This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

2015 Travels May 18

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The morning was blue sky, warm, sunny, some high cloud. Last night had been warm – almost too hot to have the doona on.

I really appreciated the wonderful shower in our en-suite and not having to do battle with a flappy shower curtain. Pretty roomy space as these things go, too. Given the contortions needed to go through getting a waterproof covering onto my bandaged leg, that was a bonus.

Our neighbours of the disgruntlement, who moved in the day before yesterday, have to move again. Their third move within the park! Their friends who were on the other side of us were a day late arriving, so they thought the friends were not coming and cancelled a day of the planned stay. Now, of course, they want that day back but too late, the en-suite has been booked on, so it is musical sites. Now they are even more disgruntled… Of course, it is not their fault, but that of park management, who should have been able to meet their several changes of plans, or maybe even have been able to read their minds and predict the future.

Our next lot of new neighbours came in later in the day. They have friends on the site adjacent to them – much better organized and much better communications.

Apart from dog exercise, we lazed about in the morning. Well, John slept in for much of it.

After lunch, went off to be tourists for a little while.

Plenty of opal mining areas to be toured…

First, drove out the road past Ando’s claim and went out to Lorne Station, where we stayed in their caravan and camp area when here in 2009. We just went up the drive to the Reception/Camp Manager’s cottage area, turned around and drove out again. It did not look to have changed any. Before coming up here this time, we had debated between staying at Lorne, with its “bush” ambience, or trying out the Opal for the first time. I was pleased we’d chosen the Opal.

Then took the Green Door tour route.

The four self-drive tours around Lightning Ridge and its vicinity are marked by painted old car doors – great way to recycle junk. These doors both show the way through what is often a maze of small tracks, and mark features of note, which were explained in the notes I had purchased.

The main point of the Green Tour was to go to the area where opal mining first began here, on an area called Ironstone Ridge. It may be that this formation does attract lightning strikes? The  story is that the place gained its name back in the 1870’s, decades before opal was found; the area was used for grazing, when travellers passing through found the bodies of a farmer, his dog and a couple of hundred sheep that had been incinerated by lightning.

We drove back out the main road towards the highway, then turned north at the first green sign. The narrow, winding, semi-rough track followed a low ridge through the Ironstone Ridge area, to Nettleton’s first shaft.

Along the way we noted various claims and camps and the wild orange tree, that is regarded as a signal for likely opal below. The roots of this tree go deep along fault lines and it is along faults that opal may have formed.

Wild orange tree – sign of possible opal below

Around Lightning Ridge, opal is mostly found on low ridges that were once river and creek beds. So the ridges wander around. Back then, there was a lot of silica in the silt of these waterways, which eventually formed into opal. Over time, the surrounding country has weathered down, leaving the low ridges exposed, with opal underlying them in parts.

When opal mining began here in the early 1900’s, if a miner sank a shaft – all done by hand with pick and shovel – and it did not bottom on opal, he abandoned it and went and dug a new one. There was no tunnelling outwards, as happens now.

The Ironstone Ridge opal field

From the vantage point at Nettleton’s Lookout one looks across the flat black soil plains towards the newer Coocoran fields to the northwest. They are not really visible though. I had an idea they were not on ridges like around the Ridge, but maybe more on flattish sedimentary country, like out at the Grawin fields to the west.

Outlook to the flat plains of the west

A large rock carried an inscription/explanation of the role of Charles Nettleton in the start of the black opal mining industry here. Nettleton had been a gold miner and was travelling through the area, when some people he was camped with picked up some fiery black stones and showed him. Seems he wasn’t really sure what they were, but his miner’s interest was aroused and…

Black opal is so called because the background is dark, not necessarily black. It is the most valuable and prized of the several varieties of opal, and the Lightning Ridge area is the main world source of it.

Nettleton’s original shaft

Apparently there is now some debate about the actual formation of opal, and it may not have been the same in all places. That could be something to research at home? Len Cram wrote that there were at least four different ways that opal formed, that he knows of.

Apart from the early Nettleton’s shaft, fenced off, with its memorial and inscription, there were lots of shaft holes all around this area. Some of them looked pretty recently worked.

Not a place to wander about on a dark night…

Perhaps newer technology and methods make some of the old areas still worth mining? Whilst wandering about, I found two claim markers made by a man whose address was not far from us at home. They were only pegged in the past couple of years. Wonder if Ando knows him?

There was a “house” out there built from cans and bottles. It was not lived in, but open to look in and had a Visitors Book to sign. The empty beer cans make solid walls; the empty wine and beer bottles, set lying down, make a form of stained glass window. I guess it was a project for someone, who may have really enjoyed the provision of the raw materials? Probably not very practical  building materials though – hot inside all that metal in summer?

Re-purposing is a way of life on opal fields…

A man and dog came walking up the rise from the flats below; he lived on a claim just down the track from the lookout. We had passed signs by the track for opal sales, psychic readings, and “visit the milkman” – the significance of that was lost on me. We chatted briefly.

Retraced the route back to town. The Green Tour route was only a few kms.

Went to the PO to see if our forwarded mail was in yet. Queued for ages. There was one man at the counter, giving advice to a couple who were mailing something and needed help. He dithered about for at least fifteen minutes with them. The other two visible staff were vacuum cleaning and passing back and forth from a back room, but not serving. Eventually, when the queue had grown to several people, one deigned to come to the counter. She told us the parcel pickup was at another location. It would have been useful if the PO had a sign or notice to that effect displayed somewhere. Bloody poor service.

Drove to the parcel pickup place, a couple of blocks away. No mail parcel. Staff said that an Express Mail parcel, sent from Vic late last week, would not get here until at least tomorrow, and probably Wednesday. Wonder how long an ordinary parcel would take?

Back to camp.

This park was so busy. I was not surprised, because of its high standard. The word must get around. The new arrivals started coming in about 10am – from other places in town? Or from the free camp out on the highway? From early afternoon until after 4pm, there were queues at the check in. The drive in lane dedicated to those booking in could take about four or five rigs, but sometimes there were another four or five out in the road. All the powered sites always seemed to be full by night.

Cloud came in later in the afternoon. Looked like there might be a storm brewing, but it dissipated.

Tea was sausages (nice ones from our freezer), mash, wombok coleslaw.

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