the gem fields

A white full moon in a light blue sky lies well above the horizon and to my left. To my right, the setting sun throws rays into the vast expanse of dark cloud systems which have accompanied and shadowed my journey. I take my eyes from the road to drink this scene into conscious memory. A partial rainbow springs into existence. A small but brilliant arc of colour with yellow and green at the center. Four of these partial rainbows come into vision and fade, as I drive the winding road and, in one, I could swear that the yellow and green and thus the whole band were the other way around. Do rainbows have a ‘back to front’? Just a few days before this, I have my head down , closely examining the ground . I’m specking for sapphires. A brief flutter of wings is the only warning I get before a Rainbow lorikeet lands on the Foreign Legion hat covering my head, neck and ears. Another lands at my feet. What a delight. Another few days before and the same event occurs in another part of the gem fields. I found no sapphires on either occasion but the birds stayed an extended minute and that’s a treasure more readily shared. I did find a small clear yellow sapphire with a bright red spot which would cut to a half carot stone on a day where we drove to the Willows and specked the open, rock strewn ground. Perhaps sixty million years ago this area was an inland sea. It takes no flight of fancy to drive down from Toowoomba and across the huge flat plains and occasional high spots and to feel the weight of ancient waters, to see the smoke of far distant volcanoes, to see the cliffs of Carnavon Gorge and long islands on the most distant horizon. And if we witnessed five hundred thousand years of slow rumbling , of continental plate moving over a bubbling cauldron of particular quality magma, a brew in which sapphire crystals grow to become a solid colour and, every now and then, a weak spot in the land passes slowly over this cauldron. Imagine those majestic explosions as the volcanoes roar and the seas dry up as the lava flows and dries to shape. Hills have eroded, rivers have scoured and coursed and changed course again and again. A rock strewn landscape not dissimilar to Mars is the dominant surface feature. Men have scrabbled over the surface and tunnelled deep into ancient river beds in search of sapphire for a brief century or so. Four times I’ve come to Sapphire. The first was thirty years ago and more when dirt roads were the main roads. That time I specked a deep blue stone which paid for new windscreen and allowed us the petrol to go back to Mission Beach - a garden of Eden in North Queensland. Twice I’ve come to help a friend work a claim - to little avail. This time, I was bringing my other friend of great duration - she who is recovering from a major operation - back to Sapphire to recuperate. This period of time allowed me to just walk the land, examine the land, look after friend and relax. I wrote no songs, I read some books, played minimal guitar and caught bits of world news. Against everyone’s wish, the world is in uproar and, in every country, problems multiply. What can I do with my meagre possession of prettiest stones of fabulous colour but shape them into something I can share with you with good intent and no expectation. As I’m packing the car for the drive back to the Blue Mountains. The boot is open and Bouppa and Chuppa - two of the family dogs - have just been told by me that I’m going home and that they have to look after my friend. Both dogs look as solemn as only dogs can look and, after a long moment, jump into the boot. I leave them there while we have a last cup of coffee and discuss the inland route as opposed to the coastal route - maybe 1600 kms rather than 2200 kms. Back to the car with a list of towns but no map, as I can’t recall where I put it. The dogs are still in the open boot, sitting up, looking pleased with themselves, with my map of Queensland found and chewed, in all the right places, by the younger of the two. On the way home and on the car radio I listen to Noel Pearson, an Aboriginal leader and extremely articulate man, emphasise the value of personal responsibility and wonder aloud at the corrosive effects of a permanent welfare, ‘poor bugger me’ mentality. The ‘right’ of a drunken addict to spend the welfare and leave the children hungry has been treated as inalienable right for aboriginal people perhaps in blind adherence to ‘Freedom of choice’ issues. Perhaps not. Isolated communities are easy to overlook when social services are inundated on their own city doorsteps. The checks and balances which exist in the cities are missing along with health and education services and the staff to maintain them. We do not give our children or our citizens the right to destroy themselves. We are paternalistic in that respect and rightly so - to the greater benefit of the whole society. What is it, that nourishes and sustains to the good, need be the question. The devil’s in the detail when it comes to intervention. My friend is making remarkable recovery and thank God for that. I’m back at work in a few days and a cold two months of winter in the mountains remain. Be good to record this spring.