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Reproduction of this article courtesy of T. Forsyth


The Garibaldi Mine, Tabulam,
New South Wales, Australia


By Tony Forsyth


If only one could travel back in time - to collect specimens or visit places in hindsight! The following extracts, taken from separate publications, give you some idea of the mineral riches that previously existed. They both concern the same locality - the "Garibaldi Gold Mine" or "Garibaldi Crystal Mine" as it is also sometimes known. The mine was situated near to the now deserted gold-mining towns of Solferino and Lionsville. This site is not far from the present day town of Tabulam, in North-Eastern New South Wales, in Eastern Australia.

Rich alluvial diggings gave way to deep mining on the field, as the miners followed the gold-bearing reefs underground. In c.1912, when diggers were trying to sink a shaft to cut the Garibaldi reef, the ground sounded hollow when struck with their picks. It was decided to put in a shot of explosives. When the dust had cleared, they saw that they had broken into a fairyland - a crystal cave lined with calcite crystal. Tourists came from as far as Grafton to gaze on this spectacle. It must have still been a sight years later, in the early 1920's, when George Smith, Inspector of Mines for NSW wrote this report for the NSW Department of Mines:

"A very interesting occurrence of this mineral (calcite) may be seen in a large vugh in the Garibaldi Mine (Lionsville). It was interesected obliquely at one end by a tunnel... As exposed, its largest dimensions are 70 ft. by 16 ft. and 9 ft. high. It is lined with crystals of calcite of all sizes up to 2 ft. or more in diameter, some are cloudy, but most are transparent of light sherry colour, or colourless, and fine examples may be obtained of the variety which shows double refraction clearly and is known as Iceland Spar. Further exploration might show that the cavern extends beyond its known limits, but nothing has been done to enlarge it, and it remains as when first discovered. Though many of the crystals have been broken and removed, there yet remain so many intact that the damage is hardly noticeable...... Liquid inclusions from small to large bubbles as much as 2 inches long were seen containing possibly a desert-spoon full of the liquid..... upon some of the large crystals, short stout, hexagonal prisms of secondary calcite have been deposited. As single crystals and groups they are attached to the polished surfaces of the large crystals, and a very slight jar will detach them from their smooth base."

It was not to be for long, as a passage from the book Forgotten Country - The story of the Upper Clarence Gold Fields, by Isabel Wilkinson records.

"There arrived in Lionsville c. 1924, a German, Dr. Stroebal, and soon a new sensation stirred the district. The crystal was to be sent to Germany for the manufacture of "high quality lenses". Machinery was brought and set up to extract the crystal and a case mill, powered by an early model Fordson tractor to cut timber for packing the precious glass-like blocks.... Many of the locals had jobs in the new industry - taking out the blocks of crystal; cutting timber for the mill, making the cases for packing; carting the finished crates of crystal to Grafton for loading on to boats......Dr Stroebal gave instructions... none were to be broken, and as each piece came out, a crate must be tailored to fit it.....It has been said that Dr Stroebal travelled to Grafton each time a consignment went out and personally saw it shippedsafely away to Germany...."

What a shame! Imagine the tourist drawcard that such a place would make today! It is ironic that this "Iceland Spar" calcite was probably sought for rangefinder devices that eventually were to be used as weapons of war in the coming decade.

Bibliography: A Contribution to the Mineralogy of New South Wales, George Smith Mineral Resources Publication No. 34, 1926 pp 96 Forgotten Country, Isabel Wilkinson 1980, ISBN 0 9593763 0 5, pp 227