MONDAY 11 MAY LORNE STATION
There was considerable cloud cover today, but it was still warm.
Usual morning start – me up early, had my breakfast outside in the fresh air, sewed until the other half of the establishment was ready to take on the day.
The Trakmaster group pulled out about 9am. Their destination for today was Narran Lake, not all that far to the SW from here, but reached by dirt tracks. It was not a place we had been, so I tucked it away in the mind for future research.
John was still pursuing his expected parcel, so we drove into town. There, we did some shop browsing, during which I bought a good stainless steel kettle for the van, to be used on the gas stove when we were not hooked into external power. The old one, which we’d had since 1991, had expired of a holey bottom.
John became very exasperated with the youth manning the counter at the Post Office. He was not very good at explaining their rules. Sorted out eventually, what he was trying to tell us was that parcels and mail could only be collected from the side window, either before the mail truck arrived – at some unspecified time in the morning, or else after 3pm. But no parcel right now!
We meandered through an art gallery that was totally uninspiring.
Then John decided we should go on a hunt for the Mines Department, which we did not find, much to my relief. John was still pursuing the idea of becoming an opal miner! A couple of the locals we got casually chatting to said “No way – too expensive to operate”. There was also the slight problem – hitherto ignored – that neither John nor I like being underground – and that is where opal comes from. In my case, it is a total no-go area.
On the way back to the van for lunch, we drove by the artesian bore baths to have a look. I didn’t find them all that attractive looking, certainly felt no urge to sample same at any future time.
To date, I was finding Lightning Ridge a much more pleasant town than any of the other opal towns we had visited over the years: Coober Pedy, Mintabie, Andamooka, White Cliffs, Yowah. There was more substance, a greater sense of permanence and pride in the place, and more order. This might be due to being in a less arid area. Anyway, I did really like it. That did not, in any way, imply that I wanted to own or lease any of it, though!
It was back to town at 3pm, for mail. The parcel was there: a new lock for the Treg hitch, sent by Hardings, to replace the one that John thought was getting too worn. There was also a bag of mail from home that contained little of interest, apart from a magazine from Birds Australia.
We visited an opal shop that we hadn’t noticed before, away from the cluster at the other end of the main street. It had only been open for two months. I really liked that they sold only Lightning Ridge solid opal, from their own mines – an older one at Jacks Hill and a newer one out Grawin way. Their made up opal jewellery items were mostly individual designed items, fashioned to suit the particular stone, as opposed to precast settings where a stone has to be cut to fit the setting, regardless of its unique characteristics. Silver was more featured than gold, and I found the designs nicely understated, compared to some of the over-the-top stuff one sees that, in my view, detracts from the innate beauty of the stones. I thought the dark opal of Lightning Ridge went well with this minimalist approach.
Well, I’d found MY source of opal. No need for a mine! No need to look any further – or scrabble around in the dust. There was a wonderful, irregularly shaped opal in that shop, set in a thin silver framing, with brilliant greeny flashes in its dark depths – a simple pendant on a silver chain. It was just screaming out to become my 2009 birthday present.
John looked at some bags of uncut opal pieces they had for sale. The sales lady was also the cutter, the men of the family did the mining. She had been taught cutting by the local opal expert – the man who wrote the “Black Opal” book. She took time to point out to John how certain pieces of opal should be cut, and told him that the key quality that makes a good cutter is the ability to “feel” the stone.
We went back to camp to ponder all that.
I sat outside and sewed some patchwork. John fitted his new hitch lock. The old one went into the dark cave that was the van boot, probably never to be found again, should it be needed!
Tea was rissoles and vegetables.