Looking for black opals in Lightning Ridge, New South Wales

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.

Sandstone opal mine cavern and timber support posts
10 metres underground in a Lightning Ridge opal mining cavern

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.

 

Martindale Hall at Mintaro, South Australia

Built in 1879, Martindale Hall is located near Mintaro in South Australia. It featured in the famous Australian movie Picnic at Hanging Rock, and is now open as a museum.

It’s the inspiration for a homestead in my current work in progress, ‘Strays’, a fantasy fiction in which a young matriarch buys herself a foreign husband in order to save her pastoral property.

Walking back in time at Mungo National Park

Mungo Woolshed was constructed of drop-log cypress pine in 1869, the station having now become part of the amazing Mungo National Park in south-western NSW. In the station’s heydey, more than 50,000 sheep were shorn by hand each season in this woolshed, which was originally part of Gol Gol station before it was broken up into soldier settlements, including Mungo and Zanci stations, after World War I.

The Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area, which encompases Mungo National Park, is even more notable for its Aboriginal and archaeological significance. Erosion on the Willandra lakebed has revealed more than 40,000 years of continuous human habitation, with the discovery of Mungo Man and Mungo Lady, whose ritual burials occurred 42,000 years ago. These are some of the oldest human remains found outside of Africa, with Mungo Lady’s ritual cremation being the oldest known in the world.

Sheep pen in Mungo woolshed
Sheep pen in Mungo woolshed
Shearing stand in Mungo woolshed
Shearing stand in Mungo woolshed