Monthly Archives: October 2015

TG #37

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In This Issue :

Sapphires + Mountain Journal: Gould Plateau +  Tasmanian Story (1954)  + Arrowsmith’s Map

Hopefully by the time you read this you’ll have already pulled out your bushwalking sunhat and rucksack out for a bit of springtime adventuring. The evening sunlight will help you stay outdoors for a bit longer to enjoy the flowers and green sprouts.

You’ll want to dig out your gumboots so you can join an excursion panning for sapphires in the northeast of Tasmania. While you probably won’t find massive gemstones to turn into jewellery, you definitely will find yourself in cold water amongst waterfalls, treeferns, and other keen fossickers. Good luck!

If you find yourself keen on a few days hard trekking in the dolerite mountains, check out Mountain Journal’s trail notes on the spectacular Gould Circuit. Just near the north end of Lake St Clair, this area contains some of the most rugged and striking of the high Tasmanian mountains.

We’ll also look back in time from here. There’s a 1954 documentary – A Tasmanian Story – that rides strong on the feelings of progress and industry of the time. It’s a bit of a time capsule to attitudes, ideas, and aspirations of five decades age, and perhaps reminds us of how nuanced our modern views of “progress” are. Keep your eyes open for a view of the train platforms, street cars, and metro buses of the 1950s! If you look very carefully, you might even find a seaplane!

And to round it off, we’ll look in fine detail at a map published by a prominent British cartography house in 1834. Arrowsmith’s map includes a wide region of the famous “blank space”, but it also has some curious things included. Using our virtual magnifying glass, we’ll zoom in to some of the sketches and notes…only 180 years ago nobody could have even imagined aerial photography, to say nothing of satellite images available via smartphone!


All the best,

The Editor



How to Find Sapphires… sort of

I’ve never considered myself to be much of a rock hound, but being a geologist I guess I’m naturally attracted to pretty rocks and minerals… and so up sparked an idea to go panning for sapphires with some other geo-friends in northeast Tasmania. What could be more fun than paddling knee high in a cold stream during Tasmanian winter, vigorously looking through sand for gemstones?

Well, actually, it was pretty fun, and the thrill of discovery is enough to outweigh the slight discomfort of cold fingers and feet!  I hope to share my attempts and luck at getting sapphires, and give you not only the details about how to pan for sapphires, but a little background on what they are and how they got to where they are today, waiting to be found… sort of.

A sapphire is a variety of the mineral corundum composed of aluminium and oxygen. (Al2O3). It is very hard, and not always blue as the most famous gemstones are. It can appear in a range of colours including blues, greens, yellows, golds and reds. These last are commonly called ruby, but it is still also corundum). These varieties of colours depend on varying proportions of elements such as iron and and titanium.

Tasmania in well endowed with mineral deposits, and when it comes to gemstones the NorthEast is particular good. The rivers and streams have eroded sapphire-bearing rocks, such as massive basalt. The basalts themselves did not form the sapphires, but are the host as they brought xenoliths – “alien rocks” from a deeper, hotter source such as (tin-rich) granites (Bottrill, 1996/05). Once the sapphire bearing rock (i.e. granite, xenolithic basalt, etc.) was exposed to the surface, rivers eroded, transported, and eventually concentrated the sapphires into the river deposits of today (alluvial beds)

Alright, now on to prospecting!

Since concentrations of sapphire are found in stream banks and gravels, the first thing you have to do is find a location that is prospective. For more information on prospective areas in Tasmania, check out the Mineral Resources Tasmania pamphlet –>

Once you’ve selected a spot, you will want to be prepared- so bring proper gear such as gum boots, hip-waiters, and extra clothing for cold and wet conditions. And for the actual sapphire hunting, you will need a large prospecting pan, two sieves with coarse and finer mesh sizes, a shovel, a bucket, and a jar to put any treasures in.

Shovel the coarse sand from the river into your sieves or pan, and swirl it around with water. Once the fine-grained sands are gone, you will have concentrated the heavier rocks in the bottom center (from swirling)… so flip your sieve or pan over and dump out the rocks onto another pan or on the ground. Then take a look!

A good indicator is the presence of black pleonaste spinel, known as “black jack” within the pan. The sapphires will be well-rounded grains, less than a centimetre in size. They are not gem quality in their rough form, so look close and hard. They will have a glassy to translucent appearance, with some showing a glimmer. Other minerals like cassiterite, red-brown zircon, and green chrysoberyl may also be present.

Final thoughts:

So you might be wondering how I did? Well, I’m definitely not buying jet planes with my new sapphire fortune… We only found a couple small grains, but that might be due to the season. If possible, I recommend going in the spring, where the rivers are full and running fast and bountiful with new sediments. Northeast Tasmania is home to beautiful rainforests full of waterfalls (like St. Columbia Falls, one of the tallest  in Tasmania) and rivers full of sapphires! Well, maybe they’re not really full of sapphires, but they are out there, and hopefully now you know a bit more about them and maybe how to find them for yourself. Good luck!


Mountain Journal – The Gould Circuit

These are not track notes as such. If you have half decent map reading abilities and are good at off track travel and rock hopping (and have clear conditions) you should be fine. There are two reasonably significant lessons I learnt from my last trip to the Gould area, these are highlighted where they arise in the trip description below.

The Gould plateau feels nicely remote, even though its just a few hours walk from the ferry drop off at Narcissus Hut at the head of Lake St Clair. The 1:25,000 maps show the way to Gould plateau. You travel through button grass plains, nice open euc woodland and then into wonderful old growth rainforest. Its barely a trail in many spots, and easy to miss where the trail cuts into the rainforest, in an open glade where you cross an obvious stream. From here it starts to climb and its about another hour or so until you get to the lip of the plateau, where you suddenly emerge from low scrub into the open. That last hour is hard work.
There are a whole number of incredible camp spots dotted across the many flat rock outcrops that sit between shallow alpine tarns. It can be quite exposed to the weather, however with a bit of walking (within 250 metres of where the trail comes out onto the plateau) you will find a couple of smaller and reasonably sheltered spots for a tent on the ground rather than rock. The views are great from here – Mt Olympus, Gould, the Lake, Traveller Range, the Cheyne Range and that tangle of hills and ridges out west.

Next day you continue on the faint trail that leads directly towards the rocky face of Gould. It veers slightly to the right and enters some thick scrub. It is easy to lose it here. If so, push upwards through the belt of rainforest and scrub, finally emerging above treeline and then continue to head out right under the cliffs, following the line of least resistance. You should pick up the faint trail again once you’re above the trees and as it contours around to an obvious outcrop of conglomerate rock. You can normally get water here – in summer it may be the only spot until you get back down off the Minotaur hills.

Go past and then above this rock outcrop, then head up until the Minotaur comes into view and do the nice long sidle around Mt Gould itself, crossing under the impressive face of the Minotaur (that gully system has some amazing climbing when it’s iced up nicely) and into the very atmospheric saddle between Gould and the Minotaur. It even has a big rock that’s like a recliner couch for a bit of a nap or some cloud or peak watching.

Then there is a short scramble up a boulder field onto the back (south side) of the Minotaur – there is fantastically exposed camping up here at the obvious spot near the pencil pines. Its all very fragile, so grab some rock platforms if you can to camp on. There is not normally water here.

A detour out to the Guardians offers a bit more of an alpine fix if you need it and have the time. You can do it as a day trip or stay up on the high exposed ridge on top. There are some tarns out there that normally provide a good supply of water.

If you stay at the ‘campsite’, continue up towards the high point of the Minotaur. Stay as high as you can, go over the top of the Minotaur and then its narrow northern prow – which has a wonderful drop off below you and beyond that a vista of the maze of lakes and rock outcrops that is the Labyrinth.

The next bit can be a little bit tricky. Find the deep and very steep gully that drops into the trees from the very end of the north ridge of the Minotaur and do a controlled fall down the gully heading due north (there is usually a small cairn at the very top to mark the start of a very rough trail). At the base of the gully you will find yourself in a rocky saddle – the trail is reasonably obvious – climb over a series of ridges to eventually pop out on the trail that climbs out of Pine Valley and leads into the Labyrinth. From here, if you turn right, you will be back at Pine Valley hut in about 90 minutes and from there its a 3 hour walk back to Narcissus.

On this trip we were heading on towards the nice high country of the Ducane Range but as we were crossing over past Lake Elysia, we had a serious lightning storm so we did some power walking until we could hunker down as best we could in the old growth pencil pine forest at the Pool of Memories. Then we had about 12 hours of torrential rain and more weather that was threatening to do the same.

So we bailed, opting for the cosy big city lights of Pine Valley Hut instead of a camp on the Ducane Range. As we walked out it cleared as we crossed the low divide near Lake Elysia and it kept lifting and so we were treated to great views of the terrain we had spent a few days crossing – the sharp profile of the Minotaur and Mt Gould.

Back amongst the hordes on the feeder track to the Overland I enjoyed the many languages, dress sense and camaraderie that comes with this famous walk. One more ferry ride and the obligatory greasy food and beers at Cynthia Bay, the clouds trailing over the lake and surrounding peaks, always a hard place to leave.

Five Decades Ago: A Tasmanian Story

LINC Tasmania Courtesy LINC Tasmania: A 1954 documentary on Tasmania – featuring lifestyle, industry and regions, produced by the Postmaster-General department to celebrate the sesquicentennial of Tasmania. Includes the complete film and sound – from the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office collection.

Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office: Film — Tasmanian Story — (sound and colour) 22 minutes, 1954 (Reference: CB17/4/1/1)

From The Mercury, 1953, announcing the premiere screening of the film:


THE Public Relations Division of the Postmaster-General’s Department has completed a 20-minute colour film to honour the sesquicentenary of Tasmania. The title chosen for the film is “Tasmanian Story.”

In announcing this yesterday, the Director, Posts and Tele- graphs (Mr. J. E. Bonan) said that the film would be given a premiere screening in Hobart next Monday. The producer (Mr. E. J. Brereton) will at- tend to represent the Director General (Mr. G. T. Chippindall). Mr. Brereton will be accompanied) by Miss J. Blackwood, who wrote the story and directed the film.

Invitations have been issued to Federal and State members of Parliament, representatives of civic and business organisa- tions, and members of the Sesquicentenary Committee. Mr. Bonan added that the film would be screened through- out the Commonwealth, and in most parts of Tasmania and should do much to impress upon Australians the importance of Tasmania to the economic welfare of the nation.

Prominence is given to the various industries of the State and their potential.

The film pays tribute to the work of the early explorers and settlers by showing what their labours have accomplished. Lieut. John Bowen and William Paterson are included.

A Closer Look at Arrowsmith’s 1834 Map

From the David Rumsey Map Collection

Details from a map published 180 years ago by John Arrowsmith, 1834. He was to later become one of the founders of the Royal Geographical Society.

You can view this map at OldMapsOnline.


Collection name: David Rumsey Historical Map Collection
Scale: 1 :650,000
Note : Engraved map. Hand colored boundaries. Relief shown by hachures. “This map is with permission copied from the original M.S. surveys in the Colonial Office, and in the Van Diemen’s Land Company’s Office.”
Reference : Tooley, R.V. The mapping of Australia and Antarctica (2nd ed.), p. 18 no. 117, p. 299 no. 95-96.
Country : Australia
Region : Tasmania
Full Title : Van Diemens Land, by J. Arrowsmith. London, pubd. 15 Feby. 1834 by J. Arrowsmith.

Publication Author : Arrowsmith, John
Pub Date : 1838
Pub Title : The London atlas of universal geography, exhibiting the physical & political divisions of the various countries of the World, constructed from original materials. Is most respectfully dedicated to his venerable friend John Middleton Esqr. As a testimony of gratitude and esteem, by his much obliged & humble servant, John Arrowsmith, F.R.G.S. & R.A.S. 35, Essex Street, Strand, London. London, pubd. by J. Arrowsmith … 1838.