Proposal for a fossicking district

Ian Cathles from Wee Jasper is against the proposal by the state government on fossicking. Photo: Jessica Cole.
Ian Cathles from Wee Jasper is against the proposal by the state government on fossicking. Photo: Jessica Cole.

Millions of years ago, where the rolling hills of the Yass Valley sit today, the area basked under a sea of algae and early stony corals - most spectacular were the Taemas - Wee Jasper reefs.

It was this proverbial coral Atlantis that shaped the Wee Jasper area into a treasure trove of fossils, gold and gems.  

In a proposal by the state government to ramp up fossicking in Wee Jasper, it has outlined the suitability of the activity to promote the lifestyle and tourism of this small village, much to the concern of its residents.

Ian Cathles has lived in Wee Jasper most of his life, his childhood was spent roaming the area for the precious artifacts history left behind. He and his wife Helen's property  "Cooradigbee" today contains some of the beautiful limestone deposits revered by many in the archaeological world.

Frustrated with the government's ‘ill informed’ without ‘controls’ proposal, the Cathles believe that heritage listing would protect the area for responsible tourism.  

The fossilised eyeball of a lung fish. Photo: Jessica Cole.

The fossilised eyeball of a lung fish. Photo: Jessica Cole.

“This area is internationally recognised for its quality of fossils,” he said.

“What we have is examples of early devonian fish and they are the best preserved in the world. It seems crazy that they won’t put it on the heritage list, which would protect the area, yet would want to open it up as a tourist attraction.”

Paleontologists have been visiting the Yass Valley since the 1800s, according to Mr Cathles. Most prominently was the arrival of a Professor Harry Tombes in the Mid 50s who visited in awe of what he found and took over 3 tonnes of specimen home to the United Kingdom to do further research.

“I remember meeting him and being astounded at what we had in our backyard,” Mr Cathles explained.

Thanks to Mr Cathles and specimens he has provided to the Australian National University, researchers were able to determine the existence of three different types of lung fish that lived side by side each other thousands of years ago.    

“Good specimens need to be protected and preserved, collected and researched,” he continued.

“This can’t happen if objects are taken from the area. Most of the time people are respectful, we do fossil tours out here, but sometimes you get the occasional person who decide they would like to take souvenir and they don’t realise the importance of preserving such things.”

The Department of Industry (Resources and Energy) came under the spotlight at the April council meeting to declare Yass Valley as a fossicking district.

The fossilised eyeball of a lung fish, scanned and printed scaled larger by a 3D printer. Photo: Jessica Cole.

The fossilised eyeball of a lung fish, scanned and printed scaled larger by a 3D printer. Photo: Jessica Cole.

The proposal suggested that the declaration of local government areas as fossicking districts may contribute to local development of fossicking activity and ultimately advance regional geotourism.

It also outlined that fossicking in NSW is mainly small scale and largely a recreational activity. Larger scale operations and commercial activities are regulated by usual planning and licensing controls.

Despite the small interest in the activity, Mr Cathles explained that it would be impossible to police and to make a decision to force this onto the community was premature.

“I don’t think that the community would want this to go ahead, I didn’t know of this proposal until I received a phone call from one of the councillors Geoff Frost who has a huge interest in the area,” he said.

“I think we have to get people to respect what we do here and think clearly as how to make it accessible to the public.”

The vote from councillors was unanimous to dismiss the proposal at last week's council meeting, the decision was supported by council staff. Councillors concluded that any rushed decision would be detrimental to the community and the precious specimens found there.

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