Friday, July 30, 2010

Advanced Mining Equipment

This piece of mining plant was on another claim at WIllows Gemfields. It’s designed to riddle the gravel and sand mixture to separate the gemstone sized pieces. It looks like it could use some maintenance.

Fossicking licenses are in levels:
  • To use mechanical equipment (like this, I assume) you need to stake a claim to a specific spot and get a permit.
  • A Fossicking License permits one to use hand tools only and dig to a depth of no more than one meter, anywhere in the General Fossicking Areas.
  • You can wander around looking for stones on the surface (’Specking’ or ‘Emu Bopping’) without a license.
It’s a big activity, the caravan parks are full of serious fossickers working on their digs for weeks.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

More Fossicking

We’re fossicking again. This time we’re looking for sapphires in Willows Gemfields.

Willows Gemfields is near towns called Sapphire, Rubyvale and Emerald.

The caravan park owns a nearby mining claim called The Bonanza Claim and for $8 a bucket they supply unprocessed wash from the gravel beds and give training in soaking, sieving and identification of stones. Around the area, in General Fossicking Areas, people from the caravan park and elsewhere were digging holes and making their own searches. The training helped us noobs and we found half a dozen small stones of varying size and quality. They weren’t gem quality, but we were happy enough to find them.

BTW Wikipedia suggests that the term fossicking comes from Cornish, a Celtic language spoken in Cornwall in southwest England. They’ve been mining in Cornwall for maybe 3000 years and I believe Cornish miners came to Australia in the 19th century.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Musical Fence

We spent three nights in Winton - waiting for a couple of new tires to be brought from Townsville.

We pretty much exhausted what the small town had to offer, but our favorite attraction was the Musical Fence. This consists of a fence with 4 taut wire runs that are connected to sounding boxes in the roof over your head. When you whack the wires you get amazing sounds. The small park also had a drum kit and a variety of other ‘instruments’ made from scrap.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Fossil Capital of Australia

We’re in Richmond “The Fossil Capital of Australia”.

In this area 110 million years ago was an inland sea full of fish, aquatic reptiles and dinosaurs. This is a full-size replica of Kronosaurus the top of the food chain 110mya but just fossils now. He fossils were discovered near here along with fossils of pliosaurs, ichthyosaurs, turtles and fish as well as invertebrates such as ammonites and nautiloids.

The model is outside Krokosaurus Korner the Richmond Visitor Center and fossil museum. After viewing the fossils in the museum we picked up a map of local fossicking sites and set off to try our luck. We didn’t find much!

Friday, July 23, 2010


These are cranes. Actually, two species of crane - Brolgas on the left and Sarus Cranes on the right. Look at the red markings around the head.

We’ve seen quite a few Brolgas in billabongs and wetland areas right across northern Australia, but only in Queensland have we seen the similar Sarus Crane mixed in with the Brolga flocks. Not really sure why that is.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Giant Saltie


This is a full-scale reproduction of Krys, the largest crocodile found in Australia. It’s 8.64m (27 ft) long! This model is in the town of Normanton, Queensland. We have seen Estuarine Crocs (Salties) in the wild; notably during the day we spent at King Ash Bay near Borroloola, NT. But the ones we saw on the banks of the river were probably only 3m to 4m (10 to 13 ft).

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Back 'Home' to Queensland

Part way through our long dusty drive, we entered Queensland. We only have 3000km to go!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Crossing Rivers

We took the more adventurous route from NT to Queensland. This was a 500km unsealed road from Borroloola in NT to Burketown in Queensland. The longest isolated section was 300km from Borroloola to the Hells Gate Roadhouse - it took 2 days.
The road was pretty variable, and very rough in places, but the real excitement was the river crossings - probably around 6. Most of these were pretty straightforward but two were more exiting. The crossing shown in the picture is Calvert River, and that’s the next car coming out of the water. It was probably around 2 feet deep in the middle - at least on the path we chose! Our bow wave was as high as the car hood and water came in the door of the caravan! I just kept my foot down and fingers crossed. I could feel the wheels bumping and slipping on the rocks.
Once over we stopped to dry out. Soon after, three motorcyclists turned up. Amazingly, they got across although one guy stalled in the middle and had to be pushed by his mates!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

WWII Strauss Airfield

We passed many WWII airfields in the Darwin area. Darwin was attacked by the Japanese in 1942, when they had pushed down through Malaysia and New Guinea. As part of the defenses many small airstrips were built each holding a squadron. As there are few (one) roads in the area, these are generally built close to the road. In some cases the landing strip itself runs adjacent to the road. The airfield buildings were a bit further back.
This particular airfield was named after a Captain Strauss of the US Army Air Corps who died in combat over Darwin. This airfield was initially used by an American squadron but was later taken over by the Australian RAAF.
There are historical displays here, and mocked up aircraft - a US P-41 and two Spitfires.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Under New Management

This sign was at the Roadhouse at Victoria River in the Northern Territory.
Roadhouses in the Australian Outback provide a little of everything - gas station / motel / caravan park / cafe / minimart. Often they are entirely by themselves in the middle of nowhere so that travelers have somewhere to stop every few hundred kilometers.

Crossed into Northern Territory

We’ve finally left Western Australia after nearly three months. It’s a huge state with a wide variety of landscapes - The Nullabor Plain, The Great Sandy Desert, The Pilbara, The Kimberley, gold and iron mines, Ningaloo Reef and Whale Sharks! A varied place.

Gouldian Finch

When we left Lake Argyle, we backtracked for a couple of days. We’d been trying to see an endangered Gouldian Finch ever since we entered it’s range at Wyndham. We still had not been successful at Lake Argyle so we decided to backtrack to Wyndham to try another location - in a caravan park, in fact - that had been recommended.

We stayed two nights in the Wyndham Caravan Park and got up each day at 5:30am to sit by a small waterhole at dawn! The first day was overcast and not a lot happened. The second day was sunny and we saw five species of finch - including two Gouldian Finches. They were quick - just in, drink and gone. Too fast for a photo in fact. The picture above is from Wikipedia.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Bower Bird

The Lake Argyle area has a big population of Great Bower Birds. These are largish brown birds whose main claim to fame are the bowers that the male builds during the courtship procedure.
In the bower, the male collects pebbles, bits of plastic and other treasures to impress the female. He also does an entertaining courtship dance.


Saturday, July 03, 2010

Lake Argyle


Lake Argyle is a man-made lake around 70kms south of Kununurra. It was built in the 60s to collect the huge wet season rains and provide a steady year-round water supply to the farming areas of the East Kimberley. It’s big - around 50kms long.


We stayed at Lake Argyle Tourist Park for three nights. One of the available activities is a cruise on the lake. We chose a sunset cruise and visited islands to see crocodiles, rock wallabies and wallaroos before hanging out in the middle to watch the sunset.