When Colleen Bubb started working in a cafe in the tourist town of Kalbarri, Western Australia, she knew nothing of the treasures hidden beneath its floor.
For under the cafe was a long-forgotten “gem mine” tourist attraction – with thousands of semi-precious stones embedded in the walls.
Later, when Mrs. Bubb and her husband Glenn bought the cafe, they decided to unearth the attraction again for visitors.
The reopening has sparked an avalanche of memories for longtime Kalbarri residents who remember the attraction as a virtual treasure cave from Aladdin.
In 1976, Kalbarri residents Gwyn and Cliff Ross decided to try their hand at tourism during their semi-retired years.
Ms Ross was an avid doll collector and so opened The House of Little People to showcase what has become a collection of 4,000 dolls from around the world.
The doll exhibit was so popular that it reportedly won the crown for “best geographical collection of dolls in the world” at the Doll Festival in Poland in 1980.
Mr. Ross was more of a rock man, so he added to the attraction by opening a gemstone “mine” in which he embedded 2,000 semi-precious stones into the walls of an underground cellar to showcase their beauty.
Visitors descended a flight of stairs into the “mine” to marvel at gemstones such as tiger’s eye, amethyst, and mookaite, as well as coal and more, shimmering from the walls.
A fake train track, cart and historic mining props added to the mine atmosphere.
Together, the somewhat incongruous mix of dolls, gems, and other oddities, like bottles and fossils, became known as Fantasy Land.
While it might be considered gloriously kitsch today, in its heyday, Fantasy Land attracted heaps of visitors and was a must-visit tourist attraction in Kalbarri.
44 gallon drums filled with stones
Mr. and Mrs. Ross’s son, Kerry, remembers helping build the gemstone mine.
“Dad had a passion for doing all kinds of weird things at different times,” Kerry Ross said.
Kerry Ross’ wife Christina once worked at Fantasy Land
“Buses full of people were coming, they were all getting out, spending all their money, having a cup of tea and just wanting to talk to Gwyn and Cliff,” Christina Ross said.
Cliff Ross sourced his gemstones from his own travels and also purchased them through gemstone trading companies.
“He had 44-gallon drums full of stones like tiger’s eye and amethyst — all kinds of stones — he was polishing them, knocking some of them off,” Christina Ross said.
“And the mine ones, he would make sure they were bright enough.”
When Mr. and Mrs. Ross sold out in their later years, Fantasy Land changed hands several times before it closed. Most of the dolls have been sold, the treasures packed in boxes and the mine closed.
Over the decades, the gates remained closed, dust gathered, and most assumed the gemstone mine was long gone.
After buying the cafe, Mrs. Bubb was eager to reopen the gemstone mine.
She spent days cleaning away years of accumulated dust and revealing the stones to their former glory.
Mr. and Mrs. Bubb not only admire the stones, but also the couple whose vision brought Fantasy Land to life.
“To think that someone had all this time to do this and it went so well.