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27 Mar 2021, 11:21 AM UTC

Gem hunters flock to tiny Queensland town after severe flood brings sapphires to the surface

Gem hunters flock to tiny Queensland town after severe flood brings sapphires to the surface
Source: ABC
Floodwaters have subsided in Sapphire, and fossickers are flocking to the tiny outback Queensland town, hoping to strike it rich. The Sapphire Gemfields is one of the largest sapphire-rich areas of the world and covers almost 900 square kilometres. The flood in mid-March inundated seven properties, but it also washed away the top layer of soil, giving fossickers a helping hand to unearth a precious gem or two. NSW Tourist Meredith Etheridge visited the Gemfields for "a little bit of a poke around". With a geography-fanatic father, she knew the rain would help her hunt for precious stones. "I grew up with rocks around, and I was the kid who always had rocks in her pockets," Ms Etheridge said. "I would like to find a sapphire, but I'm happy with anything." Bookings boost Victoria Bentham co-owns a Sapphire caravan park with her husband Darrell Bentham. She said the floods, while devastating, had an unintended upside. "Now that the area is drying out, people are ringing, asking if the floodwaters have subsided, which they have, and they want to come out specking and fossicking for sapphires," Ms Bentham said. "We have people that, as soon as it rains, they're on the phone, they're regulars [and] they come out here." Ms Bentham said she anticipated more enquiries as the ground dried out, luring more sapphire hunters to the area. Her bookings for Easter are almost full and up to 60 per cent after the holidays. "Every day, I'm getting more and more phone calls, so business is looking good for us," Ms Bentham said. 'Makes you dig harder' Tourist David Webster travels regularly from Brisbane. He tried his luck in the creek beds after the flooding. He had found some "keepers", but the big one still eluded him. "It takes all the top layer off and gives you a nice clean surface again, especially in the creek," Mr Webster said. "It makes you dig harder, I can tell you. It gets the blood pumping." Mr Webster began fossicking after he retired and found himself in need of a hobby. "I'm quite happy out here. I love it out here," he said. "Five years ago, I started, and I'm still going." Big stones ripe for the taking The Sapphire Gemfields are almost 900 kilometres north-west of Brisbane, near Emerald in the Central Highlands. The townships of Sapphire, Rubyvale, Anakie and Willows Gemfields make up the Gemfields.  Low-lying homes were evacuated in the recent flood, described by Central Highlands Mayor Kerry Hayes as a once-in-a-decade event. Victoria Bentham said the region's fossicking areas were large, and big stones were still ripe for the taking. "We still hear stories of people finding sapphires," she said. "After the heavy rains we had at New Year, someone found a beautiful yellow sapphire that's 424 carats. "That's been called 'amazing grace', and it's one of the rarer yellow ones." The Miners Heritage jewellery shop in Rubyvale inspected and confirmed the carats of the sapphire, which was found by a young visiting couple. Large discoveries are often kept anonymous.