It is reported that the first sapphire finds in this area were in the 1870’s by a government surveyor along Retreat Creek, with the first ruby from this area being found in approx 1892. In was not until 1902 that the area was proclaimed a mining field. The Gemfields, which covers 900 square kms of land, has 4 townships Sapphire, Rubyvale, Anakie and the Willows. In the 1890’s the Anakie School was built, with two further schools at Sapphire & Rubyvale being constructed in the early 1900’s. Today the only school remaining is at Anakie.
Small mining camps began to appear around the district and the population was reported to be approx 200 at the turn of 20th century. The number of miners working the fields fluctuated over the years. Reports of good finds brought a flood of people looking to making a fortune, many leaving with as little as they had upon arrival. In times when water, for mining, was scarce it reduced the mining activities on the fields dramatically.
Over the years, sapphire buyers from all over the globe have descended upon the Central Queensland Gemfields to buy quality gems.
The fields have experienced many highs and lows in the production of sapphires reaching its peak in the 1970’s with the establishment of machinery mining. A film of the era, “Buddies”, was filmed in 1983; it featured many of the locals as extras. “Buddies” won the Australian Film Institute Award in 1983 for Best Screenplay.
The Gemfields today is divided into 3 different types of mining:
- Hand Mining
- Machinery Mining
This helps maintain the balance between the miners and prolongs the life of each area.
Tourism is the life blood of the fields.