Bloodwood’s Tale of Sapphires 

By Jim McJannett

Visitors to Queensland’s northern reach between Innisfail and Cairns have the choice of three elevated, scenic routes leaving the Coral Sea and twisting their lofty way westward to the fertile tableland country beyond. They can leave the coastal belt at Innisfail and climb the Palmerston Highway, or wend their way up the Gillies Highway at Gordonvale, or negotiate the Kuranda Range starting at the Cairns northern suburb of Smithfield.

Regardless of choice, followers of gem-digger’s track will eventually arrive at the sleepy hamlet of Mount Garnet – simply ‘The Garnet’ to the locals. This little historical mining settlement is rightly considered a fossicker’s gateway, for  here and about one can locate garnet, zircon, sapphire, peridot, aquamarine, moonstone, jasper, agate, topaz, fluorite, staurolite specimens (Maltese Crosses), ruby tin, smokies, fossils and other sought-after prizes of the mineral world. To boot there are also the Etheridge gold diggings. 

Those nomadic devotees of pick, shovel and sieve that have been travelling this gem-trail for decades will not need to be enlightened as to the identity of the name linked to Mount Garnet’s Park. Indeed, many would have met the gentleman behind the park’s moniker, spending the odd interesting hour or two with him. I speak of  the late William ‘Basalt Bill’ Brotherton, retired tin miner, dredge master, fossicker, general bush toiler, artist, author, avid conservationist and passionate collector of rocks, minerals, and a great many other things besides! Bill was not one to flood his place with a sea of visitors, but he welcomed those with a genuine interest. He also welcomed healthy debate. For lubrication, the kettle was ever on the hob at Basalt’s humble abode in Opal Street. He drank very little of the amber stuff but he was certainly a great swiller of the old hyson skin.

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