Historic Extracts from
Queensland Publications

By Tony Forsyth

If you ever get your hands on any of Queensland’s Geological Survey publications that date back to the turn of the century and beyond, many make for very interesting reading. If you look at any of the present day equivalents, they don’t have the same appeal. Today’s publications mostly resemble a scientific text book, full of (to the layman) unintelligible tables, borelogs and text. They are written for an audience of mostly highly educated professionals in the big mining arena.

80-100 years ago things were quite different. The audience then also included battlers, gougers, tributers, prospectors and would-be diggers. Many of them were uneducated, using their brawn to swing a pick and pay their way. They humped their swags from rush to rush, chased rich surface lodes, or tramped overland in search of a quick pound or two. They needed their guide books written in a language that they could easily understand. The guides were also a tool of the Government, used to open up new territory to prospectors. If they could entice enough fossickers out into the bush, they may just have struck another Gympie or Charters Towers to enrich the state coffers.

The authors of these publications also in many cases tackled more than just the geology of the areas concerned. Some were explorers, geographers, anthropologists and mineralogists all wrapped into one. Their commentary comes out as a personal record of their observations and as a help to a fellow traveller and fossicker. It is hard to imagine the lot of the authors (and fossickers) of last century. They did not have the luxury of four-wheel drives, refrigeration and bitumen roads when they went out prospecting. On foot or horse-back, over dry inhospitable perhaps unknown country, with few maps, carrying all their provisions, their prospecting trips could last for months on end.

With this in mind here are a couple of excerpts from reports written last century. The first is by Robert L. Jack, Government Geologist for Queensland in 1895 who is credited with discovering the Great Artesian Basin (and with it our huge inland water supply).

"On making inquiries as to water between Cloncurry and Winton, I learned that the country was about at its worst, there having been no rain for nine months except in very local showers. The usual route up the Gilliatt River and Mackinley Creek to Beaudesert, and thence to Belkate, on the Diamantina, was practically closed for the season.... We had camped on the night of 20th December on the Gilliatt River, where it is crossed by the Hughenden Road. The waterhole had fallen to a puddle about 10 feet in diameter, and when we arrived we found it in possession of a large mob of cattle. After the water had been boiled twice and skimmed and decanted it was good enough to make tea with. The horses however, could not be expected to like it, and on the 21st five of them were missing."

This, on what is now is a major highway route only 100 years later!

Sydney Skertchly, the Queensland Assistant Government Geologist in 1897, wrote a report titled "On the Geology of the Country round Stanthorpe and Warwick, South Queensland". Again the writers style is of a diary, full of anecdotes, and his impressions of the surrounding countryside. On explaining why one portion of his notes are quite light on, he remarks:

"I would have fain seen more of it; but I had only brought two days rations and we had horrible weather, fog and rain, and though we stayed a day after we had eaten our last bit of food, and the river wouldn’t give up its fish, we were obliged to return to Ballendean, as the rain showed no sign of abating. My horse drowned himself in a waterhole, one of our men had to be sent back ill, and altogether it was geology under difficulties."

But these times did have their compensations - like being the first collectors to tread a gully. Skertchly continues with commentary about Spring Creek and its tributaries -

"The gravel is full of rounded pebbles of rock crystal, often as smoky quartz or cairngorm, showing freely the gathering of the carbonaceous colouring matter at the pyramidal end...Crystals but slightly abraded are by no means rare, some of large size. I found one (cairngorm) 4 inches in diameter and 9 inches in length. Clear transparent and colourless and beautiful pale blue topazes are common, the largest found by me being about an inch broad - it is broken across the basal cleavage. Sapphires, opaque, blue and green are fairly abundant, and small zircons, spinels and garnets also occur plentifully, diamonds are scattered sporadically, and are seldom larger than one-tenth of a carat, and finally gold occurs in many places, but in small quantities."

Later, he has a few home truths to say about topaz :

"I can seriously recommend this stone to those who cherish gems for their beauty and not their mere costliness. Unfortunately ladies only seem to know certain names, and so long as a stone is called diamond, a ruby, a sapphire, an emerald ..... a colourless topaz would cost less than a hundreth part of the price of a diamond, and would be even less costly than the paste, which though beautiful, is not a gem, and it would be real."

Little has changed in the past 100 years! The Department of Minerals and Energy has a reference library open to the public on the 5th Floor of 61 Mary Street, Brisbane, where these and many other publications can be viewed.

Bibliography:
R.L.Jack, Queensland Geological Survey Bulletin No. 1 1895,
"Artesian Water in the Western Interior of Queensland"
S.B.J. Skertchly, Publication No. 120
"On the Geology of the Country round Stanthorpe
and Warwick, South Queensland."

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