Departing from the TPI Centre in Bolsover Street after packing the trailer we were off to a good start, no one was late.

But all plans get changed.  It was only a matter of 5 kilometres before the first unplanned stop,  someone had to go to the loo.  We were off again leaving sleeping Rockhampton behind and heading to the west to dig up a fortune.

Poppy broke the ice, first into the esky for a Fosters and became self appointed barman.  While at it handing out a few to others, some said it was time for a starter. 

First impressions of a dry bus are that there is no eating or drinking, but that can be tough all round. The only limitation put upon travellers was that “smokers” had to wait for a real stop.

The drinkers had a few cans each before Duaringa and the smokers were tonguing for a fag, but they’d have to wait for the Dingo pit and fuel stop. 

A fairly cool 12C degree morning and there are always those who need air in a bus, those who need to fiddle with the vents and those who open a window.  It didn’t take long, a window was opened and up went the hands to the vents.  It is like a chain reaction one hand goes up, then another and before you know it all are waving to the roof. 

Pulling into Dingo for diesel, a quick cup of tea or coffee, stretch the legs and we were on our way again.  The Treasurer became the bagman and controlled the Esky.  Correct money in or nothing out and this proved to be a good fund raiser for the trip.  I know “The Right Mix” wouldn’t totally agree, but then they weren’t on the bus.  The round trip consumed 127 cans of beer and 30 GOFFAS.  This of course was a great fundraiser to subsidise the running costs.


Along the way our driver made some announcements and the first was the information about the motel.  Rooms for everyone, shared showers and toilets and a continental breakfast.  But that wasn’t all. He had organised sausages, eggs, tomatoes and bacon which would be cooked before departing next day.  Someone commented   “Don’t they sell food in Emerald?”

Arriving in Emerald we were allocated our rooms, unpacked the trailer and stretched the legs and it was time to go again.  But three were missing!  The Emerald Hotel had magnetically attracted them over the road.  It was a case of Alcoholic constipation – the inability to pass a pub.


The crew was keen to get going again as we were due at Pats Gems for lunch and it was 11am now.  The road into Sapphire was a bit like a moon scape.  Holes and craters and great mounds of dirt and rocks all over the place.  Broken down and discarded machinery scattered all around. Old caravans, humpies, some ones long ago house or home left for the elements.  Parched dry, dusty and dead grass mixed with the occasional clump of tree regrowth.

Arriving at Pats Gems everyone was keen to get into the swing of things, but it was lunch first and time for a group photo.

Now with the aid of modern science and some skills most people look like they are in the original photo.  Remember you were all asked not to move.  The results tell me that some need to change the batteries in their hearing aids.  However, it is quite a good group photo. 


If you have keen eyes like young Laine it won’t be long before you’ll be bagging up your pile of sapphires.  Most sapphires were small stones unable to be cut, but the fever was setting in.  The Gem Stone fever was caught by all and with the news that we were going digging next day it didn’t take much to get people moving next morning.

Anyone would have thought passenger names were engraved on the seats.  The only ones to change seats were the drivers and their better halves and the Webbers and the Brewers. 

Back to Emerald for dinner and sleep.  Quite tiring, digging for stone.  Whether is was the weather, lack of water to drink, the hot sun and dry air, but quite a number slept from Sapphire to Emerald.

Most went to the Emerald Memorial Club for dinner, pokies and entertainment.  An easy walk from the motel. 


Next morning some were up early.  Charlie had said that there was to be no sleeping in as you might miss out on breakfast.  Once the griller plate was alight the cooks Mick, Rick and Nick got to work and cooked up sausages, tomatoes rissoles and bacon and Barbara cooked up a two dozen scrambled eggs mix.  Breakfast was ready for twenty three hungry miners.

Dixie bashers were next, and then it was onto the bus for an early start and a big day


Lunch at Pats was a time to take in what was going on in the area, time to sit back and relax and soak in some warmth from the sun.

All aboard the bus and out to the Bobby Dazzler mine.  The Bobby Dazzler has been on the go for quite some time and being an underground mine it was interesting to see the raw stone and the age of the rock (1,000,000s of years) in the area.  The mine shaft is an easy climb down and walk at the bottom.  The life of an original pick and shovel miner would have been extremely hard.  Todays underground miner has the use of hydraulic drills and jack hammers, better lighting and technology.  But it is still not all plain sailing.  There is still a lot of blood sweat and tears and lots of rock mixed in with the tiny gem stones.

Back at Pats Gems we were shown how to screen, wash, tip the sieve, where to look for sapphires amongst the stone, how to identify them and enjoy ourselves.

So the digging began.  Shovel the raw material into a bucket. Give it a shake to get rid of the excess dirt and extremely small stuff.  Then over to the wash.  Bit harder than it looks and everybody has a different action.  A good shake and a wash is essential and if you do it right all the heavy stones will go to the bottom in the middle of the screen.  Now the next bit is a bit tricky, but if you’d listened and watched the demo your stones ended up on the sack and not the ground.  Holding the tray in front of you, rotate it toward yourself and dump the contained stone onto the sack, lift the screen off and start searching.


Back to Rubyvale and after collecting our guides we headed out to Big Bessie.  An open area that has been set side by the Mines Dept for general fossicking by anyone with a fossickers permit.  Our guides had had a colourful 30 years of travel.  Originating in Tauranga New Zealand, they had owned a restaurant and had taken 3 months a year off on holidays and had decided to fossick.  From petrified wood, opals, gold and sapphires the sprightly pair were good entertainment as well as having a good knowledge of how to find sapphires. 

You need a good pick, shovel, and a couple of buckets, two different gauzes, a screen, a water shaker, a table and a sack and plenty of patience.


And if your name is Gloria your pile of rocks may yield enough sapphire to buy your own Indian Pacific.  No more booking a ticket, you can buy the whole train

Glorias sapphire was just on 10 carats.  Scientifically weighed by two independent assayers and valued about the same.  The recommendation was to leave the stone as it is. But if you must cut it, make a pendant out of it.


At Pats Gems we just shovelled the raw stone from a heap provided by a backhoe.  At Big Bessie we had to identify the layer of rock, pick it out and put it through a simple size sorting screen.  Then place it into a graded sieve and give it a good wash.  Turn it out on to a sack and be prepared to find nothing but iron stone.

After digging at Big Bessie, we headed to the new Rubyvale Hotel for lunch.  The hotel has been built like a log cabin and was opened 8 years ago.  A nice warm open hearth fire, a good lunch and Pauline had a reasonably large win on the pokies.

Our bus drivers got us there and back safely.  On the buses with Phil was entertaining too.  We missed the turn at the roundabout and went round twice.  Phil’s been known to go round and round the round-a-bout.


Laine learnt more in two days at the Gem Fields than he has in the last two months. A good lad and cluey too.  He counted everyone on and off the bus.  I asked him how much he can count up to.  “100” he said.  Then said “Infinity”.  I said you can’t really do that and he said “You can…God can”

Laine Diaz was our counter, checker and scout and was he looking after Poppy or was Poppy looking after him?


The girls were somewhat keen to go back to Rubyvale on Sunday for a village market, but the vote and the revote and double count said no. Capella Pioneer Village on Sunday.

Saturday night in Emerald is as quiet as a deserted Island.  A number of us went to the Leichhardt Hotel for dinner and enjoyed the peace and quiet, a good meal and were home early for bed.


With all the excitement of the big sapphire find Gloria was very keen to find a loo.  The photo proves that the cold weather can have a funny effect on you.


Our next stop was the Pioneer Village.  Well set up and enjoyable to just wander in and out of history and years gone by.  A great collection of shearing shed gear, wool presses, wool, tractors, steam engines, old bedding and household goodies.  The village ladies put on lunch and topped it off with homemade plum pudding and custard.


Sunday wasn’t so rushed.  Still had a reasonably early breakfast, packed the trailer and got under way heading for Capella Pioneer Village.

After a tour of the town looking for the greatest covered area in the southern hemisphere we found the Capella Covered area and felt the bitterly cold wind blowing through the arena.  Seating some 650+ people it is considered a large venue in the central Qld bush. 

  Charlie said that if you didn’t like his driving you could take the bike.  Here he is giving the Bike roller a test run  
  Phil Selby and the Anakie Gemfields RSL entertained Poppy and the TPI tourists enjoyed their visit to the RSL.  Phil & his members have gathered a good collection of memorabilia and the little club is proud to host visitors.   
   Sapphire has had some strange inhabitants in the past and one has left a monument cast in steel and concrete as an everlasting memorial to his wife

Anne Donnelly is not only a resident of Sapphire but one of the townspeople who work tirelessly fundraising for the community.  Anne sells raffle tickets and the funds have provided items like the Anakie Gemfields RSL kitchen.  We had drinks at Anne’s and talked about the value of stones.

  On Sunday before heading home we visited the Fairburn Dam and went past the mandarin orchids that are affected by the canker.  Laden in fruit and can only be scraped up and burnt.  

So next time you are talking to Charlie, remember to thank him for the great trip organised over a few months and many phone calls and typing up the itinerary.  Thanks Charlie you did a bloody good job!

When is the next trip….?