps of mulga, so there was some sideways shade. All the campground is red earth – no water to promote grass. out here.  It is very attractive, though, with clumps of mulga about the place and quite a bit of shade, and interesting outlooks to surrounding ranges.

We have our own tap that we can connect to, for washing water and the like. Because we have the dual tap set up at our sink, we can still pump water from our van tanks for drinking. The power comes from their generator, which does not run from 10.30pm till 7am; we will still have lights from our battery then, though. There is no site on one side of us, and the one on the other side is a fair distance from us – so all very nice. We have a fire pit and BBQ plate, shared with a few other sites, in a sort of circle, on the far side of a couple of mulga trees. They supply firewood, which we can gather from a large central heap. I guess that stops campers from denuding their trees.

When I went to explore the ablutions, found them adequate, somewhat rustic and very clean. There is a wood fuelled “donkey” hot water service, which means rather variable temperature hot water. They encourage campers to keep an eye on this, in passing, and to stick in a piece of wood if the fire seems too low.

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The Donkey – hot water heater. The stack of mulga logs beside it shows the typically dark centre of this timber.

Set up camp, had late lunch, then set out to do the camp’s Nature Walk, which is a couple of kms long. It took in an area behind the campground and along Gillen Creek and was interesting. Trees were identified. Saw the holes and mounds made by the mulga ants at the entrance to their nest, which we had not seen before; they thatch them on the outside to make them more erosion proof. I picked up some blue coloured parrot feathers to add to the feather collection that seems to be happening.

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Mulga ant nest

It was almost dark by the time we got back from our walk.

John lit a fire in our pit for heating water – to save our gas and because the thought of a campfire on the chilly nights was a pleasant one.

Tea was soup, cold roast chicken and vegetables.

After tea sat round the fire, looking at the myriad of really bright stars. It was not too cold.

07-07-1999 to gemtree

The route to Gemtree, which is in the rugged Harts Ranges


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1999 Travels July 5

MONDAY 5 JULY     ALICE SPRINGS

Thought we’d need a quiet day, today, though the muscles and bottom are not as sore as I expected.

We did a big supermarket shop, to prepare for a week, maybe two, out at Gemtree. This is a caravan park and camping ground, some 150kms north east of Alice Springs, on the Plenty Highway, which runs east to Qld. The rationale for the caravan park here is the nearby Mud Tank Zircon fossicking area. While some fossickers rough camp on the actual field, there are no facilities there. Gemtree provides the promise of some creature comforts. We hope to find some zircons.

Picked up the mail from the Post Office and sorted it. There were two letters for John from sister H, but no personal ones for me. It is always a bit of a let down when that happens. There was a postcard from H and C, from India; they are up high in the Himalayas.

I completed some share paperwork and we went back to the Post Office to mail it off.

Bought a Territorian Lottery ticket – these have a big prize. Maybe……..

I collected the most recent film, put in earlier for processing. The Kodak place here does a good job.

Back at camp, John filled the van’s water tanks. There is only bore water out at Gemtree and they ask travellers to bring their own potable water.

I will be quite happy to leave Alice Springs, as I am feeling quite bored after three weeks here. It was too long. Two weeks would have been better, though the time did allow us to hide away from the really cold weather spell.

Tea was soup, lamb chops with vegies.