Opal Mining fields At Lightning Ridge

Lightning Ridge NSW Claims- Opal miners apply to the ‘Department of Minerals’ for opal mining claim.

There are now strict environmental contentions and deposits are required to commence mining and the site has to have vegetation replanted after the claim expires.

The best opal mines are not sold but on profit share.

The owner may get 10% if he/she doesn’t work and the rest of the workers will get a set share of the opals mined .

Opal mines for sale are rare as most deals are done with in the local community so outsiders do not get a chance to buy a good opal mine.

The miners also have their own association (LRMA) Lightning Ridge Miners association. LRMA was established in 1966 to help opal miners mine Lightning Ridge black opals.

Opal Mining Claim Tags

Peter at wash behind agitator at Lightning Ridge

Opal Fields at Lightning Ridge

Black Opal Family Tree Uncles nephew family tree!

Members of OpalPlus climbing on a drum bucket hoist at Lightning ridge

How much does it cost to mine opal?

The old days of a $20 claim, and pick and shovel are now gone.

To operate an open cut you need a $250,000 deposit and at least double that amount to operate a open cut opal mine as several claims are required to join together, and that is difficult to do.

Today new regulations require that opal miners need to lodge $2000 and need to do opal mining course involving first aid, electrical problems, how to stabilise an opal mine with railway sleepers in order to support opal mine roof plus all other safety aspects of opal mining.

Even petrol is expensive and nearly double the city price. Many 4 wheels drives have to travel to the opal mines from Lightning Ridge to Cochran opal fields.

Spectacular Lightning Ridge sunset over Black opal fields

How are opals processed?

Once the opal is mined it is transported to the pond (a community owned dam) and goes through a agitator.

Agitators are normal cement mixers and are set up with a diesel motor and water from the ponds are recycled so opal potch is well and truly tumbled.

The mixer will run for a day or several days depending on how tough the potch material is.

Then it is slowly released along a shaft and spotters look for potch with colour.

This is an exciting time to view run offs and to look for that unique treasure opal.

There are over 200 opal fields inLightning Ridge most of the more famous fieldsare listed below.

Bald Hill–Most of the valuable opal from this region was found from the main workings over an area of only 120 by 30 meters.

Deep-Four Mile- Good opal was found here in the 1930s the deepest shaft was 28.5m.

Hawks Nest- A shallowerfield producing opal at3.6, 6.9 and 12 meters.

Nebea Hill- One of the most productive mines it has been estimated that eight claims produced over$3,000,000 worth of opal in two years. Mining techniques including open cut andunderground mining.

New Chum and Old Chum-Great names for a mine with shafts between 3 and 10 meters deep. Mine famous for finding a 100 carat stone.

New Rush also known as New Nobby- Site is no longer new it was worked over in the 1960’s at a maximum shaft depth of 11 metres.

Nine Mile- One of the most worked fields, potch tended to be found intertwined with opal.

Rouses-Six Mile- The region of this field is vague but due to its naming assumed to be close toMcDonalds Six Mile. The opal produced from this field tended to be largeblack nobbies.

Shallow Belars- As the name suggest this field was quite shallow0.3 meters up to 3.6 meters in depth. Some high-quality opal was recovered.

The Old Nobby– One of the first shafts sunkin Lightning Ridge opal fields. Many opals where recovered at a depth of 6 meters however the rocks were very difficult to work with.

The Three Mile- One of the most famous and overworked mines, at the peak over1,000 individuals mined the field.Presently any fieldwork involves large scaleextensive open cut mining.

The Six Mile- Mining ranged from 9 meters upto 12 meters with the best opal found in deeper ground.

Thorleys Six Mile- This field was first mined in 1902 from a range of 6-12 meters. Miners rediscovered the field in 1970’s as the field continued to produce high quality black opal.

Opal Prospecting

Prospecting is the term given to opal mining. Potential miners need to apply for an“Opal Prospecting License” or Mineral Claim before they can begin looking for opals. Potential miners need to remember that propsecting is very different from mining. As a result prospectinglicenses are allowed over large areas and are quite simple to obtain compared to mineral claims which can require bonds.

Generally, there are 50 and 100 Opal Prospecting Licenses, which are approved each year.

Areas for Opal Prospecting

Opal Prospecting Areas can be foundin the Narran–Warrambool reserve with four defined prospecting areas. The reserve was set aside to help preserve thetradition of small prospectorsinstead of continuing to grant large mineral claims. Of course prospecting cannot be carried innational parks orwildlife areas.

Opal Prospecting Methods

Opal is usually discovered in underground mines help upby shafts. It can be very tiring as a lot of work is done by drilling and picking

Shaft sinking

Prior to the drill in 1987, shaft sinking was the most common method forprospecting the opal fields. Sinking shafts by hand was expensive and time consuming. Auger Drilling

The introduction of the drill massively helped miners to speed up the mining process making itquicker and more cost effective than traditional shaft sinking. In particular the 9 inch diamter auger drill helped miners test tor the existence of sandstone rather than hoping to find it by sinking a shaft.

Percussion Drilling

Similar to Auger drilling but more precise, percussion drilling creates smaller holes and is a more efficient way of finding and testing samples.


A modernmining technique uses electrical currents to measure the rocks electric resistance this provides information on where faults and sandstone could exist. This is the most efficient means of testing as large areas of ground can be tested quickly.


Lightning ridge has a population that floats in and out of time. The sign post on the road into lightning ridge has ? About population.

Many people camp in the cooler winter months and leave in summer due to extreme heat.

Locals also leave at this time. When the winter rains come it is ideal to go specking on the opal dumps as the rain helps to clean the dirt and maybe the specker is lucky to find opal colour. But as soon as dusty winds come it is more difficult to speck and find opals.

Speckers do need permission to go on miners camps or dump sites. Some speckers are lucky and have good opal for sale! 

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Very informative!

14th Jul 2016
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