This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

2015 Travels July 26

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Every Sunday morning the markets are held in an area beside the Visitor Information Centre.

By the time the stalls have set up, along both sides of an old paved road area, there is not much parking space left for customers, so cars tend to park alongside both sides of the main road, fairly haphazardly. If an event like this was held at home, there would have to be traffic control units and marshals wearing high-vis gear. It is quite refreshing in a funny sort of way, to have to just fend for oneself, without the intrusions of the nanny state.

Sunday Markets in full swing

The main focus of the stalls is, of course, opal. Some of the stall holders are miners who offer material they have found themselves, usually in the rough as found, or as “rubs”, where just enough potch and surrounding material has been taken off to give some idea of the opal colour within. Some material is as loose pieces – usually the better quality stuff. Some is filled into bottles and jars and sold as bulk. This latter can be quite tempting, because there may be a couple of really attractive looking bits, in amongst a whole lot of not so good pieces.

Other opal stalls are maintained by those who are middle men – they buy from miners who can’t be bothered selling what they mine, or who are desperate for a cash flow. Some have a mix of their own and others’ material. Generally, there has been a sort of natural filtering effect here, in that these middle men have purchased only stones they think they can profit from, so their offerings are fair quality. But one usually pays more for this, too.

Typical stalls

Then, there are some opal jewellery stalls. Given the general nature of such markets, with cheap overheads, the product here tends to be opal cut to be fitted into pre-cast settings. Often it is doublet or triplet (not solid opal) which is cheap enough to appeal to market patrons – tourists who think they are getting a bargain, and those who do not know that not all “opal” is the same. Some of these stalls do not show on their labelling what is doublet, triplet or solid, and if you do not know to ask, or check for yourself, will not tell you. By comparison, most of the gallery shops in town have signs in their display cases saying what is contained within, or in some cases, state that they sell solid opal only.

Solid opal is, an indicated, a piece of solid stone with opal flashing colour within. There is a grading system for the base or background colour of opal, ranging from the really dark “black” of the best Lightning Ridge opal, through a whole gradation, to the milky white background colour of Coober Pedy opal. The Lightning Ridge black opal is regarded as the best opal and is the most valuable.

A doublet opal is where a thin piece of opal is mounted on top of an uncoloured piece of potch/stone. A triplet contains an even thinner shaving of opal, sandwiched between a dark stone background and a clear cover – quartz or plastic. These are layman’s definitions, not technical ones. As these contain less opal, they are less valuable. A rule of thumb we were told, this trip, was that a doublet stone is about ten percent of the value of a solid of similar size and colour; a triplet about four per cent.

Down there is my favourite cake stall…

Unlike gemstones such as diamonds, sapphires etc, which are uniform enough within themselves to be faceted to a geometric shape, each piece of opal is different. Its best presentation is where the stone is shaped to bring out the colour show. Where opal is cut to fit the cheaper, pre-cast settings, the true colour may not be best brought out. So, often, it is not the best opal that is used for such jewellery. As with most things, one pays a premium for quality – of both stone and setting.

Most of the opal galleries in the town are not represented at the markets.

In amongst the opal stalls are a variety of others. There was a good second-hand book stall, where the books were arranged by author, rather than at random. A few stalls sell an array of used goods – everything from second-hand solar panels to rusty metal of indeterminate purpose. There are the usual market type stalls selling sarong style clothing, knotted scarves, baby booties and the like. One extensive stall sold fresh fruit and vegies – both good quality and good value, I thought. There were a couple of preserves stalls – jams, sauces and chutneys. I saw a plant seller too.

Market stalls with main road across to the left

My favourite stall was that of a lady who sold cakes, slices and the best boiled fruit cake – by the half or whole cake. We gladly parted with $6.50 for a half cake that was so yummy.

On our first Sunday in town, we went to the markets. I wanted to buy cake, John wanted to be tempted by bottles of opal. We came home with cake, some very nice truss tomatoes and other assorted vegetable matter – about which John could not get excited. There was a small jar of chutney to flavour that night’s pork loin roast dinner. It was a good morning’s work, because our loot consisted of what was needed, not multiple impulse purchases of local stone.

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