Easy Pickins' at Australia's Agate Creek
Rock&Gem Magazine|September 2021
As a member of a few Australian Facebook fossicking (rockhounding) groups, I had been seeing photos of an amazing variety of cut and polished agates posted by people who had found them at Agate Creek.

I had never been much interested in agates, but these photos really opened my eyes to the diversity and beauty of these round rocks. Now geography is not my strong suit – I leave that to Leigh – but when I realized that Agate Creek is actually up in our neck of the woods (North Queensland, Australia), arrangements were made to spend a few days there.

More than a century ago, prospectors explored the area around Gilberton for gold deposits, as the region had shown a lot of promise for commercial gold mining ventures. It was discovered that an abundance of amygdule-derived agates had accumulated in one of the creeks that flowed into the Robertson River. These agates were believed to have weathered and eroded from basalts of Carboniferous age, which were covered in sedimentary sandstone material when this region was an inland sea. The creek became known as Agate Creek and was first officially mentioned by W.E. Cameron in his GSQ report dated 1900. At that time, agate was thought to be beautiful but of little real value as mines in Germany and Brazil supplied the world market.

After World War II had affected Germany’s output, a couple of commercial mining companies began using machinery to recover sufficient quantities to make a viable operation. Unfortunately, Agate Creek’s remoteness and lack of infrastructure were against them. Lapidary and rockhounding became a more popular pastime for hobbyists. After some considerable conflict between miners and fossickers in the field, the Department of Minerals & Energy amended the regulations to prevent mining with equipment from being carried out at Agate Creek. Anybody could use hand-tools, but this, of course, led to the closure of the mines and the area being subsequently declared a General Permission Area (GPA).

Although Agate Creek has been a popular fossicking spot and camping area for more than fifty years, it is a place that keeps on giving. The GPA is a roughly rectangular-shaped plain of some 45 square kilometres bordered by a rim of hills. Agate Creek itself runs the length of it, though it is dry for most of the year. The only approach to the GPA is a gravel road that heads south from the little gold-mining town of Forsayth. This road passes by the turn-off to the tourist attraction of Cobbold Gorge, so it is generally well-maintained. However, corrugations, loose gravel, and dust mean that caution is required. In 2019, a gold mine adjoining the southern boundary was opened, with the ore transported to Georgetown for processing.

The resultant constant heavy vehicle traffic has made the road a little more hair-raising for campers and caravans than in the old days.

There are two camping areas according to the map – the Agate Creek campground at the entrance to the GPA, and Safari Camp, situated at the far end of the GPA.

Although the gate’s sign proclaims it open, Safari camp is unattended and very run-down, apparently closed until further notice. The Agate Creek campground is well sign-posted and easy to find. It is a large flat area with enough trees to be pleasantly shady but leaving plenty of room so that campers aren’t in close proximity together.

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