After an efficient departure from our burr-ridden free camp, we continued west towards Alice Springs. The road quality had changed immediately after the NT border, with mild corrugations, very occasional bull dust and sharp stones covering the surface. We hit one of these with the front left tyre, so I wisely stopped to jack the wheel up, rotate and check for leaks – luckily there was no damage. Whilst I was under the car with the bonnet up – the unofficial bush sign of distress – two farmers utes passed going east, neither stopped. Along the Gibb River Road, so many people stop to help they almost get in the way! Better that way than to be ignored.
After a lazy 302 km, we pulled into Gem Tree. This is a well known fossicking area and even more importantly, where the bitumen starts again! After shelling out for two nights at the rather barren caravan park as well as $85 to go garnet fossicking the next day, we all had well deserved showers (despite the boys’ unsuccessful arguments to convince us they did not need showers – De rigour I’m afraid).
At 8 am next morning, we met to collect our sieves, shovel, pick and 20 l water drum, and followed our resident fossicking expert (read Grey Nomad here for his first season) to the site. The boys had fun, at least for the first half hour, when they realised that fossicking is hot dusty hard work, and that the gems are small and hard to spot.
After 3 hours we packed up our gear – I had the sense to dry sieve enough to allow a few more turns wet washing back at the van. Our efforts were not in vain. We collected probably 50 stones, several of which were later assessed to be of cuttable gem quality. The decision now, as with our tiny sapphires from Rubyvale, is what to do with these pretty coloured stones?