WHAT A GEM: Lynda Cheshire holds a fossil reptile jaw Mosasaurus Cretaceous at Gemfest at Lismore Showgrounds on Saturday.
WHAT A GEM: Lynda Cheshire holds a fossil reptile jaw Mosasaurus Cretaceous at Gemfest at Lismore Showgrounds on Saturday. Doug Eaton

Putting the sparkle in gems

IT starts as a hobby, fossicking for a few stones on the weekend, but for many of the stallholders at Lismore Gemfest, it soon becomes an obsession or a business.

Now in its 23rd year, Lismore Gemfest is the second largest collection of precious stones and jewellery in Australia and has everything from wind chimes to opal sculptures and more bling than you'll see on the red carpet at the Oscars.

It is organised by the Lismore Gem and Lapidary Club, a group of about 100 locals who like to collect and polish stones.

"It does get addictive," said spokeswoman Jenny Vryenhoek. "We're all bowerbirds at heart, looking for glittery things in the soil."

She said she got the bug when she and her husband went fossicking for sapphires at Inverell they met a few people who told them some other places to try and before long they had joined a club.

The event attracts 5000-6000 people over the weekend from Grafton to Noosa. Mrs Vryenhoek said it was a huge boost to Lismore's economy with most of the stallholders staying three or four nights.

John and Cecile Steenbergen having been coming down to Lismore from Gympie every year for 17 years to sell their wares. They said they started off as fossickers but got too busy and now import their stones from all over the world.

As well as precious stones and beads, there are all the tools you'll ever need from diamond blade saws to grinding equipment and an impressive collection of fossils.

One stallholder claimed to have a set of fossilised reptile jaws that is 100 million years old.

And there is something for every budget, with small bags of rocks selling for as little as $2 going up to one emerald that the owner claims is valued at $55,000.