For a town with a population of just 600 or so, Rubyvale in central Queensland sees an awful lot of grey nomads pass through … and most of them have got a sieve and a digging utensil tucked away somewhere.
Located in the heart of the gemfields region, approximately 60 kilometres west of Emerald, the dusty settlement has long been defined by the presence of – and the hunt for – precious stones. Originally known as Policeman’s Creek, the area has been mined for sapphires and gemstones since the late 19th century. And, like most areas dependent on the materials dug out of its ground for survival, Rubyvale’s fortunes have ebbed and flowed over the years.
Its most recent resurgence really started in the mid-1970s when squatterminers and casual tourist fossickers began arriving in search of their fortune … or at least a bit of fun.
The Sapphire Gemfields covers some 900 square kilometres and is reportedly one of the most significant sapphire bearing areas in the world. Rubyvale boasts a range of shops, gem outlets and basic services to keep fortune seekers fed and watered, as well as a somewhat iconic pub. The New Royal Hotel Rubyvale is made from ‘billy boulders’ and ironbark logs and can be accurately described as both quirky and character-filled.
The other main commercial centre in the gemfields is Sapphire, some six kilometres away, and the tiny townships of Anakie and the Willows are also close by. As you might, expect there are a number of caravan parks in the area, including the Rubyvale Caravan Park, but some visitors also choose to camp out on the gemfields themselves.
There are five fossicking areas in Rubyvale Township: Reward; Middle Ridge; Scrub Head; Divide and Tomahawk Creek. All, with the exception of Tomahawk Creek which is 40 kilometres away, are relatively close to town. For the less adventurous and less well equipped, there are a number of fossicking parks which sell wannabe fossickers a bag of wash and show them how to sieve, rinse and sort the sapphires from the gravel.
Another way to get a taste for the mining lifestyle is to take one of the underground mine tours available. At the Bobby Dazzler Mine, for example, visitors can learn about the town’s mining history, experience how hard the miners worked, and see where sapphires hide in the walls. If grey nomads and other visitors are still in the mood for something twinkly, The ‘Gems by Day, Jewels by Night’ Observatory offers a fascinating insight into the wonders of the night sky above.
One of the highlights of the region’s calendar is the fourday Gemfest Festival, which is actually running at Anakie and surrounds this weekend. In winter, there are also weekly Sunday markets, which rotate between Sapphire, Anakie and Rubyvale.
With so much going on and with an ongoing opportunity to strike it seriously rich, it’s no wonder the grey nomad path to Rubyvale is such a well beaten one.