Lightning Ridge, in north-western New South Wales, Australia, is famed for its opal mining, and in particular, for being the largest source of precious black opals in the world.
During Lightning Ridge’s searing outback summers, the temperature underground is around 20C, making it a comfortable place to search for Australia’s national gemstone: the opal.
The protagonist in my current fantasy manuscript is from a fictional continent similar to outback Australia. His mother scratches out a living in the local mines, so I was particularly interested to learn about the history of opal mining. Opal Mine Adventure offer the fascinating experience of visiting an old opal mine, which gave me an insight into the motivation and practicalities of digging for these brilliant gemstones.
In years gone by, miners sank shafts using a pick and shovel, then chipped away at the sandstone deep underground armed with a pick and candle, looking for a valuable find.
Waste dirt was traditionally raised in buckets by hand windlass, often into a truck such as the one below. The dirt then underwent ‘puddling’ to remove the dirt from the sandstone and harder materials. If colour is found in the stone, it is buffed to determine the quality of opal that lies within.