Opal mining traditionally kicks off in Queensland around Easter when the weather is cooler.
The summer in the Queensland opal mining fields can be unbearable at times.
Temperatures sour up to around 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) and on top of that if it’s not bone dry (and a desert) it’s flooded (and an inland sea).
This year (2021) the Queensland Opal mining fields, and surrounding areas, received heavy rain and widespread flooding.
Source of image: https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2021-01-08/west...
When opal country floods nothing moves for weeks on end which means miners who opt to stay at the camp can be isolated for weeks if not months, unable to receive or get stores, move machinery or mine. Sadly, they have to sit put and wait for the water to go down.
An opal miner is not an easy type to define.
When I was a child growing up in Winton in the 1970s, I would see these “rough necks” with strange accents come to visit my father to help them fill out a form or use the telephone. Many of these fellows were immigrants from Europe looking for a fresh start in a new country. For us isolated bush kids it exposed us to the idea that the world was a whole lot bigger than our tiny town where everyone sounded and looked the same.
Another time two really refined mature women from the city came into the area, set up a camp on the opal fields and began a mining operation. We, as children and locals, could never understand why anyone would want to come and willingly live in a place that we thought was the end of the earth. Those women successfully mined opal for many years and it was said the old timers who visited them always put on their Sunday best when they called.
The other type of opal miner we were exposed to as children living in an opal town with a father who was actively involved in the industry, were the high flyers who had struck it rich through a ‘big find.’ These fellows flew in and out in private jets and more often than not ran the operation from the coast.
What draws people to opal mining is the bush.
Getting right away from all the pressures of modern life, where the skies are filled with stars at night and the wind whistles through the tin sheds spooking everyone and everything it passes through.
The Australian bush is a very special place.
When a miner decides to start opal mining, they apply for a permit to prospect.
If they find some ‘ground’ they set up camp and begin to mine.
A camp is usually makeshift and all camps are different.
A camp is self-sufficient with generator power, kitchen, water tanks, sleeping quarters, machinery shed, fuel depot and nowadays television and internet access.
Back in the old days there were no telephones and miners relied on two-way radio.
The lifestyle is frontier in that it is basic, quiet and sometimes lonely.
Many opal mining camps usually have opal littered around the place in the form of piles that are commonly referred to as ‘dumps.’ This is usually opal that has come up from the mine to be sorted or investigated further. Some miners have workshops set up to cut the opal as they mine it. This helps the miner to ‘break down’ the parcel to hopefully get a better price. Sometimes this practice can back fire ☹.
Boulder Opal mining camp – tucked away in the bush
Boulder Opal Mining – “Dumps”- Low grade opal waiting to be drummed and sorted.
Boulder Opal Mining: Open cut mine after rain