New South Wales produces the largest amount of Australian opals by value. The two most famous areas are Lightning Ridge known for producing black opal the most valuable form and White Cliff. White Cliff is famous for its seam opal which tends to be white or crystal opal.
Lightning Ridge is the global home of black opal its fields have no equal in the world. The name Lightning Ridge came about one night during an horrendous electrical storm, when a shepherd, his dog and 600 sheep were killed by lightning whilst sheltering on one of the low ridges. Government departments used it for nearly 100 years before it was officially gazetted on 5 September 1963. The main street of the town is named after the now famous opal ridges. The name was taken from the local Aboriginal folklore which called them Morillas, hence the street’s name, “Morilla”.
Aborigines explain the ridges supernaturally, saying they were created by their God and culture hero, Byamee as a highway for his convenience during flood time.
It is the only known place on earth where the breathtaking world-famous black opal is found. Yet when Sydney’s gem merchants, saw the first black opals in 1903 they rejected them outright as a worthless form of matrix. They looked to good to be true, but they were even better than that as since then Lightning Ridge opal has become the global standard.
As a mining town Lightning Ridge has been through many ups and downs. The locals formed the first mining syndicate, and after abandoning it tried to force the miners from the field by impounding their horses and poisoning their water. Finally, only intervention by the Government brought about peace in those troublesome times.
Lightning Ridge now has over 70 fields less though less opal is being found every year.
It wasn’t until 1887, when a piece of opal was found in a gravel pit, now part of the famous Nine-Mile field, that opals came to the notice of the Mines Department.
It wasn’t until after the discovery of White Cliffs, and the publicity it generated, that people became interested in Lightning Ridge.
White Cliffs was Australia ’s first opal mining town. There are legends but no records of who first discovered opal there in 1884, or who those early mysterious miners were, but a monument stands to their presence at White Cliffs.
A severe drought throughout 1890 made conditions very uninviting for newcomers. Food was scarce and expensive and water shortages were common. Living there was so bad for the first three years that an average of only 18 miners ventured onto the field.
When the drought finally broke in 1893, the population quickly increased to 800 and White Cliffs was reborn.
For more than 20 years White Cliffs had been a star in the crown of the colony, producing over 1,500,000 for its economy. Much of the opal came from opalised wood, shells, plants and animals, including the famous pseudomorphs known as pineapples.
White Cliffs still produces beautiful opal. There is still plenty of untried grounds for those who would like to try their luck. For the visitor, ample accommodation and amenities is available to enjoy themselves on this unique field.
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