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Australian Opal Opal Fields

Duck Creek Opal Field Queensland – 1903

The following article on the Duck Creek Opal Field was published in “The Register” newspaper on Wednesday 24th June 1903. It is reproduced here to let you know what it was really like mining at Duck Creek in 1903.

Duck Creek 1903

” The Duck Creek Opal Field is in the Paroo mineral district, and lies about 40 miles north of Yowah. It is most accessible from Eulo by road, a distance of about 76 miles. It is situated on a low ridge, separating those waters which drain into Yowah Creek and thence in to the Paroo River

Some extensive mining for opal has been done in this area and the prominent features consist of the “New Field” and the “Old Field”. There are in addition a number of surrounding camps and localities where mining is carried out for which the main camp of Duck Creek forms a centre. The New Field is not extensively worked.

The shafts have an average depth of 14 feet and pass through soft pink sandstone into hard white or grey clay. The hard ferruginous band or casing at the junction varies from a turn up to several inches in thickness and the underlying clay has become hard in many places by partial or complete opalisations in its mass it being then known by the miners as “flint band”.

Precious opal is found in small clean, pencil like pieces or pipes near the base of the sandstone, in the band or casing or in the clay. The junction of the sandstone and clay is not regular, but frequently takes dips or bends as though the overlying portion was laid on an uneven surface.

Colourless or common forms of opal form the largest proportion obtained, and with this, although the mode of occurrence is the same, the forms are usually much larger and more massive.

The methods of mining are similar to those previously described only the opal bearing portion of the formation is left on the roof instead of the floor and broken down for further examination.

After the shafts are sunk, miners put in drives or chambers by removing the clay for a sufficient depth to enable them to work in a crouching position, an operation known as “keyouting”. The band on the roof is later broken out for examination.

It is the oldest portion of the field whence a large quantity and some of the finest opal was obtained. Though little workable ground is left, splendid opal is found here, and a good deal is found here by turning over and searching what is locally called noodling (mullock).

A number of men are now making a good living at this occupation, which is indulged in by children and women of the opal camps, who wash and class and dispatch to well known Adelaide buyers.

Goodmans Flat is located about two and a half miles north west of Duck Creek. A number of shafts have been sunk here through a layer of sandstone beneath which is a white sinter like material, probably a sandy clay, hardened by partial opalisation. The precious opal was partly obtained from boulders at the base of the sandstone and partly from the underlying rock (cement), but the total production has been limited to a few stones.

One mile workings, east of Duck Creek old field, consists of several shafts from 15 to 40 feet deep, from which about 200 pounds worth of opal is said to have been obtained.

The field which is receiving most attention from the miners is Sheep Station Creek. These workings are at the head of Sheep Station Creek four miles from the south west of Duck Creek. The credit of discovering opal in this locality is given to a civilised black named Peter Dixon, who has been prospecting in this district for a considerable time.

At that portion of the workings where operations are in progress the shafts passed through 8 feet of pink sandstone. There was then a bed of clay 3 feet in thickness, another layer of sandstone 4 feet in thickness and beneath it another clay bed. Opal was found in the band at the base of the upper layer of sandstone, in the clay and in the second bed of sandstone. Boulders occur in both beds of sandstone and when in the lower one are called “floaters”. They can be seen weathering out on the surface.

The workings in which most of the valuable gems are being procured are 190 yards to the south west, and the value I would say amongst the men is 2,000 pounds. Some are of fine quality and await buyers who usually come from Melbourne and Adelaide. As the miners are doing well, more are coming daily, but it is useless in coming to the field unless you have a few pounds.”

That is the published story and gives us a bit of an insight into the mining at Duck Creek at that time. I was lucky enough to visit Duck Creek in 1966 and it was mostly deserted with only one person working there. You can read of this trip in my blog My First trip to the opal fields.

Hope you enjoyed this trip back into the past.

Johno

By Johno

Johno is a retired Engineer who has enjoyed a lifelong passion for Australian Opal.

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