Geologists and farmers Martin I’Ons (L) and Guy Lewington examining their find. (ABC News: Melanie Vujkovic)
Two geologists believe they have struck brown gold in Queensland’s Lockyer Valley, unearthing a naturally occurring mineral capable of growing pristine grass in the middle of the Arabian desert.
Guy Lewington and Martin I’Ons were looking for the mineral silica when they bought the mine at Mount Sylvia 11 years ago.
Mr Lewington said it was only by chance they instead discovered the rock dust palagonite.
He said the fine material existed in other parts of the world, but that it was very rare.
“You only really find it where there’s current volcanic activity. You see it in Iceland, you see it in Hawaii,” he said.
But it is what the two men did next — mixing palagonite with compost and other microbial products — that created a soil conditioner with major export potential.
“It has this incredible ability to hold and retain water, which again is a very positive outcome,” Mr Lewington said.
“So really for all intents and purposes we have a bit of a wonder material here.”
Palagonite looks like brown dirt and is in plentiful supply at the site. (ABC News: Melanie Vujkovic)
Their company has already sold the product to the Middle East, where it was used to grow pristine grass for the St Regis Polo Centre in Dubai.
They have also teamed up with a local farmer to test the palagonite on crops.
Mr Lewington said the result was a 50 per cent increase in production, as well as reducing the need for chemical fertiliser.
The farmer declined to be named in this story, saying he did not want to give up his secret.
But Lockyer Valley Mayor Tanya Milligan said she was more than happy to tell the world about the local treasure.
“We’ve got this wonderful, natural phenomenon here in our own backyard, [it] just all the more resonates with me how great this region is,” she said.
Mr Lewington said they were hoping to secure a contract to supply the product for turf in the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
“We’re down to the final three and we should know in the next couple of weeks,” he said.
“The more people who find out about palagonite and the more palagonite found, the better for our planet.”
Until then, they estimate the Mount Sylvia quarry has around 6 million tonnes of palagonite.