During a brief holiday in July 2005, I went to Dundas, about 65kms drive north-east inland from Strahan in North-West Tasmania. The unassuming little town of Dundas has a claim to international fame - it is the only place in Australia and one of only three places in the world, where you can find the minerals Serpentine and Stichtite in combination.
Serpentine is the name given to a group of predominantly green minerals that occur as masses of tiny intergrown crystals of magnesium hydroxysilicate. Several varieties of serpentine are found across the globe (including China, the UK and the USA), but the two major varieties are Bowenite and Williamsite. Bowenite is the commoner of the two and is usually a translucent apple green with irregular little spots; Williamsite is rarer and softer and is an oily transparent green with black inclusions. In Australia, Bowenite has been found at Hanging Rock (NSW) and at Beaconsfield in Tasmania.
Opinion varies as to how Serpentine gained its name. One view is that it is because the stone’s mottled patterning resembles snakeskin, another is that it was regarded in times past as a cure for snake bite … as well as for rheumatism, dropsy and any build-up of fluids in the body. Serpentine is a relatively soft stone. It measures 2.5 on the Mohs hardness scale - about the same as Alabaster (diamond measures 10 and Lapis Lazuli 5). It can be carved, engraved or polished and jewellers - especially in ancient Egypt and Persia - have made decorative items and seals from Serpentine, while builders have supported buildings with Serpentine columns. Serpentine appears under various guises. Carved Bowenite is sometimes passed-off as jade under the names ‘new jade’ or ‘Hunan jade’; combinations of Serpentine and Marble are often called simply Serpentine and are used for ornaments, for example Connemara Marble (from Connaught, Ireland) and Verd-antique (from Italy and Greece).
The combination of Serpentine and Stichtite is extremely rare. Stichtite is a rose-red to purple stone with darker flecks and is the product of decomposing chrome-containing Serpentine. Stichtite is even softer than Serpentine, measuring 1.5 to 2.5 on the Mohs scale. It’s found in Algeria, South Africa … and in Tasmania – at Serpentine Hill, which is off Macquarie Harbour on the north-west coast and at Dundas. A café and a service station in Dundas display and sell small pieces of jewellery carved from this unique gemstone; and one inhabitant of the town is digging-up pieces of it in her back yard!
The combination of green Serpentine and pink Stichtite is very attractive. I’ve used some of the Serpentine-Stichtite pieces that I bought in Dundas but have just listed a gemstone wand in my Destash store to share with other to design.
- Hall, C. (1994) Gemstones. London: Dorling Kindersley.
- Perry, N. & Perry, R. (1997) A fossicker’s guide to gemstones in Australia. Melbourne: Reed Books Australia.
- Schumann, W. (1977) Gemstones of the world. New York: Sterling Publishing Co.
- Walters, R. J. L. (1996) The power of gemstones. London (?): Carlton Books Ltd.