What about Tunnel Marsh?

Have you heard of the Tunnel Marsh Fossicking Area?

Back in 1996, when Tasmania’s Fossicking Areas were proclaimed into law, there were eleven, instead of the current ten. Tunnel Marsh was the 9th Fossicking Area proclaimed in the original order. However, in the years after its proclamation, it mysteriously dropped off the map, and is no longer recognised in the Mineral Resources Tasmania page as an approved Fossicking Area. Since the area has reverted to being public land, and is unreserved, Tunnel Marsh should be re-instated as a Fossicking Area.

Original proclamation

I was going through the original proclamation of Tasmania’s Fossicking Areas, as part of the research for my previous blog post on Where to Go, when I discovered that the original list was made up of not ten (the current number), but eleven Fossicking Areas. Tunnel Marsh was originally proclaimed a Fossicking Area with all the rest back in 1996. The land was, back then, vested on the Hydro-Electric Commission. This means that the Hydro, although a public utility, owned the land in a private capacity. You can see a plan of the originally proclaimed Area here (PDF). I could find no record in the legislation, or in the Mineral Resources Tasmania (MRT) website of the Fossicking Area being officially revoked. Even so, all mention of Tunnel Marsh disappeared from the official booklet and web-page on Tasmania’s Fossicking Areas.

The main material collected from Tunnel Marsh was mostly agate, which was present in quaternary gravels. The quality was similar to those found in Penstock Lagoon, which, unfortunately, is in private property. You can see some Penstock agates in the Mindat website.

It appears that the land at Tunnel Marsh was eventually sold by the HEC. There is quite a lot of land around the highland lakes that is marked in the (1990s vintage) 1:25,000 Tasmap as belonging to the Hydro. A lot of this is now private freehold property, so at some point between then and now it got sold off. However, when I used LISTmap to overlay land tenure (info on who owns the land) over the 1:25,000 maps, I found that the whole area that was once a fossicking area, and the area around it, are nowadays classed as “Permanent Timber Production Zoned Land”, i.e. what we used to call State Forest. This is perfectly legal to prospect in, provided you’re the holder of a prospecting licence. Here’s the area of the original proclamation, and the current land tenure (as of May 2015) over the area:

The area is now public land again, but is it still (or again) a Fossicking Area?

I’m not sure if the legislation that proclaimed Tunnel Marsh a Fossicking Area was ever really officially repealed, since I could find no evidence of this. Since the land was sold, and for some time at least was in private hands, it was out of bounds for fossicking. However, recent conversations with MRT seem to confirm that — now that it has reverted to Government ownership — we can indeed fossick there, as far as they’re concerned. I still have to confirm with Forestry Tasmania (FT), who are listed as the landowner, and they still need to confirm that it’s OK. Why? There is an important difference between Crown Land (owned by everyone) which is administered by FT, and private freehold property purchased and owned outright by FT (as a publicly owned corporation). If the land at Tunnel Marsh is the second type of ownership, FT can legally refuse access.

It would be fantastic if MRT could clarify in an official capacity, and add information about Tunnel Marsh to the Fossicking Areas page and booklet as soon as possible.

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8 Comments What about Tunnel Marsh?

  1. Phillip Kemp


    That a really great point. i noticed the map looked smaller and did not realize it was this area removed and i should have. My grandfather was the blacksmith at Tarraleah. And, was one of this states first living artists. Jack Smith. And my wife grew up on the Victoria valley way and i personaly lived at Dee Lagoon and surounds for many years. I now the area better than most people ever will give me credit for. Cricket ball sized is to be found. golf ball size simply isnt true!

    And, the Triffets. Nicholls, Bachelors and so many pionering TASMANIAN highland families in the area that have been though so much hardship, would be very dissapointed they have been forgotten too.

    1. TasProspector

      Thanks Phil,
      I went up for a look today and did find some pieces of jasper and nicely patterned silicified cobbles about the size of grapefruits. I took a soil probe to get an idea of the gravel layer depth around the area, and there seems to be a lot of shallow. I’ll post an update when I polish some.

  2. Ralph Bottrill

    This has caused a little embarrassment at MRT as they cannot find any correspondence about its removal. So as long as FT are happy we will have to reinstate it. A little win.

    Just one thing about the site, looks really great and good info but if you use photos from Mindat they are usually copyrighted to the uploader and they should be specifically acknowledged at very least, if not permission requested.

    1. TasProspector

      Thanks Ralph!
      It did seem, when I started looking, that the legislation proclaiming it was still current. Anyway I’m still waiting on FT confirmation on access. I have talked to someone who has to get back to me.
      That’s a good point, I’d meant to link the thumbnail to Mindat and have it on the caption, not sure why I didn’t. Anyway, I have substituted with one I found myself today.

  3. Rod Stagg

    We used to go to Tunnel Marsh back in the late ’60’s. Sometimes on the Devonport Lapidary Field trips and sometimes on our own. From memory we never found anything of any size, lots small jaspers, wood, bit of agate. Easy digging only a spade depth to the gravel layer.

    1. TasProspector

      Thanks Rod,
      I was out there a little while ago and found some nice bits just laying around. Not the largest material, but nice-looking stuff.
      While it doesn’t compare with Penstock, at least you can go to Tunnel Marsh. I notice it’s back up in the Fossicking Areas page at MRT…

  4. Neil

    Hi Miguel, I’m really keen to find some agate and tunnel marsh is a lot closer for me than Lune River. However I went for a drive along portal road yesterday and I’m confused as to where to go as the area I’m looking at on the map seems to be all swamp either side of the road?

    Also, what’s the best way to find/dig for agate? Is a probe essential? What sort of probe would be best to use?

    Sorry for all the questions, I hope all is well 🙂

    1. TasProspector

      Hi Neil,

      The fossicking area is in the swamp. If you get out of the car and have a walk around you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding the diggings. A probe is not essential, for example, you could just pick up digging where someone else left off. However probing around to find shallow gravel might save you time.

      Good luck!


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