OPAL FEST JULY 31
Opal Fest is held in Lightning Ridge every year. Every second year this is combined with the International Opal Jewellery Design Awards and it becomes a really big event. There is always a gala Ball held featuring that year’s Opal Queen.
To quote from the promotional material: “Jewellers, buyers, wholesalers, miners, rock hounds, lapidary enthusiasts and tourists are invited to experience the best Lightning Ridge has to offer with this culmination of information, spectacular jewellery, collectibles, great deals and fantastic networking opportunities.
The LR Opal Festival boasts over 150 stalls with a huge range of products including gemstones, tools, lapidary supplies and lifestyle products.”
Caravan park still a bit damp
The setting up for this year’s event began on Wednesday 29 July. Exhibitors and stallholders dismantled their wares on the afternoon of Sunday 31 July.
There were three sections of stall holders/exhibitors. Upstairs in the Bowling Club building was the exhibition section associated with the Design Awards. A $5 entry fee was charged to go look at these exhibitions, which included an opal with a price tag of $500,000. Yes, a cool half million dollars.
Downstairs is the large, undercover, beer garden section of the Club. There were over a hundred stalls set up here, selling opal, jewellery, specimen pieces, tools associated with opal cutting and jewellery making. There were also stalls with things like preserves and fudges.
Outside, along the wall by the beer garden entry were more opal sellers and food stalls.
Across the road in a large yard area was a section that was more the style of the Sunday markets, with a variety of stalls, perhaps best described as the lower end of the price scale.
After the set up on Wednesday, the whole shebang opened on Thursday. This was the day when the big buyers, mostly from overseas, swooped and did their buying. We were told that there is increased Chinese interest in opal, now.
Friday night saw the Design Awards Gala Dinner – $100 per person, dress formal. Not quite our scene! We were told later that a special feature of this year’s dinner was the presentation to Len Cram of the OAM he had been awarded for services to the opal industry.
Saturday night the Opal Queen Ball was held. $25 a ticket. Dress – black tie. Again – not of interest to us. The prizes for the lady chosen as the 2015 Opal Queen were certainly worthwhile and in keeping with her role as an ambassador for the opal industry at events like the Australian Opal Exhibition on the Gold Coast, and the Black Opal Racing Carnival in Canberra.
We went to the Bowls Club area on Wednesday, to have a look at the setting up and browse the stalls already in place in the outdoor market area. John spent some time at a large stall of tools. Not opal related, just general tools. He bought a tyre fitting that he thought would make it easier to access the inner Bus wheels to check air pressure and inflate them. I was surprised at the extent of stalls of clothing and the like. It is obviously worth their while to come a considerable distance, as many of these were not local. Must be more money in that sort of thing than I thought. Maybe the locals stock up at this annual event?
Bruno’s Pizza – a local café – had a van set up, selling woodfired pizzas. Another van was selling curly chips – something new to me.
John went to Opal Fest on Thursday for several hours. He came back quite awed by the upstairs, quality, exhibits in particular. He had seen the half million dollar opal – displayed by my favourite opal gallery in town, which sells only opals the family dig up themselves.
I found out that the single lady in the caravan on the next site to us was here assisting her sister – in the caravan beyond that – who had a stall at the Fest. Sister made and was selling dichroic glass jewellery. Over the four days they did quite well, it seemed.
John went back for another look around on the Friday and had a very pleasant surprise encounter, which I will explain in a later entry.
Stanley the Emu welcomes visitors to Lightning Ridge
By the weekend, the park was totally packed. All normal sites were full as was the unpowered dirt and gravel section. There were lots of campers set up in the “bush” section. The performers at Happy Hour – in a grassed area by the camp kitchen – were really attracting a good crowd. The place was humming and the atmosphere in general was a festive one.
John persuaded me to go back to Opal Fest on Saturday for a final look around. The local “football” match was at home so there were crowds of locals at the sports ground adjacent to the Bowls Club. This made parking even more chaotic than usual.
As we wandered the stalls in the undercover area, I noticed that the Aracic family had a stall featuring the books written by Steve Aracic about opals in Australia and opal mining. We had a couple of his excellent books at home.
A stall that caught my attention was that of Mudgeeraba Chutneys. A long way from their Gold Coast base…They had an extensive range of Indian style chutneys and a tasting set up. I succumbed, and after tasting some, bought three bottles of different chutneys. I received a recipe leaflet for an eggplant dip, that they served up in a pappadum crisp with a dollop of their chutney on top. Was really yummy and would make a great “nibbly” to pass around with drinks. I love eggplant, though John does not share that taste.
From what we heard about the place, the 2015 Opal Fest was a great success. We certainly found it interesting. It is a good time for tourists to visit the Ridge – providing they have booked their accommodation in advance … well in advance.