Opal Mining in the Australian Outback

We travel almost half way round the world, across the wide Pacific to South Australia, from the heavily timbered hills to the flat semi-deserts, a dry land of sunshine, sand and cold southerly winds. Near Adelaide, where the earliest definite discovery was made, we travel northwest across the continent to the shores of the Indian Ocean, then east to Queensland and down to White Cliffs in New South Wales to Lightning Ridge, to the center of the great "out-back".

The first finding of opal in Australia was in Tarrawilla near Angaston about some fifty miles from Adelaide and over a hundred years ago in 1849. Over the next 60 years, numerous types of opal were discovered in such towns as Coober Pedy and Andamooka. As the land began to be settle, miners travel north-west through South Australian into Queensland and New South Wales to find many other types of opals including rare black opals. Pictured on the left is an ariel view of Lightning Ridge, Australia. In the same way as Lightning Ridge had developed and supplied the world-wide demand for opal while White Cliffs was failing, so Coober Pedy took over as the Ridge was dying down.

Pictured at left is the Umoona Museum, a complex that is wholly underground and contains a museum of the development of European settlement in Coober Pedy including all aspects of opal mining and Aboriginal culture and local art and crafts. An underground tea and coffee room and an extensive opal display and showroom feature opals from all regions of Australia.

Of all the opal mining towns in Australia there is none quite like Coober Pedy. It is, for starters, much larger than other notable places like White Cliffs, Lightning Ridge or Andamooka and it is this size which has produced a diversity of people and activities guaranteed to keep the visitor engrossed for at least a day. There's the grassless golf course, the underground church, the noodling for gems on mullock heaps, the tourist shops, the expensive and sophisticated accommodation, the mixture of nationalities, the frenetic searching for wealth. And all this is set against a backdrop of one of the harshest environments in Australia. About 80 per cent of the population of Coober Pedy now live underground. The reason for this is that the temperature can rise to 50°C in summer and it has been known to rise to 60°C. To most outsiders the idea of living underground sounds terribly primitive.

About 80 per cent of the population of Coober Pedy now live underground. The reason for this is that the temperature can rise to 50°C in summer and it has been known to rise to 60°C. To most outsiders the idea of living underground sounds terribly primitive.Shafts are dug into the ground vertically down to the “opal dirt” level , commonly a large drill is used and a hole could be dug to a depth of 20~40 feet.. Once the vertical shaft has been dug a further tunnel is dug horizontally to follow along the opal level , this is known as a drive.

 

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