One farmer’s obsession with gemstones has created one of the finest collections in Australia, open free to the public at Longwood, Vic.
Story By Ken Eastwood
It was a story in a magazine in the 1960s that first inspired Maurie Brodie’s gemstone obsession. It featured a man who tumbled stones, and there was a large picture of a collection of coloured gems. “They looked like boiled lollies,” Maurie says. He was entranced.
“The next birthday Mum bought me a gemstone book,” Maurie says. “We went to Spencer Gulf [in South Australia] and collected ice-cream containers full of coloured rocks washed up on the beach. They were fairly smooth because of the action of the water.”
From this humble beginning, Maurie collected gemstones, fossils, crystals and rare rocks, and now – after more than 50 years of his hobby – has one of the most impressive collections in the country. Twelve years ago he opened The Rockery Gemstone Museum in Longwood in central Victoria to display the collection. The museum – an old four-bedroom house – is chock-a-block with millions of sparkling, colourful and fascinating pieces from around the world, each one different. There are onyx pyramids from Pakistan, sandstone blocks from Arizona, Madagascan ammonite fossils that are 150–180 million years old, giant royal purple amethyst geodes, pyrite silver dollars from Illinois, US, and thunder eggs from Queensland. In a special dark room there are glowing specimens as well – fluorescent fluorite from Chillagoe in Queensland and saleeite (a uranium mineral) from the Ranger mine at Jabiru.
“We’re known all over the world,” Maurie, 69, says. “Recently some people visited from Alaska and Russia. There was another group from France who made this a stop on their Australian tour.”
Maurie grew up in the Longwood area, going to Kilmore primary school and Euroa Secondary College before leaving school at 14 to work in woolsheds and help on the 190-hectare family farm. One local farmer was particularly helpful. “He took me under his wing and educated me about Merino sheep,” Maurie says. “He told me how to pick up a fleece properly and features to look for in the males – good strong back legs, a good stance, good wool all over.”
Soon he was also helping his neighbour with her 450ha property next door. “I put in roads, that sort of thing,” he says. “We always used to shear our sheep in her woolshed.” Eventually Maurie leased the property from her, running sheep and fat lambs across the whole 640ha.
This story excerpt is from Issue #83
Outback Magazine: June/July 2012