rock hounds it's a dog's life - searching for opal

Curious little pup

Rock Hounds?

Why do they call people who collect stones rock hounds? Probably because when you get the rock collecting bug, you are a bit like a dog that rarely looks up at the heavens anymore because your nose is always pointed at the ground in the same direction as your eyes, trying to sniff out that hidden gem. For the first couple of years of my rock hounding career I don’t think I saw the sky at all.

Before I knew about opals

A long time ago before I began collecting opals I was an avid rock hound. The boot of my old VW Beetle was always filled with rocks of little or no value to anyone else but me I might add because back in those days, the early to middle 60’s I knew nothing about rocks, let alone opals.

Perth and Kalgoorlie Western Australia. Gold But No Opal

Probably because you don’t find many interesting rock specimens in the suburbs of Perth Western Australia and even though I was born in what could be called the Australian Gold mining capital, Kalgoorlie north east of Perth, I was too young at the time to know anything about gold and rocks. Many years later my Dad showed me some quartz and gold specimens he had kept from his prospecting days in the Coolgardie region and that’s about as much as I had ever seen of rock collections.

Gold in quartz-like searching for opal

Gold in quartz

easier to find than opal at times

small gold nuggets

No opals but other treasures for us rock hounds

But that all changed when we discovered the council gravel pits along the highways connecting various outback towns in Western Queensland in the eastern states of Australia. These pits had been dug to get gravel materials as road base for the modern bitumen roads that had been build to open up the Western country to visitors.

Gravel pits, a Rock Hounds Paradise

Gravel pits? Yes, a rock hounds paradise. Certainly no opal to be found of course because this precious stone Is only found at the perimeters of the ancient inland sea of Australia that dried up thousands of years ago, a few hundred miles further west than Chinchilla and Miles. Opal requires water to aid in its development and that of course is why they were born near these ancient water sources

Even the sealed roads were like a treasure house

Would you believe that you could walk along the highway and spec for agates and carnelians. From time to time one of these little gems would surface amongst the bitumen and I remember my wife plucking out agates with a screwdriver. Ah they were happy times, but we didn’t realise at the time that even though these interesting stones were a delight to collect, the effort you put into finding them really did not match their value. That all changed when we discovered precious opal.

Opals were just about the only thing missing

Opal Specimens like these are found in Coober Pedy in south Australia, Lightning Ridge in NSW, and Winton in North Western Queensland

Still, we had so much fun collecting all sorts of fossils and ancient relics. Agates, chalcedony, petrified wood, carnelians, Onyx, Topaz, crystal quartz, to name just a few. We didn’t know at the time, but meteorites were also found in this area as we found out much later at a gem show in Tokyo Japan where we met a meteorite specialist who had a specimen from the Chinchilla area worth around half a million dollars.

This article on rock hounds is continued in A Rock Hound in The Opal Fields

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