The Snail Trail

Travelling with my home on my back and in no hurry to get anywhere


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On the Dinosaur Trail

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I’m in the zone! Can’t wait to find out more about our pre-historic life and Richmond is certainly the place to do it. Kronosaurus Korner is the information centre, coffee shop, fossil museum and a working fossil laboratory. It was only a short drive from my overnighter at Marathon and I was ready for breakfast when I arrived. I really shouldn’t get excited about a bought breakfast – it rarely lives up to my expectations and this one was no different. Am I getting picky in my old age? (That question doesn’t require an answer.)

I wanted to see the fossil museum so paid my $16 and it was well worth it. There was loads of information, as well as fossils, and I learnt something about Australia that I never knew before, and that was about this amazing inland sea that existed about 100 million years ago. And it is this sea that has left behind an incredible record of creatures that lived at that time.

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The most famous in this area is the Kronosaurus.

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Life size replica of a Kronosaurus

 

Kronosaurus, named after the Greek God of time “Kronos: belongs to a group of short-necked plesiosaurs called pliosaurs.  It was the largest marine reptile living in the Eromanga Sea and may have been the largest marine reptile in the world.

With teeth up to 30 cm long (most of which was embedded in the jaw) Kronosaurus was clearly a carnivore. The teeth had evolved for tearing huge chunks of flesh off prey rather than chewing.

Kronosaurus head was over 2 m long – twice as large as the skull of T-Rex. Four massive flippers, up to 2 m in length, powered the beast through the water.

Only a handful of Kronosaurus specimens have ever been found – most are from this region.  Tthe first was a section of jaw with 6 teeth, found by Andrew Crombie near Hughenden in 1899.

An almost complete skeleton of Kronosaurus was collected from Richmond in 1932 by a team of palaeontologists from Harvard University in the U.S.A. It was reconstructed to a length of 12m. As a reptile, Kronosaurus had to continually return to the surface of the water to breathe, as modern whales do.

There was also a huge display of ammonites.

Ammonites are perhaps the most widely known fossil, possessing the typically ribbed spiral-form shell.These creatures lived in the seas between 240 – 65 million years ago, when they became extinct along with the dinosaurs. The name ‘ammonite’ (usually lower-case) originates from the Greek Ram-horned god called Ammon. Ammonites belong to a group of predators known as cephalopods, which includes their living relatives the octopus, squid, cuttlefish and nautilus.

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Ammonites at Kronosaurus Korner

Well, enough of all this looking, I want to go out to one of the sites and find myself some fossils! There are 2 public fossicking sites but you know, it was a bit like looking for sapphires at Anakie – you have to know what you are looking for. I found a few rocks with fossilized shells in them but nothing that was breath-taking. I could have been walking over Kronosaurus bones and not recognised them. So I threw them in the van to take back to Kronosaurus Korner for identification.

On the road to the digs I crossed the Flinders River, which is Queensland’s longest river. An interesting fact is that rivers north of the Flinders flow to the Gulf of Carpentaria and those south of the Flinders flow to Lake Eyre. That’s when there is water in them.

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Flinders River looking East

There was a bit of a puddle in the Flinders River looking west.

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Back at Richmond I wandered along part of the Heritage Trail but I was keen to get settled before it got too late so headed off to my next free camp, a roadside stop at Maxwelton (emphasis on the ‘wel’ – nothing says you are a stranger to the area as much as mispronouncing place names!)

This is typical of the landscape I have been travelling through since Hughenden – dry, dusty, barren – and dare I say it? Boring!

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I am so grateful I have met up with fantastic people every time I have stopped and tonight was no exception, with Happy Hour at the undercover tables with 3 caravanning couples and another solo traveller. A drover came in with his ute and dogs and rounded up some cattle for the night and was telling us that they are going to take 80,000 head to Hay in NSW. I did a double take because the last time I was in Hay, which I admit was a few years ago now, the country looked exactly the same – dry, dusty and boring!

Where to tomorrow? Julia Creek.


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Anakie – fossicking for sapphires

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Some background information about the area.

Sapphire, a rural town of 550 people, is 280 km west of Rockhampton and 40 km west of Emerald. It has been the main town in the Anakie Gemfields, an arc of mining country west of Emerald which includes Willows and Rubyvale. In 2001 Rubyvale’s population equalled Sapphire’s.

In the early 1870s sapphires were found at Retreat Creek, a watercourse between Sapphire and Emerald that flows into the Nogoa River. Mining at Retreat Creek began in about 1890 and a population centre developed. A provisional school, named Sapphire, was opened in 1904, and henceforth the locality was known by that name. There was already a hotel there, the Kitchener Hotel, having been removed from Comet in 1903. Basic amenities were established, a first aid station, a hall, a cemetery and a racecourse.

During the 1920s the population fell by nearly three-quarters, and recovery did not occur until the 1960s and 1970s. Casual fossickers, tourist fossickers and, in some cases, squatter fossickers, brought about a resurgence of mining. As well as Sapphire, similar developments occurred throughout the arc of gemfield country extending from Middle Ridge and through Rubyvale, Sapphire, Anakie and Glenalva to Willows. A local historian described Sapphire in 1979 as ‘today more a tourist centre than a serious mining proposition’, but census populations for Rubyvale, Sapphire and Willows exceeded 1200. (Willows had no person under 14 years and the median age was 61 in 2001.)

Anakie emerged as the gemfields’ civic centre, with the primary school, multi-purpose centre (1994) and a basic medical service. Population growth, however, required the connection of electricity to Sapphire (1977) and reticulated water (1998), despite some residents being contentedly self-sufficient. Sapphire has the gemfields information centre, accommodation for tourists and fossickers and a jewellery manufacturer.

Click here for a good website for pictures, both historical and new about the area

My Adventure

I pulled into this sandy caravan park/camping ground to be greeted by Cheryl & Graham, the managers, who walked me around the site to choose where I would like to park for the night. I needed to power up my lantern, computer, phone, camera…..

Anakie Caravan Park

It was a fairly basic park but the facilities were very clean and there was plenty of room to move. Not only that but they sold buckets of fossicking gravel for $8 and I thought this might be my only chance to fossick for sapphires. I had spoken to one of the other residents there who fossicked a lot and she said there was not much around at the moment and she was thinking of buying a bucket herself! To actually fossick you need to dig down to the ancient creek beds, or you might be lucky enough to find sapphires in the stuff other people had already dug up and discarded. The bucket for $8 was an easy option and would give me an experience that I was otherwise unlikely to have.

Everyone else in the camping ground were fossickers and they were more than keen to help me, showing me how to sift the clay from the gravel then wash it through so that the bigger rocks sat on the top sieve and the little ones went through to the finer sieve at the bottom. You sat the sieves in a big wash trough and levered them up and down until the clay washed off. If you did it really well the sapphires tended to fall to the middle at the bottom as they were heavier than the other stones around them like quartz and what they called “pet rocks” – pretty to look at but worth nothing.

There was about 4 loads of washing in a bucket and out of the first 3 siftings I picked up a few little chips of sapphire (as well as some pet rocks!) and then when I did the last sift I picked up about a dozen little sapphires – probably not worth much but the experience was worth heaps. The sapphires are easier to find when the sun is out because compared to all the other stones in the sieve they shine and look like glass. I’m sure when I’d finished all those who were helping me went back over everything I’d discarded because I really didn’t know what I was looking for and probably missed some.

What I found interesting was the different colours of sapphires. Coloured SapphiresThey range from the deep blue that we are mostly familiar with to pale green, pale blue, gold, turquoise and every shade in between. I bagged up everything I found that had a faint glimmer to it in the hope that I’ve found something worthwhile. I can just hear those experienced fossickers saying “Tell her she’s dreaming!”

I could become addicted to this, so was glad when Lorrie, Pam, Lawrence and now Richard turned up to drag me off to our next destination. It wasn’t far up the road, about 20kms, at the town of Sapphire. (Another free camp). I had to laugh when I saw it was in Flagon Alley – seemed appropriate as Happy Hour is very much a part of travelling on the road.

A little bit more information if you are interested:

Home to Gemfest, the Sapphire Gemfields covers almost 900 square kilometres of one of the world’s most significant sapphire-bearing grounds and takes in the delightful townships of Anakie, Sapphire, Rubyvale and The Willows.
Located in Central Queensland, the Gemfields are only four hours west of Rockhampton on the Capricorn Highway. People from all over the world descend on the Gemfields each year to experience fossicking firsthand and try their luck in finding the ultimate gem discovery.

If it’s treasure that you’re seeking or the opportunity to experience a real-life fossicking town, the Sapphire Gemfields has it all with its array of gemshops, galleries, jewellers, underground mines and digging areas. Fossicking parks are great fun, where miners supply sapphire ‘wash’ for a fee and teach you to recognise and find sapphires.  (This is what I did at the Anakie Caravan Park.) The area is also rich in history, character and charm, and driving around it’s easy to imagine how commercial mining drove the town from the late 1890s. Once a burgeoning market right up until the early 1980s, a downturn in Australian sapphires brought about an active tourist industry in the area. Indeed, some of the world’s most famous sapphires have been found in The Willows Gemfields.

 Click here for info about Gemfest, held in August each year
Want to go fossicking? Click here for good information about areas and if permits are required.