If ever you travel through any of the opal towns it pays to stay awhile and talk to the locals. For some reason these places attract some of the real characters from all around the world. If you are looking to buy a small parcel of opal it gives you a reason to talk to the miners and they are often willing to tell you a little about themselves although not all of them will open up. We have been lucky to meet some of these characters on our numerous trips. One of the most interesting was Crocodile Harry.
Whenever you visit the opal fields there is much more to see than just opal mines and shops selling opal. There are all sorts of amazing and innovative machinery. There are all sorts of interesting buildings and there are other "things". This post includes pictures of machines, cars, buildings and "things" that we saw on our trip in 2012.
No this is not a new opal field. It is, in fact an old gold mining area in north east Victoria.
Years ago Barbara and I visited the area to see the Eranundra Forest. This is an old growth area which has been heavily logged in the past but is still very beautiful with huge trees and marvellous tree ferns. Gold was discovered in 1855 in the Bendoc River with most alluvial gold being found in Chinaman's Creek, about 8km from Bendoc, and in the Delegate River. In 1857 the Morning Star mine was founded with ashaft sunk to 70 metres. Gold was mined from quartz at the rate of 2 oz per ton.
In 2012, my wife Barbara and I went on a trip into central Australia to escape the wet and cold of Melbourne. As with most of our trips we tend to get diverted into at least one opal field. On this trip I was lucky enough to get to visit three of the fields namely, Coober Pedy, Mintabie and Andamooka. I have described the Mintabie trip on another Post so this one is about our Andamooka Opal Field trip. We have been here several times before and always enjoy the visit.
We have driven on the Stuart Highway many times but have always sailed past the turn off to Mintabie just a few kilometres past Marla. This time we were determined to visit Mintabie as it is only about 35 km off the Stuart Highway.
We camped at the Marla Road Station Caravan Park, which by the way, is a lovely grassed park with all amenities including power. Leaving our van here we set off quite early to Mintabie. The road in was a little corrugated but easily accessible in the dry by most vehicles.
In 1926, Minnie Berrington, a young typist from London arrived at Coober Pedy becoming one of only 3 women on that opal field at that time. Conditions may not look all that good at Coober Pedy today but at that time they would have been much worse.
Access to the town, if you could call it a town then, was appalling. The road from Port Augusta was unmade and was really just a dirt track. Supplies were difficult to obtain and the weather was extremely hot in summer with little shelter and certainly none of the "mod cons" we have today such as airconditioning and refrigeration. Food and water was even difficult to come by. This did not deter her and for a while she was employed to look after Jacob Santings store at Coober pedy.
In the early 1930's there were a few miners working at Andamooka. One of these miners was an old European who lived in an old dugout away from the main centre. He was regularly seen walking across the hill to collect water from the well in the main centre, but he rarely spoke to anyone. At that time there was a tin store near where the school is now, run by Reg Absalom. During a long heatwave it was realised that no-one had seen this miner for several days, which was quite unusual. Reg went looking for him and found him dead on the hill. He'd been dead for about three days. The decision was made to bury him where they found him, and this was the start of the original cemetery.
In my teens I had a strong interest in fossicking for gemstones. This led to gold panning and gemstone fossicking trips to Beechworth, Walhalla and other similar places,
In 1966 my cousin Ken and I decided we should try and find some opal as we had read about its beauty and the possibility of finding chips and small pieces rejected or missed by the miners at some of the older fields. After some study we settled on an old field called "Pride of the Hills" situated in Queensland west of Cunamulla and east of Toompine. We had no idea of what to expect but headed off in my Cortina sedan in September of that year. We took plenty of fuel, water and food to last the two weeks as well as picks, shovels and sieves.
Andamooka is situated approximately 360 km from Port Augusta. It can be reached by turning off the Stuart Highway at Pimba and travelling along sealed roads via Woomera and Roxby Downs.
Andamooka was one of the later opal fields found in Australia.Opal was first found on the Andamooka Station in 1930. As in all opal discoveries there are a number of claims as to who first discovered opal in the area but the most commonly accepted story is that Roy Shepherd and Sam Brooks, who were working at the Andamooka Station and shifting camp from one place to another, discovered opal in the area now known as Andamooka Opal Creek. They had climbed a hill to watch their horses and to fill in time were throwing rocks in a challenge to see who could throw the furthest. One of the rocks was covered in opal.