Opal Mining in Australia

Opal miners in the Australian outback

Our rough opal comes mainly from Lightning Ridge, located in New South Wales and Coober Pedy in South Australia. Occasionally we also get small parcels of rough from Mintabie where the opal mining has almost completely stopped now.
 
Opal mining areas in australia

Lightning Ridge - The Home of Black Opal

Lightning Ridge is famous for its black opals. The first opals from Lightning Ridge were found in the late 1800s and the opal mining started at the beginning of the 20th century. In a hundred years, Lightning Ridge has become a multicultural mining town that is, first and foremost, a community. Some miners only spend part of the year in Lightning Ridge and the mining also attracts treasure hunters and tourists to the town. Therefore, no-one knows the exact population of Lightning Ridge. Many of the old miners love the “outback” lifestyle. They live on their own claims and come to the town to have a pint and sell their rough opal. The cultural historic value of the town has been widely recognized.

The Black Queen - A house made of 14,000 glass bottles in Lightning Ridge
Mine shaft in Lightning Ridge

In Lightning Ridge, the opal bearing soil is mainly situated deep underground. The miners drill a roughly one-meter wide hole into the ground all the way to the opal level, usually around 20 meters deep, and then spread tunnels and caves around the hole to dig the opal bearing rock. The dirt, hopefully containing opal, is raised to the surface and transferred to a designated washing site. Using old concrete mixing trucks, filled with the dirt and constant stream of water, the material is washed to remove as much sand and clay as possible. Finally, the miners do a tail-out, where they sort the rough opal from other rock material. No chemicals are used in opal mining. In addition, Lightning Ridge soil doesn’t contain poisonous substances. Therefore, the opal mining produces only very little waste or other emissions.

The opal mines are mainly operated by small businesses, owned by families or groups of friends. No big mining corporations are involved in opal mining in Lightning Ridge. The regulations regarding mining in Lightning Ridge are strict, which ensures that the mining stays in the hands of small businesses and individual miners, and that the mining is done in a sustainable manner. The regulations are set by, among others, the government of the state of New South Wales and that Lightning Ridge Miners Association. You can read more about these regulations from the bottom section of this page.

Coober Pedy

Coober Pedy is especially known for its white opals. Other types of opal, such as high-grade crystal opal is also found from the area. Similar to Lightning Ridge, the opal mining in Coober Pedy started in the early 1900s. At the  moment, Coober Pedy is the biggest opal mining area in the world.

Coober Pedy is situated in a harsh desert area where the conditions can become overbearing, especially in summer. The locals have therefore built many of their homes and hotels in underground caves. The town of Coober Pedy is very small,  with a population of only approximately 2000. The residents get their income from opal mining and tourism that the mining attracts.

The opal mining and its regulations in Coober Pedy are very similar to Lightning Ridge, and are based on small businesses owned by families and friends.

Underground living room in Coober Pedy

Further Reading

Opal mining regulations for miners and prospectors in Lightning Ridge

New South Wales state's information pages regarding rules and regulations of opal mining and prospecting in Lightning Ridge.

Review of environmental factors of opal mining in Lightning Ridge

Independent review report of environmental factors of opal mining in Lightning Ridge, conducted in 2004.

Map of opal fields in Lightning Ridge

Map of the opal fields in the Lightning Ridge area. The names of the opal fields alone make this map interesting. Many of the names, without a doubt, tell a story of the characters, events and dreams related to that particular field.

South Australia Mineral resources regulation report 2017

This document provides you with in-depth information about rules and regulations of opal mining in Coober Pedy. The South Australia Mineral resources regulation report summarises the regulatory activities of the Department for Energy and Mining's Mineral Resources Division and the performance of the South Australian Mining Industry in 2017.