Opal Yarns - Stories From The Opal Camps

Aboriginal Myths an Legends to Opal Stories

Aboriginal History In Australia for Opal Lands

Opals have a strong spiritual connection to aboriginal legends and myths.

It is said that aboriginal ancestorsleft their presence behind in opals.

The Adnyamathanha elder tells a story about he creation of opal

The story involved a bronze wingedpidgeon named Marnbi who threw a stick lit with fire high into the air. The stick landed in Cooperpedy and when it hit the ground it lit up sparks and fire, these sparks eventually became opal.


In Queensland some 25 aboriginal tribes roamed the country before Pioneer pastoralists and opal miners arrived in the late 1880s

Queensland is a large state and has stunning rainforests on the eastern coast and dry deserts inland with large quality grazing areas.

All major opal mining fields were first named by aborigines and their nomadic lifestyle which is known as walkabout to the European settlers. The climate was ideal for walkabouts and even in the harsh dry desert the aborigines knew all the local water holes and could survive off the harsh desert lands by eating nutrient rich vegetation, grubs and native animals such as kangaroo and emu.


Quilpie derived from the Aboriginal word ‘Quilpeta’ meaning Stone Curlew.


Jundah is aboriginal meaning Big fish or Place Of Large Fish.

Coopers creek which is formed by the junction of the Thomson and Barcoo Rivers just south of Jundah and is known for large fish and local fish there also.


Kynuna is aboriginal word for Galah, a pink crested cockatoo


Opaltown, an old abandoned township in the Mayneside opal field, and known to them also as ‘Quilpeta’ meaning Stone Curlew.

Koroit,Yowah and Eulo

Koroit ,Yowah and Eulo, opal fields have a reputation for producing opalaboriginal art as the opals have natural patterns that resemble their native aboriginal art.

These opal fields are close to the township of Cunnamulla, aboriginal for Big Hole or stretch of water which relates to the Warrego River.

Koroit is aboriginal name for muddy water and area has thick clay based earth.



Andamooka first known as Arndoo-moka’,but name was hard to pronounce, aboriginal word Kuyani which relates to the loaded or powerful bone of aboriginal traditional lore.

In 1872 boundary riders found opals lying on the surface and this started the opal rush.

Coober Pedy

Coober Pedy Aboriginal words “kupa piti”, commonly assumed to mean “white man in a hole” or white man in burrow as new settlers dug holes in the earth to live in to escape the heat.

In 1915 some prospectors looking for gold set up camp to find water but found opal lying on top of the ground and pegged the first mine lease.

Originally known as the Stuart Range opal field in 1920 the name was changed to its present day name of Coober Pedy by the township as the town was full of white men digging holes everywhere!


Mintabie It is said that the word ‘Marla’ is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘kangaroo’, Mintabie was a small but highly productive opal filed.And yes there are still many kangaroos roaming these lands!


Lambina opal fields were discovered in 1915 the area is close to cooper Pedy.

White cliffs is NSW oldest opal mining field which started in 1889 but by 1914 the opal fields had beenwere worked out and today very little opal comes from this famous opal field.


Lightning Ridge

Lightning Ridge is famous for the worlds best black opal. It was an appropriatename due tothe constantlightning strikes on the land. One of the worst strikes wasin 1900 when a lightning strike killed a sheep dog and 600 sheep so the town was named as Lightning Ridge.

Local tribes include the Kamilaroi and Ularai tribes.

Even the local street Morilla was named after famous local aboriginal folklore called Morillas.

From rags to riches, discovery of the ‘Christmas Beetle’, Lightning Ridge Flash, and 6 February 1975:

It has been such a long time since we last heard a genuine story of someone finally making a good strike that one was beginning to think that it was all in the past. Last Friday, this miner, who will remain nameless, was down to his last $20. Things were so bad that his car was off the road and he had no money to buy parts. He just didn’t know what he was going to do. He had been battling here on and off since 1943, but eight years ago he decided to put down roots and get stuck into opal mining.

Last Friday he and his mate went down their mine for another day’s work, and low and behold, found a pocket of beautiful opals. In particular there were three superb stones, which are almost too hard to value because they wereso magnificent. The largest is just over 19 carats and resembles a brilliant Christmas beetle and is by far the best stone the writer has ever seen. It is a long oval with a slight dome with all the colours of the spectrum, but predominantly red orange, with a faint black line down the centre, which gives it a Christmas beetle appearance. It is a perfect example of black opal. The other two pieces are also beautiful black opals, which are also in a class of their own. One piece is an odd shape, which enhances its appearance, while the other is as big as an almond nut with a slightly square bottom.

No one seems to be able to value these three gems. Of course, everyone who has seen them has an opinion, and some may be close to the mark with two, but the one that looks like a Christmas beetle is just priceless.

$5,000 opal specked on the road, Lightning Ridge Flash, 29 January 1976:

It can still happen today, despite all the heavy machinery and sophisticated mining equipment, when one can just pick up opal. Two young lads visiting relations at Lightning Ridge went speckling for fossils on the Angledool Road, just near the Six-Mile turn-off on Nebea Hill, when one of the lads picked up a nobby alongside the road. Although it showed colour, it didn’t look like anything special. He thought that it might bring $100. He took it to his uncle who cut it for him and had no trouble selling it to a local buyer for $5,000. It just goes to show you that the question so many tourists ask: ‘Can you find opal on top of the ground?’ its really not so ridiculous after all.

A belated article by the editor, owner of the ‘Asp’ fossil. Lightning Ridge Flash, 28 December 1977:

The ‘Asp’ is a piece of opalised lizard leg found by Val and Robina Boardman and John and Val Bolton in December 1971, at the Shearers’ Six-Mile. They were working the top dirt of a claim not far from where Neville Bell found the Red Robin, when Val Bolton picked this amazing fossil out of the puddler. Almost an inch long, and over 10 carats in weight, it was a beautiful black crystal. The piece was offered to various buyers. One, who I won’t mention said it was worth only $250, as it wouldn’t cut much of a crystal! Photos were sent around the world to well-known collectors and also to the Smithsonian Institute to find out exactly what it might be. Finally it was identified by the Australian CSIRO as an opalised lizard’s leg.

Unfortunately hard times forced the partners into a quick assessment of their financial position and the piece was sold to Castro, at Glengarry, for $1,000. A true lover of opal, Castro vowed never to sell or cut it, keeping the piece in his safe until the great robbery a few months later. Peter Malcolm, formerly of the Three-Mile, was convicted of stealing the safe, which contained many other valuables. Malcolm claimed that he threw the valuables into the Ourimbah Creek just north of Gosford. It’s hard to believe that anyone could have done such a ghastly deed.

Val Boardman still treasures his many photos from the slides taken by expert opal photographer Len Cram. Dr Archie Kalokerinos also values a slide he took of the ‘Asp’ which clearly shows the scales, and which he at times uses in special viewings of his opal slide collection. The name Asp originated from the earlier thought that the specimen was a part of a prehistoric snake and the name stuck.

Mining Accident at Nobby’s. Lightning Ridge Flash, 13 September 1979:

On Friday 7 September, around 8:54 am, an accident occurred in Wally Biegel’s claim at the Bobby which resulted in the injury of two men. Working in the claim that morning were Wally and his partner Wally Rudin, who were being watched by Ian Arnold, the local schoolteacher, Heinrich Meter and Norbert Frez. It was school holidays and Norbert and Heinrich has just arrived from Switzerland in May for a visit. Wally Biegel has been working the claim by himself for almost 10 years. It was only last week that he took in a partner and decided work this particular part of the mine. They were down 20ft clearing an old drive when a piece of sandstone fell from the roof, pining Ian and knocking Heinrich to one side.

Rudin immediately went for help, contacting Dr Ahmed, the Nursing Sisters at the Health Centre, and the rescue team. The sandstone pinned Ian to the floor, but luckily a pile of nearby mullock carried most of the weight, while Heinrich had been knocked aside by the rubble and managed to free himself. The Walgett Ambulance was called, but Ian was already at the Health Centre when it arrived. The situation was such that the doctor decided to fly in a RAAF medical crew in a pressurised aircraft specially designed for an immediate operation, should it be necessary. A Hercules C130H, from 36 th Squadron, at Richmond arrived at 2:30 pm and left at 3:50 pm, with 14 people on board to assist the injured.

We understand as we go to press that both Ian Heinrich are in the Royal North Shore Hospital and that Ian has a fractured jaw and Heinrich is suspected of having a broken back. Ian is 23 years old and Heinrich 28 years.

Ratter’s entrance discovered, Lightning Ridge Flash, 20 March 1980:

As most people are aware that a ratter is ‘someone’ who goes down another miner’s claim, illegally, as a night shift worker. There are cases where ratters have been caught and heavily fined, only to appeal and have their fines reduced to a mere pittance. It seems our legal system is in need of serious overhaul, at least as far as convicting ratters is concerned. This crime is not only continuing, but appears to be becoming a big and dangerous business here in Lightning Ridge. The latest episode occurred while the owners were on holidays. Before leaving they logged up their shaft, placed a tin over the entrance and covered it with opal dirt to make it look like a mullock dump, but the ratters discovered it and found their way in. After they finished they covered the entrance with an old door, heaped dirt around it, so from the outside it appeared as though tourists had noodled the heap.

Pat McErlaine and Ray Enklement, who are mining at Potch Point, discovered the break-in after they returned from their holidays. The ratter had left a ladder hanging in the shaft, all the miners at Potch Point have been concerned about ratters ever since the strike on top of the hill. Some miners have set up vigilant patrols, whilst others sleep in their trucks and guard their claims. Two miners placed a truck over their shaft, only to find the next morning it had been moved. It’s claimed that some people know who the ratters are, but are too afraid to identify them for fear of reprisal.

Miners generally have a tough time eking out a living opal mining at Lightning Ridge, and since the introduction of machinery and its running cost, for the unlucky ones, it has become very tough. Some, after years of hard work, get onto opal or good traces, but the ratters are always their, and often get the cream. The position of ratters here at present is explosive with so many families on the breadline. Fines are not the answer for convicted offenders; banishment from the fields and heavy jail sentences just may help to alleviate all this menace.

Forged bank cheques. Lightning Ridge Flash, 24 December 1981:

Miners had a lucky escape this week from being robbed of their opal when three men were arrested for passing forged cheques. Cheques had been written out to miners for $100,000 when Terry Abraham, the local bank accountant, noticed two cheques with the same numbers and called the police. Other transactions were scheduled for a half-hour after the opal buyer had been apprehended in the bowling club. Two co-offenders who left town in a hurry were arrested at a roadblock in Walgett. The three men will appear in court at Walgett this week.

Miner killed. Lightning Ridge Flash, 24 July 1984:

On Thursday 5 July the body of Ignac Hazic, a 42 year old opal miner of Lightning Ridge was found dead in deep country at the Four-Mile. The previous day miners were working nearby had noticed equipment belonging to Hazic, and when they returned the following day and found it hadn’t been moved they suspected something was wrong, and notified the police. It took three and a half-hours to free him from the fall, having to prop and cut away large blocks of sandstone before they could reach him under extremely dangerous conditions. It was estimated that he had been there for at least 36 hours.

Miners kill baby cow. Lightning Ridge Flash, 14 February 1985:

Over the years there have always been a few who have taken it into their own hands to get their meat supplies from Lorne Station. It is indeed a tragedy to find a young baby cow with its four legs cut off as we did, the day after the violent electrical storm in early January. These days we too, find if difficult to make ends meet and when a valuable beast is thus slaughtered the loss is really felt. Over the years we have stood by many who were on the bread line, refusing no one. But when one sees the result of an outrageous happening like this – one begins to wonder just who, in our midst, is capable of such an action.

Discovery of ‘Halley’s Comet’. Lightning Ridge Flash, 19 June 1986:

A group of miners known locally as the Lunatic Hill Syndicate has found a large black opal nobby weighing in the rough over 2,200 carats! This, they claim, is the largest nobby in existence, and have named it ‘Halley’s Comet’, because the comet was due to appear in our skies in a few weeks. The large opal was actually found in October 1985, but it wasn’t until it appeared on national television early this month that the story of the six million dollar find became public.

A spokesman for the Lunatic Hill Syndicate says the nobby shows gem class black opal of orange and green. The owners say they would like to see the Australian Government buy the stone as part of the Bicentennial celebrations. The stone is almost as big as a man’s clenched fist.

Rare Opal find in Queensland

In 1885 a new gold field had just opened up in the Palmer River district, and was overcrowded with the usual mixture of prospectors, miners, store-keepers and Chinese. At its peak there were some 30,000 white miners and 25,000 Chinese on the diggings.

Food was in short supply and a mob of cattle was being driven up to provide beef. They were owned by the Delpard family from Wyndomel Station, in the south colony. Clement Tyrell, a young Englishman, was helping the Delpards and their two daughters, Lucy and Laura, run the station. During the period when the opal fields of south-west Queensland were opening up, an accidental discovery of a beautiful volcanic opal occurred in the mountains of north Queensland. Tyrell embarked on a journey over a thousand miles. One day something seemed to flash in the sun, as he approached closer the flash turned into a glittering in the ground. He got down and picked it up and it turned out to be a big piece of opal shaped like the roof of a house about two inches long and half wide. The piece in Tyrell’s hand glowed with the blended fire of a ruby, topaz, emerald and sapphire in patches.

The Mystery Opal Miner - Carney Jimmy

About 100 hundred years ago there was an old opal miner in south-west Queensland who was too mean to buy meat. He used to tether lizards and eat them. Also, according to one report, he salted and ate his saddle horse after it died of old age. He was a Scot and a miser, and the only name by which he is known to history as ‘Carney Jimmy’. Carney is the bushman’s name for the frill-necked lizards that formed part of his staple diet. It is said he had learned to eat them whilst living with the Aborigines.

Jimmy was tight-lipped and never disclosed how much he got out of his mine. Even today there are people who believe a fortune lies buried somewhere on Carney Jimmy’s claim. He was as silent a man as ever worked on an opal field, though rumour had it he was well educated. He never volunteered any information about himself, yet he was liked, as far as he allowed anyone to like him.

His accent betrayed his Scottishness and the only letters he received were from Scotland, but no-one ever knew from who. He also received Scottish newspapers and took a solemn interest in the land of his birth – indeed, far more that he took in Australia. His mine, ‘The Little Wonder’, produced an enormous amount of crystal opal. Since Carney Jimmy’s claim joined it, the miners always supposed he had won great wealth too. He was not at all ashamed of his diet of lizards, in fact, he used to say they were very energising.

He was never known to buy meat, eggs or flour, but once or twice a year he bought a little rice and some tea. In season, he would go eat goanna eggs and he used to boil pig-week, which he called bush cabbage. Jimmy was reputed to be lucky and he certainly worked hard. One of the great differences between him and the other miners was that he worked alone.

To everyone’s astonishment, he once accepted an offer to go halves in a partnership with Joe Bridle. They worked a new mine together, the Yellow Nell, and for a while Jimmy lived a more normal life, eating damper and even bacon and eggs. The patch of opal produced a nice parcel of opal in which Bridle sold his share for $280, but Carney hung onto his. He was never known to sell opal. When the opal gave out in the mine, Carney drifted back to his solitary life and his tethered lizards.

Curiosity about Carney’s secrecy became so great that a close watch was often kept on him. No one intended to steal his opal, at least not whilst he was still alive, they simply wanted to know about it. He was so secretive that no many of the miners often said only the desert stars and dingoes would ever know where he hid his treasure.

Strange noises seemed to come from Carney’s claim at night. The most frequent noise was the muffled thud of a pick on sandstone. Often men crept under cover of darkness to see what was going on, but as they got near to Carney’s claim, the noises would stop. If Carney had heard something approaching, he had phenomenal hearing. It seemed more likely he had a sixth sense that warned him of people coming to secretly watch him. Yet often, as the intruder left, the thudding would begin again.

Carney also made mysterious night trips on his rather peculiar horse. People on the filed believed he was taking opal to a rendezvous in the darkness. Carney’s horse was a brumby of sorts whose breeding had run out many years earlier. He was practically hairless and toothless and in some ways his life bore a resemblance to that of his master.

Like Carney, his horse simply appeared on the field one morning. Nobody knew where he came from and Carney offered no information. The horse had never been in the district before. Generally, Carney kept the horse 15 kilometres away and every now and then would bring him back to camp. Carney always rode him at night on his strange journeys. Was it to sell opal or to hide it? No-one ever found out. Wherever he went his hiding place was not close at hand, for sometimes he would be away three or four days. A few men tried to track him but they always failed.

Eventually, one night the horse died. People said he had long outlived his usefulness and Carney Jimmy had killed him for food. It was certain that about the time the horse died, Carney had a change of diet. A large amount of salted meat was strung out to dry between the mulgas. Carney claimed it was kangaroo meat, but old hands said it was Carney’s horse.

He did not outlive his horse very long. Peter Nurra, an Aborigine who seemed closer to Carney than anyone else, found him lying of the ground near his camp. He told Nurra that he had been bitten by a snake, but would be alright as he was going to make strong a strong herbal tea that would ‘fix him up’. Carney died near the clump of mulgas to which he used to tether his horse.

So the story of tis silent, mysterious Scot ended. Curiosity about his treasure lived on and he had scarcely been buried before his camp was torn apart in the hectic hunt for his riches. Carney had hidden it well, for it was never found. Today, only the desert stars know its hiding place in those lonely, dingo-infested hills.

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