The Allure of Opal Country

The Allure of Opal Country

My first experience of the NSW opal country was during a brief stay at Lightning Ridge in 1976. I considered it to be a temporary and transitory environment for misplaced people with unrealistic expectations. It was not a place I wanted to live.

But, last year I had an opportunity to return and gain a better understanding of what draws people to the NSW opal fields.

On 10th September 2020, Maggie and I left home on the first leg of the journey and stayed the night at Gulgong NSW. The next day we set out for Lightning Ridge, where we meet friends who’d left Sydney a week prior.

Our home for the 6-night stay was our caravan, parked at the Lightning Ridge Holiday Park.

Not us – Permanent resident’s home in the old opal mining area of Lightning Ridge
Our caravan at Lightning Ridge Holiday Park

By comparison with what I saw in 1976, Lightning Ridge has become quite a respectable town …

… splashed with colour and humour.

The John Murray Gallery, in the centre of Lightning Ridge, is a must see attraction …

However, it seems that respectability, colour and humour are not the main attributes that draw people to the region. And while not everyone becomes involved in mining, many come and stay because of the excitement generated by the belief they will find an elusive black opal.

It should be noted that Opal mining has always been a relatively small operation, as the opal seams are narrow and the yield is small. Consequently most opal mines were, and still are, one or two person operations.

Disused mine shaft

There’s an old saying from Lightning Ridge, “Do not walk outside at night. You may never be seen again”

The historical information provided at various locations was somewhat confusing to me, but I think I’ve sorted it out.

The first mine shaft dug in the region in 1902 was at the 6-Mile (6 miles from Lightning Ridge) by Charles Nettleton. His first shaft yielded no opals, but by 1903 he’d mined and sold his first opals. Nettleton is considered the founder of the opal industry in Australia.

Beer Can House at the 6-Mile, near Nettleton’s first shaft
“Stained Glass Windows” inside the Beer Can House

In 1905 mining began on the edge of the current town of Lightning Ridge, at a place later called Wallangulla and then in 1908 at the 3-Mile (on the other side of The Ridge), which became Nettleton.

Our group enjoyed several self guided tours of the old mine fields (no longer in operation), called “Car Door Tours”. To embark on these, purchase a set of printed instructions from the local Information Office ($1 for each tour – Red, Green, Blue or Yellow).

Patrick admiring the first door of our Red Car Door Tour on the outskirts of Lightning Ridge, at what was once called Wallangulla

Notice the solar hot water and air conditioning units on the roof
Everywhere, a wonderful sense of humour is on display

Astronomers Monument
Amigo Castle

Maggie and Mike at Lunatic Hill on our Yellow Car Door Tour
Church built in year 2000 for the movie Goddess of 1967
This is not the Goddess leaving the church, it’s Norm. “The Goddess” is a car

During the 6 days at Lightning Ridge our group took a guided day-tour to the new opal fields at Glengarry and Grawin. I’l tell you about that experience in “The Allure of Opal Country Part 2”, coming to your screen very soon.

See you next time.

  • John Weedon
    Posted at 21:04h, 02 February Reply

    G’Day Al, Glad you’re out of Sydney. Hope you’re OK. What time of the year did you visit Lightning Ridge? We’re planning to visit in late April. We are all good except no OS visits this year unfortunately. Germany is completely locked down with very high infection rates. We are a joke compared to Europe. Take care and enjoy your days with Maggie. John

    • alistairstravel
      Posted at 13:54h, 03 February Reply

      Thanks for your response John. We are very happy where we are now, although there are certain aspects of life in Sydney that we miss. Re Lightning Ridge – We left home on 10th September, stayed in Gulgong that night, arrived in Lightning Ridge on 11th September and stayed for 6 nights. Hope you enjoy your visit in April, but read part 2 of our trip (coming next week) for ideas on what to do there.

      • John WEEDON
        Posted at 14:11h, 03 February

        Thanks. Will do.

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