Why René built caves…
René Boissevain has been collecting crystals and fossils since the early 60’s.
In 1987, he built a cave in the back of his shop to display his private collection. The caves were built using egg cartons for soundproofing, chick mesh for sculpting walls, hessian for modelling limestone formations and fire- retardant poly urethane to lock it all into place.
In 1992, he made his cave bigger, much bigger.
Now, The Crystal Caves contains 5 chambers, a winding walkway, a crystal brook, a massive amethyst geode, 2 ultraviolet displays and more than 600 specimens in 300m2 of tunnels and grottos.
The Crystal Caves is still owned by René and his wife Nelleke.
Here is his story…
René’s love of mineral specimens and crystals began in the early 60’s when he found a large agate nodule at Agate Creek, a popular fossicking area near Forsayth, in Outback North Queensland. This discovery led to several years of travelling the globe in search of other interesting crystals.
In 1983, he had established a rock shop in the main street of Atherton called ‘Fascinating Facets’, with his eldest daughter Iefje.
The shop had a basement and he quickly had the idea of using the basement to make a display of his vast private collection. While the glass cabinets were a great way to protect his precious crystals, you couldn’t touch them; turn them over in your hand and marvel at natures incredible precision in creating such sculptures. So, he decided to make a more interactive engaging way to display the collection. Since crystals are formed deep underground, a cave seemed like the perfect setting for his collection.
The media loved it. Here was a man who had built a cave in the back of his shop in the small country town of Atherton. But more than that, he had created a museum where people could get up close and personal to crystals and fossils from all over the world; you could touch the lower jaw of a woolly mammoth that lived between 300,000 and 3,700 years ago; you could sit on a petrified tree stump or hold a meteorite from outer space in your hands. Visitors from all over came to see René’s crystal cave and the more they loved it, the more he wanted to go bigger and better.
Since then, René has added a solar system of ultraviolet gemstone spheres, a rose quartz crystal brook and the massive Amethyst geode. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of visitors have explored the crystal caves and like any true collector, René and his family continue to search the world for the most unique crystalised mineral specimens to add to the growing collection.
Today, René and Nelleke live a quiet life at Tinaroo. He still has a private collection in his home and a stockpile of Australian agates that he collected at Agate creek in the early 60’s. His daughter manages The Crystal Caves but he still visits regularly to share stories and accept compliments from visitors who appreciate what he has built.
He travelled to South America for Amethyst and Central America for massive perfectly clear quartz crystal clusters, Peru has incredible pyrite crystals while Mexico has the largest selenite crystals in the world, just to name a few. But like a stamp or coin collector, the best place to find that rare specimen that you don’t have yet, is at a collectors show. And the best show in the world for crystals is at Tucson, Arizona. René went to Tucson every year until his private collection was so big that there was not enough wall space in his home to mount the specially designed glass cabinets to display his impressive collection.
He started by lining the walls and ceiling with thousands of egg cartons, for insulation. Using chickmesh, he sculpted a tunnel, 4 large stalactites, recesses and crevices, all inspired by real limestone caves. Then he draped hessian over it and engaged a local engineering company to spray the entire structure with a polyurethane foam that formed a ridged, fire-retardant finish that could easily be cut into. He added carpeting, spotlights and gentle music to create an overall calm and ambient environment in which to absorb the beauty of mother natures creations.
In 1991, he began construction on the second stage of the museum. This stage would contain 4 additional chambers with a winding walkway, rotating doors, fluorescent minerals and an agate dome so high that you could stand up in it, but you had to crawl on your hands and knees to get into it. The second cave broke through to the first one, thus creating a loop. With not a single flush wall, ceiling or floor space, the carpenters, electricians and floor layers were challenged beyond anything they had ever been tasked with.
The state minister for tourism at the time, the Hon Bob Gibbs travelled to North Queensland to perform the official opening ceremony on the 17th of July, 1992. He acknowledged that this was something very unique to the state’s tourism industry and predicted that it would have a great impact on the township of Atherton.