It was October and we were off on another trip to Andamooka. Normally we wouldn't go there at this time of the year as the temperature can be well into the thirties but there was to be a memorial service for Brian Tansell, an old time miner at Andamooka, and we did not want to miss it as we had got to know him over the past 6 years.
Minnie Berrington, first woman opal miner at Andamooka, wrote a book about her adventures in Coober Pedy and Andamooka. This book is called "Stones of Fire" A Woman's Experience in Search of Opal.
This book was published in 1958 and is well worth reading to gain an idea of the hardships faced by the early miners in Coober Pedy and especially Andamooka. Written by a woman who first hand experienced life in these primitive places, this book details the experiences faced by women in what was principally a man's domain and shows how she coped and enjoyed her time opal mining.
If you have ever driven from Cunnamulla to Thargomindah in southern Queensland you will have passed through the small township of Eulo. If you blink twice you will miss it as there is not much there.It has a cafe, post office, police station, a date farm and of course, the Eulo Hotel. While it is a fairly insignificant town now, it was quite important in the 1880's, being a bustling township with three hotels and for quite a while it was home to one of the legends of the opal era, "the Eulo Queen"
White Cliffs is a small town located 95 km north of Wilcania in New South Wales. Opal was 1st discovered there on 1889 and by 1897 there were thousands of miners in the area. The opal was found in white sandstone country indicating it had once been part of a vast inland sea. Beneath this sandstone , at various depths depending on the terrain, lies a gritty layer of "opal dirt". Below that there is greasy clay which usually does not produce opal. The lst layer of sandstone above the opal layer is often harder and more silicious and the miners called it "the band"
It was late May and the weather in Melbourne was getting colder and wetter. It was time to escape north to a better climate and to do some fossicking and fishing.
Barbara and I packed the caravan and Hilux with all of the essentials for an unplanned trip. Plenty of food, the kayaks, fishing gear, gold detector, gold pan and sieves just in case we ended up in an opal or other gem-field. As if we wouldn't?
The early days at White Cliffs were quite interesting and somewhat different to most other opal fields. The information in this post comes mainly from the book "They struck opal" written by E F Murphy, "The Opal Book" by Frank Leechman and "The Lightning Ridge Book" by Stuart Lloyd.
E F Murphy was born at Mt Edgerton in Victoria in 1862. He went to school at St Patricks College in Melbourne and was well educated. He was a young man of twenty when he came to White Cliffs and was the fifth miner to take out a lease at White Cliffs. This occurred soon after the first finds of opal were made at this location and so had first hand experience of what conditions were like at the field.
Whenever we think of opal we usually think of gems used in jewellery, but there are some opals and other gemstones which portray beautiful and intriguing patterns, but which are not necessarily suitable for use as jewellery.
Some of the stones shown below are from my collection and while not the most valuable, they are still amazing for the patterns and colours they exhibit.
Lightning Ridge is famous for its "black opal" but it also has its share of strange buildings. The strangest of all has to be the "Universe Observatory" or "Astronomer's Castle" built by Polish Alex Szperlak.
There are many amazing sights around Lightning Ridge, but few better than Amigo's Castle.
Vittorio Stefanato, known locally as "Amigo", opal miner and castle builder, started his project in 1985 when he started getting tired of opal mining. Initially he sourced his stone from his mining lease but soon had to travel to all areas around Lightning Ridge as his castle grew in size.
Opal at Andamooka is found in a narrow band of depths varying up to 600 mm. In this bed there are many boulders of strongly bonded quartzite of varying sizes.,Today, as you wander among the great piles of disturbed overburden which is mixed with the old opal level , you will come across many of these boulders. They are extremely hard and difficult to break.