Yowah is a small outback opal town in Queensland located about 1,000 km west of Brisbane and about 130 km west of Cunnamulla.There is a sealed road all the way so it is very easily accessible. The opal field surrounding Yowah is quite small, being about 4 square kilometres. It has all the amenities you need for a fossicking holiday. There is a store, cafe and two camping grounds. (one where you have to pay fees and a free campground with showers and toilets but you have to pay for the showers). The paying campground has a bathhouse attached where you can loll in your bathtub sipping a glass of champagne looking up at the sky. The only downside is that the tubs are filled with hot artesian water straight from the bore and it does have a maloderous smell. That is it stinks of sulphur. But apart from that it is a great experience and well worth it after a day of dusty fossicking.
Yowah also has a golf course so it is worth throwing in your old clubs. It is similar to the courses at Coober Pedy and White Cliffs. The course is on fairly rough ground and a perfectly straight drive can end anywhere if the ball strikes one of the many rocks. The greens are really browns ie sand with a bit of diesel to hold them together. When you land on them you make a scrape with a flat rake from your ball to the hole and then putt. You then rake the green (sorry, brown) after everyone has putted.It is a lot of fun playing here and certainly a bit different than a normal golf course. The added advantage is that you can pick up a bit of opal on the course as you are playing or looking for your ball.
There is a reasonable sized public fossicking area where you can still pick up pieces of matrix or yowah nut left by the old miners.
What are Yowah Nuts?
Yowah nuts are small ironstone concretions which can have a kernel of beautiful crystal opal but mainly are hollow or filled with solidified powder. Don't ask me how the opal ever got inside. It is one of nature's oddities.
This is a faily large yowah nut as you would find it. Who knows what is inside it and the only way to find out is to cut it in half or crack it with a sharp implement eg a small axe. You do risk shattering any opal doing it this way, however, as only one in thousands has precious opal in it, it would be very tedious and costly to saw cut each one.
Many of the nuts look like this one, which I cut in half. There is just an empty hole in the middle with the ironstone surrounding it.
Sometimes they can be filled with a brown compacted powdery stuff as the one above. Sometimes the powder is white.
This one had opal in it but no colour. I have found two nuts with precious opal in them and it is very exciting. One had a beautiful red opal crystal kernal and it just fell out of the nut when I broke it. I polished it and had it set in a ring.
The boulder opal found in the district is also very beautiful. Dense ironstone in beautiful patterns with flashes of colour through it as shown above. The ironstone, especially the darker coloured material polishes very well. Sometimes the lighter coloured material is a bit more porous and does not polish easily.
This is another example of the boulder opal showing the patterns in the ironstone with flashes of opal.This is usually slabbed and pendants cut from the slab. It can be drilled and sawn quite easily however you will be covered in fine brown ironstone dust..
If you search the web you can see some fabulous photographs of cut stones showing the marvellous colours of this opal. One of the sites with such photographs is The Opal Hut.
Matrix opal is an ironstone with flecks of gems opal through it. It is a very beautiful stone and much sought after now as it polishes very well and makes wonderful pendants.
The old miners were only interested in the real gem opal and often discarded the matrix and any nuts which were not filled with opal. It is these rejects which we fossick for today but you can occasionally pick up an untouched yowah nut. If you do then carefully break it to see what is inside. I have been lucky enough to find two such yowah nuts and one has been made into a beautiful ring. I have seen some beatiful matrix found in the fossicking area. One fossicker I met found several pieces in the top 50mm of the ground he was working. He was very meticulous, carefully sieving every shovelful of dirt and then washing the material left in the sieve to check for any colour. It was hard work but quite productive for him. He had picked up an old ironing board to work with. This enabled him to sort the sieve standing up and was much more comfortable than squatting down. You do have to have a fossicking licence to look for opal here and you can get one in the town.
While many people think the fossicking area has been worked out there is always the chance of finding something. But you do have to work methodically and carefully as the opal is covered with dirt and it is easy to miss it.