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