There are many Australian opal mining towns, but Lightning
Ridge, Coober Pedy, Andamooka, Quilpie & Yowah seem to
interest people the most!
Of these, Lightning Ridge is special because it is one of the few places in the world (and the primary one in Australia), where the renowned "black opal" is found, a precious and highly valued gemstone.
Australian Black Opal, unlike ordinary opal, has carbon and iron oxide trace elements in it which produces a very dark base stone which deepens the full spectrum of it's opal colors found within.
The Australian Opal Mining town of Lightning Ridge is situated 770 klm from Sydney and 72 klm north of Walgett, New South Wales.
Although it has a small permanent population,
more visitors come to Lightning Ridge every year to either try their luck at fossicking or opal mining and to see exactly what an outback australian opal mining town is really like!
There are some that, once having visited, have "fallen in love" with the place and joined the permanent population of Lightning Ridge !
The first white man to discover these beautiful Lightning Ridge opals was Charles Nettleton in 1902. He was originally an opal miner at White Cliffs, but when his money ran out he left White Cliffs and eventually made his way to an area known as Nettleton's Hill on Angledool Station and started prospecting for opals.
This site became known later as Lightning Ridge.
Lightning Ridge Opal Mining .....
Lightning Ridge has evolved from a rough and ready australian opal mining township surrounded by mullock humps,
into an Australian opal mining town where visitors can enjoy good
quality motels, restaurants, and gift shops, giving it distance from its
more uncivilised past history, but somehow keeping its unique feeling of it's opal mining mystique.
The opal at Lightning Ridge is usually found at levels of up to 25 metres deep. The opal mining is usually carried out mainly by individuals, rather than large mining companies, as the opal can be elusive to find and is not found in great amounts when it is found.
Once having reached the level of opal bearing sandstone, in
present days by using a drilling rig which drills a one metre diameter
shaft to the opal level, individual miners can start work with a
jackhammer, a pick and an electric hoist which hoists the opal dirt to the surface from down the shaft.
More expensive machinery such as a "blower" which acts like a giant vacuum cleaner, sucks up the toedirt up onto the surface.
From here, the opal bearing sandstone is "washed" in an agitator (like a cement mixer), rotated and washed with the dirt sludge being washed away leaving the "tailings". These tailings are then picked over carefully , looking for any opal amongst all the potch.
At this stage, any opal found is classed as "rough" or raw opal - it is unprocessed. With rough opal it is a gamble as to whether it has faults within it or sand spots or the promise of a beautiful opal !
The next stage is a "rub". This is when sand and waste material is removed from the rough stone, revealing the possible potential and value of the stone.
From here the final cutting and polishing of the gemstone takes place by an experienced opal cutter.
Visiting Lightning Ridge ?
The lure of the black opal and this Australian Opal Mining town have been encapsulated in Laurie Hudson's poem:
There's a sleepy little township, out beyond the western plains,
Lightning Ridge, the town of opal, where there's heat and scanty rains.
The location is not scenic, just rough ridges all around
Nature sired her scenes of beauty, in black opal, underground.
If you've never seen black opal, you have missed a splendid sight,
Like quicksilver gaily coloured, slipped through the shades of night.
Though you've roamed the whole world over, seen most all there is to see,
There are scenes you've never dreamed of, in the stone of mystery.
Cooberpedy is another australian opal mining town situated about 845 klm from Adelaide, South Australia.
The name of Cooberpedy seems to have come from the Aboriginal translation of "coober", meaning boy/white man and "pedy" meaning a hole.
So the translation of the name took on the meaning of " white man down a hole".
It was in 1915 that a 14 year old boy, Bill Hutchinson,
first discovered Opal in this area by accident. He was the youngest
member of a survey team when he wandered off, finding traces of opal.
From that point on, Cooberpedy's history began.
Now a major percentage of the opal produced in the world comes from Cooberpedy.
Surrounding Cooberpedy is a craterscape of mullock heaps,showing the opal mining that goes on.
The opal is mined from the Coober Pedy Precious Stones Field which
covers an area of just under 5,000 square kilometres - only a small area of this has been worked.
Until the Stuart Highway was sealed in 1987, Coober Pedy was little more than an "outpost" in most respects. But it is still a place where people of many nationalities have come together - it is estimated that there are 45 different nationalities which makes it one of the most multicultural communities in Australia!
It is a fascinating township where most of it's residents live underground, due to the heat and temperature that can reach to 50 deg.C in summer, or more.
The idea of living underground is believed to have originally come from the influx of miners to Cooberpedy in who were returned soldiers who had been used to living in the trenches in Europe during World War 1 and understood the advantages of a constant temperature of a "dugout".
Some of these "dugouts" have been burrowed into hillsides, and in
today's age, contain all the home comforts of modern living, as well as the escape away from the heat of the outside, with a constant comfortable temperature of living below ground.
Cooberpedy can also boast a "grassless" golf course and an underground church , as well as many other unusual activites for the visitor like noodling for gems on the mullock heaps!
|* Read this interesting Story of A Cooberpedy "Postie".....|
Below is an Opal Video from "Discovery Channel" about the
Australian opal mining town of Cooberpedy
View a most beautiful and stunning "picture" Opal Mosaic handmade with Cooberpedy Opal!
Have You Ever Visited The Opal Outback Areas Of Lightning Ridge, Cooberpedy, or The Queensland Boulder areas .....?
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Opal Outback of Australia !
Andamooka is a town located approximately 600 km north of Adelaide in South Australia. The town slowly developed after Opal was first discovered here in the 1920's and miners' camps quickly established themselves in the area.
The town has a population of around 500 to 600 people, depending upon the season.
The main industry was opal mining for many years,but since the establishment of the copper-uranium mine some residents of Andamooka are now employed in the mine or in Roxby Downs.
The climate is arid, with temperatures in summer regularly topping 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and night temperatures in winter often dropping to zero (32 degrees Fahrenheit) or below, and rainfall is very low with an average of 160 mm per year.
Although the main road into Andamooka has now been sealed,remaining roads in the town are still unsealed.
The few houses that are in Andamooka are made of fibro and corrugated iron, and many residents also live underground in dugouts like those of Cooberpedy..
Do You Enjoy Boulder Opal ? Read more here at...
The Boulder Opal Mining Fields & Towns Of Queensland !
Are You Planning An Outback Adventure to our Australian Opal Mining Towns ?
If you are planning to travel to the Australian Outback and Cooberpedy and are looking for lots of useful information...
Explore the Australian Outback with Rita's Outback Guide. Discover Coober Pedy, the opal capital of the world. The Outback Guide includes track descriptions, safety and driving tips, information about accommodation, Australian animals and more.