New South Wales Opal Fields: A Preview
Australia produces most of the world’s supplies of opal. Deposits of these gemstones, which have been mined over the past century, are found in places located within the Great Artesian Basin. These places are New South Wales, Queensland, and South Australia. The popular black opal is mined in New South Wales. In fact, New South Wales is the largest producer of the gemstone in terms of value. Opals are mined in two New South Wales towns, namely: Lightning Ridge and White Cliffs.
The town of Lightning Ridge is located about 770 km northwest of Sydney. According to legend, the place got its name after the death of a shepherd and his 600 sheep including his dog during a powerful electrical storm whilst taking shelter in a low ridge in the area, thus the name Lightning Ridge. It is the home of the world famous and most valuable among the types of opals, the black opals.
These opals are not like their ordinary counterparts. They have carbon and iron oxide trace elements in it making them rare, opulent, and magnificent. This gemstone got its name from the color of the pieces of rough opal in which it is usually found.
Historically speaking, it was in the late 1880s that opal was first discovered. In the early 1900s, the first shaft was put down by a boundary rider named Jack Murray. During that time, however, buyers did not recognize the commercial value of this precious gem. Charlie Nettleton, who was a miner, later came to the place and started plunging shafts. He then moved to Queensland after he ran out of money. But he later returned to New South Wales believing that there were more opals to be mined in the area. And he particularly started his endeavor on a hill which is now the site of Lightning Ridge.
If Lightning Ridge is known for its black opal, White Cliffs on the other hand is recognized for its seam opal. The light crystal opal is quite easy to value and does not break when cut and polished unlike other opals. This type of opal is formed in horizontal seams in the ground unlike black opals which are “nobbies” or small nuggets.
The town of White Cliffs is located about 295 km northeast of Broken Hill and it is the oldest commercial opal field in Australia. After its discovery, White Cliff became the world’s first producer of seam opal. For the next 30 years, White Cliff provided the commercially accepted opal in the world market. In particular, the area was also famous for its “opal pineapples”. These are oddly shaped opal fossil in the form of a mineral crystal.
However, after the World War I the place wasn’t able to pick up business and lost much of its European markets. The place is now an outdoor classroom for various individuals and groups. These include scientists like geologists and paleontologists, government officials, and hopeful fortune-hunters. The dugouts are being resided by locals.
Nature has provided these places in New South Wales with precious gems over the course of a great number of years of formation.