Top 10 sites to fossick for gemstones

By Wes Judd 21 October 2013
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Fossicking has a long history in Australia, and travellers still try their luck at striking it rich.

Fossicking, a uniquely Australian term for prospecting, has been a storied part of this country’s cultural history.

When European settlers became aware of the abundance of precious minerals resting beneath the surface of Australia, they were quick to develop systems to sift through sand, dirt and mud.

Following spurts of enthusiasm and the heady days of the Gold Rush, fossicking is now primarily a hobby, often used by travellers as a means to explore remote corners of the continent.

Gold nuggets

A small haul of gold nuggets from Tennant Creek, but at more than US$35 per gram, worth the effort. (Image: Heath Holden)

How to find precious gems

Although everywhere outside New South Wales requires a pre-approved permit, the rules of fossicking are largely unwritten. It remains a low-stakes, hands-on activity that draws families, geologists and metal-detector enthusiasts alike.

Opal in particular is more abundant in Australia than anywhere else on Earth; in fact, Australia produces 97 per cent of the of the world’s supply.

Australians have also taken their adoration of opal to a cultural level. ‘Noodling’ is a term used to describe fossicking solely for opal, and, almost 100 years ago, Coober Pedy was established in SA – an entire community based underground to facilitate access to the opal mines.

These days, striking it rich is less of a possibility. For many, fossicking provides a framework for travel – a focal point to discover the sights of Australia. From the scorching red sand of Harts Range, NT, to Tasmania’s picture-perfect Killiecrankie Bay, sifting for minerals remains one of the finer ways to get to know Australia.