Mineral collecting Down Under

I got the collecting bug at about eight years of age, collecting (or ‘fossicking’ as it is called in Australia!) fossilised sharks’ teeth and ancient whalebones eroding out of beach cliffs in my hometown of Melbourne, Australia. Some forty plus years later, I’ve still got the bug. However, nowadays, I tend to be more interested in collecting crystallised mineral treasures (although, my sharks’ teeth still hold pride of place in my showcase) and it is the mineral wealth of Australia that I will discuss in this article.

Map of Australia showing locations mentioned and an inset map comparing relative size of Australia and continental USA.

In 1996, I started a website called The Australian Mineral Collector (www.mineral.org.au). After dabbling in web design, I saw the Internet as a great way to convey information about my hobby. Since that time, I have had countless thousands of visitors to the site, as well as countless emails from fellow collectors, many asking the same sort of question, for example, ‘Where can I go to find minerals in Australia? I’ve got three days to kill in Sydney and two days in Melbourne, and I want to find some nice specimens.’ Unfortunately, in many cases, I have had to tell them that it’s not at all easy.

The author and an old Cornish boiler at the Atlunga Gold Field, Central Australia.

Firstly, let me draw you a picture of Australia. It is a very big country and, for those of you used to tripping around Europe or the UK, it may seem daunting at first. Australia is approximately the same size as continental United States, but with only 21 million people. Most Aussies live within 200km of the almost 60,000km of coastline, in large cities. We are also a very urbanised group and, perhaps surprisingly, most Australians don’t actually venture too far inland. Huge swaths of the Australian continent consist of desolate and arid country (the ‘Outback’). Therefore, if you are serious about collecting in Australia, you will definitely need some local help.

At this point, you may have to do a bit of swatting up in your local library. There are a number of publications on Aussie minerals such as the Australian Journal of Mineralogy, Australian Gold, Gem and Treasure magazine and quite a few books, although none are that up to date. Make sure you use these as a rough guide only as to where to go or what you want to search for. For many localities, access and conditions can vary from year to year and you will most probably require detailed, local ‘mud maps’ to find deposits once you arrive at a destination. So, use the Internet and try searching out clubs or dealers closer to where you want to visit, and try contacting them via email. Fellow collectors are usually only too glad to lend a helping hand and give you good directions. The local pub in mining towns is also often a great place to glean some useful information.

Outback drivers have to contend with 60m long road trains.

Most travellers will fly to Australia via the capital city gateways such as Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney or Brisbane on the east coast, or Perth in the west, but even these are 1,000km or more apart. So, a car is mandatory, as is having more than a few days free, because there are very few places to fossick close to our major capital cities. Although a four-wheel drive vehicle is not necessary for all places, it will be a benefit in many cases and allow you more options with your travel plans. For instance, when hiring a vehicle in the Northern Territory, you are not covered by insurance if you venture onto a gravel road.

A four-wheel drive vehicle is useful for Outback travel.

Regulations regarding fossicking vary between our states but, by-and-large, they are easily complied with. Details of the legal requirements and fossicking areas can be found on the state mines’ department’s websites. There are laws regarding the export of Australian vertebrate fossils and meteorites, so allow time to expedite paperwork if you intend collecting them.

Obviously, those places closest to our cities have been tramped and looked over the most, but new places regularly come to light. If you haven’t the time or the resources to travel too far to collect, then think about contacting Australian dealers via the web and arranging to meet. Gem and mineral club shows are also held regularly around Australia and these are a good source of Australian material. Our largest gem, mineral and fossil show, the ‘Gemboree’, is held at Easter each year in a different Aussie state, and this is where you are likely to see the greatest range of material for sale. In 2008, it will be held between 21 and 24 March at Murray Bridge, South Australia, only 80km from Adelaide. A hundred or so dealers and some hundreds of tailgaters gather to buy and sell material over the four-day period.

For those who want to try their hand at finding their own specimens, the more remotely you are prepared to travel, the more you will increase your chances of finding good material.

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