Treasure hunter has collected a slice of the valley's past
LITTERED across Neal Walker's Mount Whitestone property, spread throughout his garden, around the outside of his house and packed into his shed, is what he predicts are anywhere between 2000-3000 pieces of petrified wood and ironstone.
He started his collection close to 50 years ago. While working as a stockman and farmer he would pick up anything that caught his eye and place it in his pocket.
One of his most recent discoveries is a large piece of petrified wood that is one of his most impressive to date - standing 15 inches high and 2.6 feet long with a six-foot circumference.
"It's the biggest one I've been able to bring in," Mr Walker said.
"I don't often come across them (this big), they're too big for my hip pocket.
"We saw it in a paddock and couldn't leave it there. I had to bring it home with the help of a forklift tractor.
"I've always had an interest in stone and timber and poking around the paddocks and finding all different types."
Petrified wood is the result of a tree turning to stone by the process of permineralisation over the course of millions of years.
But Mr Walker, who delights in showing off the fossils in displays at the Gatton Show and Gatton Mineral and Fossil Show, said most people weren't aware of their significance.
"If I ever unpack those boxes up there in my shed and lay it out, you'd see something of everything," Mr Walker said.
"You'll get people come up and say 'oh I've seen some of them in my paddock, I've got one of them' and then you'll start talking to them and they start appreciating what they've got.
"The majority of people don't know anything of them."
Gatton Lapidary Club president Leon Steinhardt, who often joins Mr Walker on his treasure hunts, said the collection represented a huge cross-section of petrified wood in the region, which were mainly found in the hills to the south of Gatton.
"What Neal's got is a representative collection of whatever you'll find in the Valley, he has one piece thereof at least, he's got an enormous cross-section of what's here," Mr Steinhardt said. Mr Steinhardt thanked the community for opening up their properties so they could make these discoveries.