This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

1999 Travels September 4

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SATURDAY 4 SEPTEMBER     WOOMERA

It remained windy all night, but did seem to lessen off somewhat towards morning. The night was warm enough to not need the doona, but it did get a little chilly by morning, and got progressively colder through the day.

We drove to the shops. Got fuel – 80cpl. I bought bread, a paper, a lottery ticket.

Drove on to Roxby Downs, about 80kms to the north – on a sealed road, through very flat and featureless country,  with big power lines running beside the road, for some of the way. In places, we travelled through areas of low sand dunes with occasional dry salt pans.

This town was built about a decade ago, to service the new Olympic Dam copper and uranium mine project. The mine workers live here, and various services the mine needs are provided. The actual mine is a few kms away.

Roxby Downs town centre is much bigger than I had expected, and was very busy. I bought vanilla slices to have with lunch. Got to support these remote area shops!

We drove out to the mine area, where – from by the fence and gate – there were buildings to be seen – it is a big complex. But the actual mining is down a large shaft, and so cannot be seen.

From the township, took the unsealed road east, for 30kms, to the opal mining village of Andamooka. As we approached the township, there were the tell tale white mullock heaps, typical of opal fields. The place was rough and untidy looking, which also seems typical.

The lines of diggings seemed to follow the sides of a creek valley. The whole place is very higgledy and hard to navigate. Apparently, there is no local council for here, therefore no rules to be followed, in terms of buildings and development. A lot of the structures are shacks.

We followed signs to the Long Bus opal sales centre – a strange little place, where we had to walk through their kitchen and living room, to get to the opal sales room.

There were some aboriginal artefacts and tacky tourist souvenir stuff for sale, but also some good solid opal and matrix opal.

We had not heard of matrix opal before, and we rather fascinated by it. The opal has formed in little spaces in parent limestone rock. Opal in other places forms in other sorts of rock, where the background colour refracts light through the opal, giving it colour. That is kind of a non-technical explanation! Here, the unusual formation in white limestone causes the colour to be very pale. At some stage, some bright persons discovered that, if matrix opal is “cooked” in sugar solution and acid, the colour is brought out. It shows as little pinprick dots in the rock – most unusual and very attractive. I suppose that, if the limestone structure allowed it, bigger opal areas would show up, too.

09-04-1999 matrix opal

Matrix opal – enlarged

I liked this matrix opal much more than the pale Coober Pedy opal, and bought a pendant, for $300, bargaining it down from $390. It has a browny colour, with the really bright pinpricks of colour in it, but also with a slightly larger chip of opal in it, which makes it really unusual. I loved it, on sight!

J phoned sister H and told her about the opals available here. On her instructions, bought her  a solid opal piece – suitable for a ring, pendant or brooch – for $250.

We ate our lunch, late, at Andamooka, then drove around looking at the township, for a little while. Debated about whether we could find a track that might take us out to the nearby Lake Torrens – a dry salt lake – but decided it was too hard, and headed back to Woomera instead.

It had become quite cloudy by the time we left Andamooka.

Back at Woomera, we visited the display area. John went into the adjacent history museum, which cost him $4. I wandered around, looking at missiles, bombs and satellite launcher displays. I took a photo of the launcher of the first Australian satellite sent into space – the fourth in the world. Its remains were recovered from a remote part of the Simpson Desert. There were Jindivik target planes there, and a Jabiru atmospheric research vehicle. I actually found it all quite interesting.

09-04-1999 bits and first rocket for satellite from woomera.jpg

Assorted Woomera related relics

09-04-1999 remains first rocket for satellite.jpg

Remains of the launcher of Australia’s first satellite

When we got back to the van, we’d driven 288 kms today.

Tea was soup, chilli con carne.

It was a cool evening, still with some wind.

I phoned K from the pay phone in the park, to report our whereabouts and possible plans. John phoned H to tell her about the opal he’d bought. He also phoned a place I’d read about that was setting up a camping ground – Mt Ive Homestead, to establish that they do have camping. We will head there tomorrow.

John reported to Adelaide Base of the VKS network, that we’d be going to Mt Ive, in the Gawler Ranges, via Kingoonya. It is a bit remote, so we thought it wise to sched in.

John spent some time working out and entering waypoints on the GPS, for tomorrow’s trip. Then he played games on his computer till after midnight.

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