FRIDAY MAY 22 LIGHTNING RIDGE
Another pleasant morning spent in the usual ways.
As we’d promised, were at the Chambers’ office – a room in a private home in town – at 1pm. Paid for our yesterday purchases and chatted for a while until an incoming phone call ended that.
I was pleased with the ring. Out in the natural light, it is quite brilliant and I loved the red flash that happens at certain angles.
Since the tracks have had time to dry out a bit after the storms, we decided to tackle the remaining two car door tours today.
Before that, drove out to the cemetery, where we had not been before. It was very interesting and larger than I’d expected. There has been some sort of project to renovate or restore it, by putting simple white crosses on a lot of the older graves and ones with no other identification.
Lightning Ridge Cemetery
Some of the crosses had the names of the dead person there, others simply said things like “unknown miner”. One wonders how many enduring family mysteries form the back story to these?
There was a real range of graves there, from the unknown, to some with really ornate head stones and memorials.
As one would expect in an Australian opal mining area, there were a number of “foreign” names, plus inscriptions like “died in mining accident”.
A young tragedy
This tour was only a short one. Like the others, it takes in some areas of diggings, and the tracks which wind through these.
The main feature on this tour was the Cactus Gardens. We did not go in to these, on this visit, but in 2009 had found them fascinating and well worth going to. The sheer number of varieties he had there was amazing as well as the great range of size, shape and colour between them.
Lightning Ridge seems to have inspired some people to put huge efforts, time and resources into unusual projects like this, the Opal Cave building, the Chambers of the Black Hand. Something about the life up here?
We did take a side track off the route, into an area of diggings, There seemed to be current activity at these.
Some opal field dwellers like their privacy
Our final tour was the Red Door one, which starts quite close to our caravan park. The major feature of this was Amigo’s Castle.
Amigo started building this more than twenty five years ago, perhaps as a change from fairly unproductive opal mining? He used stone from the claim to start building a structure and it just kept going. Eventually, he had to source stone from all over the area.
So many rocks used…
The time, effort and sheer imagination that has gone into this is amazing. The quality of his stone work is brilliant. It is quite a surreal structure to come across in such an area.
Entrance to Amigo’s Castle
We were greeted by a lady who – after a suitable donation – gave us a tour of the place. It is not finished – perhaps it was never going to be – as sections kept being added. But Amigo had clashed with various authorities over issues like putting up a “permanent” structure on a mining claim, and OHS for visitors. The freedom of spirit that is almost a prerequisite for life as an opal miner is rather incompatible with a rules-based society. So Amigo had done a significant dummy-spit and retreated to a camp behind the Castle. The lady and her partner had some sort of arrangement with him, whereby she used part of the place as a gallery for her art works and does the little tours, thus keeping all the unwanted tourists away from Amigo in his seclusion.
Fields from a Castle turret
Her art works were unusual, some three dimensional, interesting.
We were able to wander about and take photos. She did say that Amigo never throws anything away. The glimpses of his camp that we were able to get from the Castle, would verify that!
A little further on, in this section of old diggings known as Pony Fence Field, was another amazing structure. Similarly ambitious, and another “castle” of sorts. This one was of concrete – rounded shapes – made of concrete forms set in old oil drums. A Polish man won a lottery and set about building this Monument to Astronomers in the 1980’s and 90’s. He died when his camp burnt down in 1998, so this structure looks unfinished, and there was no access.
The Blue track was very winding, and not well supplied with blue directions, so we were not sure if we were lost, but eventually emerged into a known area through the Kangaroo Hill fields, onto the airport road, and went back to our camp. It was late afternoon by now.
I cooked fish from our freezebox, and fries, for our tea.