The Outback Opal Hunters TV Show give us an idea just how elusive it is to unearth the beautiful Australian opal. Along with the scarcity of finding opal, the harsh and extreme environment of opal mining can also quicken the wear and tear on the opal mining equipment.
Even driving on the red outback dirt roads can quickly wear down your vehicle tyres. There are many stories of how easy it is for mining equipment to over-heat and be destroyed in the Australian Outback.
Below are are some examples of the opal mining equipment used in different opal fields.
This incredible machine is known as ‘Megatron’. Weighing at a staggering 65 tonnes, it’s one of the largest drilling rigs in Lightning Ridge. These rigs are used for drilling test holes in new grounds to find potch, which is opal bearing dirt. Test holes are approximately 9-inch in diameter. When they make the main entry with this rig, its approximately 3 foot or one meter wide.
The Cook Brothers at Lightning Ridge, NSW added an extra drill attachment to burrow out openings for new tunnels. Cols team from Opalton, QLD purchased a 40 year old drilling rig weighing 27 tonnes. Unfortunately it became stuck on the first attempt to drill a hole. The clutch burnt out and the rig was never seen again. Core drills are extremely dangerous pieces of machinery to work with, especially in extreme conditions. Breakdowns of machinery in the outback make opal mining operations extremely expensive and the arrival for spare parts is a costly inconvenience.
The first series of The Outback Opal Hunters feature both Peter and Mike Cook building an experimental dig out attachment at the end of a drill called Plutus. The reason for this attachment was to enlarge an area at the bottom of a shaft. Plutus originates from ancient Greece religion and mythology, which is the word for God of Wealth.
Plutus the digger encounters a hurdle in the first series. Mike must climb down the shaft to loosen the digger so the arm could become unstuck and retrieved. The second series the brothers fixed the hydraulic arm by moving its position to become more stabilised, however the first hydraulic arm was destroyed due to the intense pressure.
In the second episode the Cook brothers work on steam machine. This piece of dangerous equipment was made by a local guy named Steam, hence the Steam Machine. The original machine was designed so that you would have to stand on this digger. This rotary digger was super dangerous to operate, so the boys have added a remote control switch for it to be operated from the surface without endangering human lives.
The new guys in Coober Pedy utilise electric jack hammers, which prove to be very impractical mining machinery. You can see in the third episode of The Opal Hunters that one jack hammer catches fire and the guys throw it away. Most miners use commercial pneumatic air drills, that digs into the dirt and break it open. This makes light work of shovelling the dirt.
The hoist and bucket help carry out opal bearing stone from underground. It is mobile equipment, which makes it easy to transport to different mine holes. A ladder is placed down these holes for the workers to gain access of the mines. A bucket is then descended to be filled up with hand dug dirt. A miner underground pulls the line of a petrol motor to turn on the winch, which then brings the bucket to the surface. The bucket is emptied into a truck and when the truck is full the dirt is transported to an agitator.
The blower is a vacuum pump that has a large motor. It functions to draw the dirt in from the bottom of a tunnel and brings it to the surface to a truck. The vacuum works efficiently when the dirt/ potch being drawn is dry. The Outback Opal Hunters Series features Greek miners based in Coober Pedy who’s blower damaged from being bogged due to damp soil.
Once a vertical shaft is made, the opal miner needs an air hole before work can begin due to the lack of oxygen underground. An air hose is utilised for the miner to breathe fresh air.
An agitator machine was previously a cement truck for mixing cement. Now it is utilised for opal bearing dirt to be placed inside, agitated and washed. The opal bearing potch remains and is sorted after 1-2 days of being washed. The duration depends on how solid the dirt is. Agitators are generally placed around ponds to utilise artesian water which are controlled by a government department. Water is considered a precious commodity, in the past opal miners are known to have paid up to $50,000 to wash their opal bearing dirt.
For opal miners to blast and drill new areas, they must obtain an exploration lease, which lasts for 28 days. After the lease has been approved then a miner’s claim that is 50 x 50 meters wide can be made. To apply for an open cut mine, the opal miner must make a $250,000 bond. The reason for this is after the area has been mined, it has to be brought back to its original condition, the dirt is brought back and the vegetation is re-planted.
For more opal mining information please visit our Opal Mining page.
Topic: The Billabong - Cols Team from The Outback Opal Hunters Series mentions an area in Opalton that they called The Billabong. A billabong is an Australian term that describes a branch of river flowing into a pond with nice greenery surrounding the dead end channel. However people don’t realise that he was telling a joke, as the area is he is referring to is actually dry red desert.
Topic: Shell Patch - There has been many documented finds of opalized shells found in a particular South Australian opal field. This place is known as The Shell Patch. Located 35 kilometres North of Coober Pedy, it was closed for mining in 1977 and recently re-opened in 2017. There has been over 221 registered miners that have applied to peg a mining claim to prospect and explore the area. There were many new miners that have missed out however they claimed to have found opals in the end.
Topic: 13 Mile Opal Field - There is another opal field located above Coober Pedy that was mentioned by various opal miners. The first opal field in the area was called Eight Mile, which was discovered in 1945 after the war. Opal fields were then named by a number until the last opal field was called the 13th. Unfortunately The Outback Opal Hunters Show were able to showcase the incredible workshop that was utilised but the Cook Team. The images below shows the precision workshop and storage of opal mining equipment. These guys have obtained these equipment from coal mining operations.
This Buggy was used in series 2 of The Opal Hunters to drag black polyurethane pipes across the desert in bile dust.
If you’re lucky to visit Lightning Ridge in NSW Australia, make sure you visit the storage yards of the Cook miners.
The interesting and unique artistry shows the eccentric personality of this town. For example, the Time Machine which is designed to travel back in time and find where the good opal was discovered before someone else claims it. It shows the love, passion and dedication people have for this opal gemstone.
The interesting sculpture of Buddha driving a slow tractor helps remind people at Lightning Ridge not to be in a hurry to travel anywhere. The moral of the art is to slow down and enjoy living.
Don’t catch a bus with skeleton as a driver! This strange art features the fun character of the people in Lightning Ridge.
There is an interesting Predator sculpture, from the Alien versus Predator Hollywood movie. An artist arrived in town and traded this sculpture for a permission to mine opals. The opal bug is infectious and enjoyable.
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