When life gives you lemons, go ride Lemonade!

Paronella Park

In the very early part of the 20th Century a Spaniard by the name of Paronella came to Australia looking for work. He was a trained pastry chef but couldn’t find any jobs as that. He started doing manual labor, cutting sugar cane and other hard labor.  He carefully managed  his money and invested in real estate, eventually amassing a fair sized fortune.  He found a piece of land near a waterfall and built his dream home.  It is built out of concrete and was done mostly by himself with help. He designed it and built it. It was a small castle. Additional buildings added to the splendor. He installed the first electrical power plant in northern Queensland in 1933 using the waterfall for a power source to drive the generator. This gave him power for his movie theatre/ball room as well as the house and guest house. The guest house looks like it was imported from Granada, Spain. He invited dignitaries from all over and held lavish parties in his castle out in the country. He had a wife and 2 children, Teresa and Jose. In the 60’s they even had a disco ball in the ball room. In 1979 the castle burned and was abandoned. Forty years later a couple bought it and opened it as a tourist attraction. They give day and night tours of the grounds and a special tour of the generator system. The generator has since been upgraded to a new alternator but still powers the entire operation. The buildings are deteriorating and not safe to enter. It is an interesting dream of an poor immigrant who made good. The generator and the cement to make the concrete was all imported from Germany. Our tour guide, Mandy, did a great job of explaining it all and any errors are my faulty memory. The price of admission is rather high until you learn it includes all three tours and a night’s camping.





The waterfall is still nice even at the end of the dry season.










Since we crossed into the coastal area from the outback over a week ago we have been in sugar cane country. Lots of sugar cane. We have also seen banana, paw-paw and watermelon growing and for sale at roadside stands. The crops are seen in all stages of growth in various fields so I assume they have a year-round growing season.





To get to the sapphires we have to go back to the outback! There are gem fields where you are allowed to go pick your own gems. The fields are about 600 km away and we are taking the scenic route through Mission Beach which is Cassowary Country.

We drive halfway to the gem fields and stop at the visitor center and ask where to see a Cassowary. They tell us a good spot is across from a certain campground just before dark. We go there and set up camp and wait around at dark. No Cassowaries except the big concrete one at the shopping center. In real life they are about 1.5 m (5’) tall.





Disappointed we pack up and leave the next morning. About 5 km (3.5 mi) up the road we see this guy walking along the grass edge of the road!

The gals out there will love this. The female lays the eggs and then leaves. The male incubates the eggs and raises the kids until they leave home. What a deal! I wonder if he wants equal rights!





That day was a long one and we got to the town of Rubyvale in the heart of the gem fields. We arrived in time to take the last tour of the day through an actual mine turned tourist attraction.

Sapphires and the other gems found here are created by volcanic action. Then over the millions of years the erosion washed the worn rocks into creeks, river and lakes where they settled into gravel beds. Sapphires being heavy settled towards the bottom of the gravel. The walls of the mine are the solidified gravel bed. The floor is the old bedrock. The sapphires, etc. are found in the bottom meter (3’) of the gravel.

We set up camp and went to the cafe for dinner and found we were back in Lorikeet country.

The Lorikeets were all over here as well as Cockatoos and other birds we had seen before.








There are many ways to get your own gems. You can get a permit and stake your own claim. You can buy a claim that is for sale. You can buy a cloth bag (about the size of a 5 lb (2 kilo) flour sack in the US) with mined gravel in it from a tourist shop and try to find the gems they have salted into it. You can buy a cloth sack of raw “wash” and sort it yourself. (“Wash” is what they call the sorted gravel that probably has gems in it.) Kathy decided that she wanted to buy a permit and take one of the day tours to a gem field. But she was too late the next morning to get on it. The wash is created by digging a hole down to bedrock and then tunneling sideways. The bottom few feet of gravel are brought to the surface to be sorted and then examined. In the picture the hole with the ladder goes down 17’ (5m). The gravel is brought up in buckets which are dumped into the machine with a rotating drum. The first screen removes the sand and dirt, the second half of the screen is coarser and catches the gem gravel and then the big rocks go out the end. It is the gravel from the second screen that is important.

So in the end we went to “Willy Wash” and she bought a bucket of wash to sort out herself. The bucket of wash was at least as big as 3-4 sacks sold in town and you got to use their equipment to find the gems. Willy Wash is set up for tourists. They do the hard part and let you have the fun. They even provide the equipment and advice. The gravel in the bucket (behind Kathy’s head) is put into the round tray with a screened bottom. Then it is sloshed up and down. The water separates the gravel and lets the heavier gemstones settle to the bottom.

When you are done sloshing the tray is upended onto the table and sorted through by hand and eye. Being able to recognize the raw gem is important. The people at Willy Wash were a big help and pointed out the indicators to Kathy.

This is what she found. It fills the palm of one’s hand. There are sapphires and zircons in the mix.


She had a good time and I sat in the van and read my book when I wasn’t taking pictures.

We stay in the outback for another site to see, Carnarvon Gorge.