Opals from Australia

Posted by John Coxon on

Opals from Australia have renown international recognition. Boulder opal from the Queensland fields, black opal from Lightening Ridge in NSW and Coober Pedy opals. This reputation belies the fact that production of Australian opals has been declining since the 1970's.

Opal mining is hard work in harsh, often desert-like environments. Heavy machinery, underground mining, explosives and remote regions add an element of risk and danger. These contribute to the high cost of opals as a finished product.

Much of Australia's opal discovery and production occured during the early half of the 20th century. Now, many historic opal bearing regions have been literally mined out. boulder opal, queenslandThe largest two producing areas are the opal fields of Queensland, for boulder opal, and Lightening Ridge. This image shows boulder opal from the Queensland opal fields, while the featured image for this blog shows Black Opal from Lightening Ridge in NSW.

Large commercial mining may have wound down in areas such as Andamooka and Coober Pedy, there remains significant numbers of small miners searching for that elusive fire in the stone.

While the Mintabie opal fields continue to produce opals for fossickers, the Mintabe township has effectively been closed by the South Australian government and all residents have been ordered to leave the town during 2020. In 1981 traditional guardians, Anangu, was awarded the freehold title to the land in the area. The township was then leased back to the SA Government. Durng the early 2000's the South Australian Government found many of the residents had been living there illegally, and there were reports that the Mintabie township was an access point for drugs and alcohol into the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Community. (APY). Traditional guardians of Australia reportedly mined opals at Mintabie prior to colonisation.

You may fossick for opals in certain regions. At Coober Pedy there is a designated public fossicking area, known as the Jewell Box, on the eastern fringes of the township. This is where the miners dump their overburden. Take along a pick or shovel, a water bottle to spray rocks, turn them over and look for colour. In Queensland you need a licence to fossick for opal. This can obtained online or from information centers at Winton, Quilpy and Lightening Ridge.

Remember when you go fossicking for opals or any other gemstone for that matter, always be safe. You will be in remote, open country, you may not always have mobile phone coverage, water is critical to your safety, old mining areas are littered with dangerous, disused mine shafts - and there are the 'friendlies', I don't refer to the townspeople, I do refer to reptiles that will venomate you, man-sized bush birds that can rip your eyes out with their beaks or marsupials than can slice your chest open with their claws. It is possible in some areas you will be planning to fossick upon traditional lands and may need a permit from the traditional people to enter - always respect their rights and their culture.

If opals are bit outside your budget or you don't fancy exploring snake-infested hinterlands for your own opal rough, consider making a purchase of Jade or gemstone jewellery from our online store.

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