Sunday, 9 September 2012

A big pluton cut by the Clarence River

Yulgibar Bridge on the Clarence River
It has been some time since I spent a lot of time in the Clarence River area but occasionally I’ve got back there. Not too long ago I travelled along the Clarence Way. I took a quick detour down Lionsville Road when I came to the village of Baryulgil. Only a few kilometres down the road there is a quaint long low thin bridge over the Clarence. Just on the opposite side is a spot reguarly used as a swimming spot, there is also a tourist attraction for geologists (A road cutting).

The road cutting and the stream bank expose boulders of ‘granite’ rock which make up part of the New England Batholith. Right there at the bridge is a great spot to see one of rocks that make up what is called the Clarence Supersuite, a suite of ‘granites’ that have been derived from the melting of older igneous rocks. According to Bryant et al (1997) the Clarence River Supersuite for which this rock is a member is a type of ‘granite’ called an I-type. The ‘I’ stands for melted igneous in origin (as apposed to S-type for melted sedimentary). There is a lot to say about the New England batholith, its different granite types and its models of formation, such that I will do several blog posts in the future to cover this topic better.

The actual pluton in this area is called the Dumbudgery Granodiorite and it extends a few more kilometres to the north and for many kilometres to the south. Good outcrops can be seen in the hills on the southern side of Lionsville Road if you continue to the west a bit further. Indeed quartz veins in this area also contain small amounts of cinnabar (mercury ore), others contain some gold. If you want to take a sample or have a look at a fresh piece, a hammer (preferably a big one) with appropriate safety goggles is required. It is hard rock! But a fresh piece of granodiorite reveals a lovely white, pink and black speckled appearance. It can be so pretty that is is worth going on display.

Dumbudgery Granodiorite, fresh samples are very bright coloured
The colours of the rock reflect the mineral composition. Normal granite has a large proportion of alkali feldspar (sodium and potassium rich) relative to the amount of plagioclase (calcium and sodium rich) feldspar. A granodiorite like the Dumbudgery Granodiorite contains more plagioclase than alkali feldspar but still enough to be common in the rock. In the specimens at the Clarence River the plagioclase is a cloudy grey colour, sometimes difficult to distinguish from the quartz (tends to clearer) but the other alkali feldspar is a lovely bright pink colour. The lighter colours are contrasted by the two black minerals which are hornblende and biotite. The hornblende is identified by its hardness relative to the biotite which is a form of mica and therefore very easy to scratch. The Dumbudgery Granodiorite has been previously dated at 249 million years (very early Triassic period which is part of the mesozoic era).

Oddly the mass of granodiorite is actually bisected by the Clarence River. This is surprising given the prominent hills (and very hard rock) that the Dumbudgery Granodiorite is made from compared with the relative softness of the Clarence-Moreton Basin sedimentary rocks a short distance to the east. I’ve discussed why it is likely and surprising that the river has created this route in a previous post. Additonally, I’ve quickly discussed in another post the nearby unusual rock called the Gordonbrook Serpentinite which was mined at Baryulgil for asbestos. The Gordonbrook Serpentinite forms the eastern contact with the Dumbugery Granodiorite in Baryulgil area.

The Clarence river here is quite wide with large sand and gravel deposits moving every time it floods and altering its course. Historically some gold was found in this sand and gravel and is thought to be mainly sourced from gold in mineralised granitic rocks further up the river and in its tributaries. Some of the little deposits in the hills and much of the river itself was mined by the old timers, around the end of the 19th Century.

The area around Baryulgil is off the beaten track and Baryulgil itself is a bit of a delapidated little community but the area is worth a visit for its wonderful scenery and geological significance given its location at the edge of the mountainous New England region and the edge of the Clarence-Moreton Basin. Apparently the swimming and fishing are lovely too.


*Bryant, C.J., Arculus, R.J., & Chappell, B.W. 1997. Clarence River Supersuite: 250Ma Cordilleran Tonalitic I-type Intrusions in Eastern Australia. Journal of Petrology V38.


  1. Interesting reading the geological history of the Clarence but I have to point out an historical error.
    Gold deposits could not have been mined " by the old timers around the turn of the 19th. century."
    The Clarence Valley wasn't settled until the middle of the 19th' century around 1860's These old boys would have had to be working 1790-1805.
    You mean the start of the 20th' century i'e' early nineteen hundreds'
    Just a note for accuracy.

    1. oops. You are spot on and I've made a very common and yet simple error. All fixed now. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Another possible error - re alkali feldspars - they are potassium and sodium rich, with plagioclase being calcium rich.

    1. oops... I didn't notice this one after all that time. Fixed now. Thanks.