This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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2009 Travels May 28


The morning was cloudy.

T had not been sighted by the time we left to drive into town. Funny, that.

We went to the Opal Bin shop, where the lady rubbed down three of John’s opal pieces. I wasn’t sure if these were bits we bought or found; they’d sort of gotten mixed together. A nice looking piece that from the side had great green flashes on blue, came out plain blue on top, and so no good. She said the other two bits were worth cutting and directed us to a man who did cutting for other people. He agreed to cut the two stones and we could collect them later in the day.

This rather says it all about the town…..

While we were at the Opal Bin, I bought five pendants of rubbed/tumbled stone with little opal veins through. They were unusual and very pretty, not too expensive, and more modern than the usual opal jewellery. One was for me and the others destined for the family females – that was some of my Xmas shopping taken care of!

Did a quick supermarket shop, then it was back to camp.

It had begun to rain while we were in town, and I had this worrying idea that we were going to get rained in at Lorne yet again. But it was not as heavy, out at the station, and eased off. Then, mid-afternoon, there was a huge dark cloud looming, so we packed up much of the camp, hitched the van up and moved it to the more solid ground in front of the Hacienda. We still could access our power and water there. Just hoped the cottage wasn’t going to have any guests this afternoon.

Then we had to unhitch again, to go back to town to collect the cut stones.

Moved the van from there, around to the front of the Hacienda……..

We finished up with a small, irregular shaped stone that would be good to have set into a ring, and a larger, paler one, that could be for a pendant. I liked them, but John was disappointed. He’d expected them to be bigger – and also worth more than the $20-$40 the cutter valued them at! But, back at camp, they were admired by one of the lady campers.

I went up to the office and paid up what we owed. The $100 a week had been healthy for the budget.

After tea, a final sit round the campfire, with D.

We  had not intended to be here for this long, but it had been a great stay, and I’d loved it (except maybe for the few ultra muddy days).

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2009 Travels May 27


I got up at 7.30. There was quite a bit of cloud in the sky, but some sunny breaks too.

By the time we got back yesterday, the campground had filled up more – helped by the road having been graded, I thought. Also, with all the floods and highway closures on the coast, some travellers had diverted more inland. The manager had even used a line marker to indicate “sites”, in order to maximise use of his powered sites. So, near us now were Jayco and Roadstar vans, the latter a young travelling family, with grandmother.

The Roadstar’s shower put out a huge amount of water onto the ground – which ran towards the bog hole in front of our camp. I was not much impressed with this.

The owls were still occupying their tree. I wondered if they had been new arrivals, in the rainy period, or if they had been there for ages, and I’d only recently spotted them.

I enjoyed having a casual, lazy morning again. I wrote diary notes and sewed, before John got up, then did more of the same after. I was feeling a tad stiff and sore after yesterday’s contortions  in the dumps.

John packed away most of our opal finds and purchases. He selected four pieces for examination in town, and maybe cutting there.

The two big vans next to us unexpectedly packed up and left after lunch. They were upset, apparently, because one of the several camp dogs that hung about T’s cottage, had peed in the kids’ shoes that were outside the van. They were also unhappy because there was only dirt for the children to play in! They’d paid for two nights, too, we found out – non-refundable.

After lunch went for another walk on the property. Near the old woolshed, saw a pair of red-capped robins on a fence. The male’s cap was an incredibly vivid red.

Walked across country for a little way, then took a different track from before. Came across some smaller dump heaps – later, C told us we could have noodled in them. Also found a quaint little hut and camp, near a dam and wetland area. It had a kind of garden, and some chairs outside. There were lots of birds there. It seemed recently used, so we wondered about its story.

Little hut – even with garden and outdoor living area….

Then we followed a power line to the main wetland outflow, with the agitators and the puddling dam. Found out later, from a book on display in the gallery, that this area was once the property’s best sheep paddock, before the miners set up the opal washing area here, and the sullage outflows ruined it. That led me to also wonder when the property changed over from sheep to cattle grazing.

Outflow from the old opal dirt washing area; very hard for much to grow there now

Also found out that the “agi’s” are still occasionally used.

No doubt that opal mining activity ruins the land for much else

Continued on, following a fence close to the current mining area. Passed another camp/cottage, clearly regularly accessed. We were told later that an artist lived there, some of the time.

We walked as far as within sight of the main highway.

As we walked back, met up with C doing one of her walking tours, coming down from the Lorne Lookout. Near the fence there, in the mining area, was a funny little cottage – inhabited – that looked like something out of a kids’ fantasy story book. It even had chooks!

Like an illustration from a fairy story……
with real, live chooks….

We tagged onto C’s tour. She couldn’t explain the origin of the railway relics back along the track.

C took us to the Gallery, which was set up in the old woolshed. It had quirky sculptures, made from camp and mining debris, for sale. There were also paintings, mostly in a kind of Pro Hart derivative style. Usually old woolsheds retain the smell of the active shearing shed, but not this one. A possum lived in there, and it stunk!

In the gallery was a book written by Patricia Waterford, the mother of the station owner. She had lived at Lorne back when the roads to Lightning Ridge were all unsealed, and life was much more one of isolation than it was today.

A few spots of rain fell while we were browsing in the gallery. The ants were right!

We must have walked about 6kms.

Strange stuff around the old pig pens…..never di figure out what this was.

We had the usual evening around the camp fire, and cooked potatoes in the coals. D joined us. He did not have a great day out at the Grawin today. I think he was a bit miffed at missing out on the opal we bought yesterday – and the backpacker has left! He seemed quite out of sorts.

It was T’s birthday. He cooked up a feed of bream – caught somewhere locally – for his “mob”, a number of people of indigenous origins who hung about around his camp – hence the camp dogs. He came over and asked if I wanted bream – I politely declined. It was a nice gesture from him, to want to share with us.

I spent part of the evening naming and ordering the photos downloaded onto my laptop.

About 10.30pm there was loud, drunken singing drifting across the campground. Somebody was going to feel lousy in the morning!

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2009 Travels May 26


We left at 8am for the Grawin. Another early start for John! The lure of opal actually had him almost bounding out of bed.

The road past Lorne to the highway was graded yesterday and was great now.

We were at the heaps by 9am.

At the front of the Club in the Scrub

A lot of trucks came in to dump through the morning, including the old red and black one that all the experienced noodlers got excited about. We joined the others around the load as it was dumped, like crows around a rubbish bin. After working on that heap for a while, I think we’d found a couple of good bits.

Went down to Truck to get our lunch about 12.30.

One of the regulars – T – sold John a jar of very nice pieces. I thought he’d brought them out for D to have a look at, but D had decided to have a rest day at camp today. I suspected that might have been related to the presence at camp of a rather attractive young South African backpacker! Our gain. We did some haggling over the price, as expected, and in the end he came down from $300, we went up from $150, and settled on $200. Three of the pieces in the jar had a really good red flash in them.

Opal mining machinery

By mid afternoon we were weary, so drove back to camp, stopping to get firewood along the way.

D seemed to be rather skeptical about our purchase – until he looked at the pieces! He offered to buy a good piece that John had found, but we were not selling.

Both tired tonight, and to bed soon after tea.

At the Grawin

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2009 Travels May 24


Another fine day.

The 3 tonne Roadstar and the camper trailer left today. Later, three vans came in, so that was a measure of how quickly the road had dried out again.

We went into town, to the markets held at the Information Centre. It was a mish mash of stalls, many selling bottles of opal chips and uncut pieces, some selling polished stones. There was a lot of poor-value, “suck in the tourist” stuff. I bought some novels at a used book stall – the best stall in the market, in my opinion! John bought one piece of opal, for $10. D was there and did a lot of investigating. He knew some of the stall holders, but he did not buy much.

I had to do a supermarket stock up. D was taking John out to the Grawin tomorrow, in return for which he was invited to a roast lamb dinner tomorrow night.

D sorting out his acquisitions

After lunch back at camp, John went to bowls. He won $10. I “patched”.

Had a brief sit round the camp fire after dinner, but it was an early night for us.

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2009 Travels May 19


Yep, we should have followed the herd and left yesterday. There were very few campers left here now.

That sky promised more rain!

The camp ground was very muddy and wet. The rain was blowing in under the awning, so I got John to put up a shade cloth barrier, but it didn’t seem to make much difference. Going to the amenities was a matter of carefully picking a route via little bits of ground still above water.

The floor mat in the annexe began to ooze thin red mud up through its mesh like structure, whenever it was stepped on. That meant we were effectively confined to the van itself.

I did patchwork for some of the day, read and wrote postcards. John played computer games.

The rain persisted for much of the day, with the occasional short dry period.

In the afternoon we drove into town, really sliding around on the unsealed road, until we reached the sealed town roads by the airport turn off. The worst section was actually the few hundred metres between the camp ground and the Lorne gate at the road into town! That was really treacherous.

John wanted to visit a shop that sold opal cutting gear. He was astounded at how expensive the gear was. I took the opportunity in town to stock up a bit on food. I thought it was possible that any more rain would close the road.

There was more rain – even heavier – through the night.

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2009 Travels May 18


There was quite an exodus from the campground this morning. At first I thought it might be because people had come only for the weekend. Later, too much later, I decided it had everything to do with the weather forecast for rain.

After John’s opal seduction of yesterday, I went up to the office and did some negotiating to extend our stay by an unknown time, and pay up at the end of each completed week. Very obliging, they were. The $54 I had paid for our previous extension reverted to part of the next $100 per week payment; couldn’t argue with that.

I was able to do two loads of washing, since there was now no competition for the machine.

Then we left for the Grawin. The drive out was starting to seem quite familiar.

I sat in Truck and knitted while John went noodling up on the heap. D was there too. I went up for a while after we’d eaten the packed sandwiches and mostly just watched the men digging about. They were not finding much.

The Keep Out notice was ignored by everyone.

Today was cloudy, which made it harder working out on the heaps because there was no sunshine to catch a glint in the gravel. John gave it away about 2pm and we drove back to camp.

My washing was dry and I picked it in before the cloud developed into anything nasty.

We went into town late in the afternoon, to the Opal Bin opal gallery and shop. I bought that solid opal pendant that had been niggling away at my mind for the last few days. It came from the Grawin and was a very attractive chunk of black opal. I loved the modern simplicity of the setting. That was it – got my opal! Didn’t want to go looking for any more…..

Talked with D round our campfire for happy hour. He showed us his album of stone work he’d done and John showed him his photo book of wood furniture he’d made. Both were talented, creative guys. D showed us some more of his opals. He had some nice looking pieces. John was not game to show him the jar of pieces he’d earlier bought out at the Grawin, in case D confirmed that he’d been conned.

Typical Lightning Ridge…….

There was quite an ominous cloud build up through the afternoon. During the night heavy rain set in. For once, the forecast was right, it seemed.

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2009 Travels May 17


Today was younger grandson’s 3rd birthday. I hoped the card I’d earlier posted from here arrived in time, and that his father managed to buy him the present I’d pre-arranged, from us.

It was a lazy morning. I’d planned to do some washing, but the one machine in the laundry was in use, so I didn’t bother.

John messed about with his collection of stones. He thought one bit looked really promising. After an early lunch, he went off to bowls. I defrosted the fridge, washed the van floor – the one following logically from the other! I hand washed the cotton floor mat in a trough in the laundry. Then I rewarded myself for all that housework by doing patchwork for the rest of the afternoon.

Lorne amenity block, with cabin room accommodation block at right

John came back happy. his team had won and he collected $20.

I invited D – a man who had moved into one of the nearby cabins a couple of days ago – to happy hour with us. He was a stone mason by trade, and John was interested in talking about that. He was also an opal buyer, which was why he was up here. He told us that he’d been to the Grawin a few times, but that it was too rough (dangerous?) out there for him, so he preferred to stay here, where it was more secure, and just drive out there. He had two rather nice dogs with him. While we sat round the fire and talked, I threw sticks for the dogs – and got muddy slobber all over my track pants, for my efforts.

D told John that it was cheaper to buy opal cutting equipment here, than in the cities. He lent John a business guide, to look up the sellers of same. Later, when John took his book back, D showed him a tray of cut opals that he’d bought. John came back starry eyed. NOW we were no longer leaving here tomorrow, but going back out to the Grawin instead!

It was a much cooler, cloudy day today. The night was chilly enough for me to drag the heater out from under the bed again.

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2009 Travels May 16


We managed a reasonably early start.

In town, bought the papers. Went to the tyre place, where the tyre and its tube were patched. This was a relief, as we were envisaging the expense of a new tyre, which would probably have to be brought in from somewhere else, at even greater cost.

We went car door touring, and did the two tours on the western side of town.

The extent of the Lightning Ridge opal diggings. First diggings were NE of town; Three Mile SW of it

The Green Tour took us to the first area that was mined, which was on an ironstone ridge that tended to attract lightning. Local lore had it that, way back, a shepherd and some of his flock were fried by a lightning strike in that area – hence the name of the town.

Original diggings

The local indigenous people clearly knew of the opal to be found in the area, as they have a Dreamtime legend that explains it as a rainbow that was trapped in the scales of a dying ancestral crocodile creature.

Random finds on the pastoral runs of the late 1800’s led to the first rush, in the early 1900’s, mostly by miners from the White Cliffs fields, attracted by this dark opal, and promoted by the man regarded as the father of opal mining in the Ridge, Charlie Nettleton.

The Green Tour went to that first mining area, and the first shaft, hand sunk by Charlie Nettleton.

I did find it interesting that the wild orange tree is supposed to be an indicator of underlying opal. Obviously, the larger trees grow along fault lines because the roots can get down more easily to water – and opal is associated with fault lines. But there was no explanation of why the wild orange is a better indicator than other trees.

Green car door by Wild Orange tree

Out there, we also saw where some (more modern) person had begun to build a hut out of empty beer cans. It wasn’t finished; we had a bit of fun speculating why this might be so.

Did they just get sick of doing it, or…….?

There was much more of interest on the Yellow Tour. This mostly took in the larger Three Mile diggings.

A novelty there was the Lunatic Hill open cut.

Open cuts were not normally used for opal mining here because of its unpredictable and patchy occurrence. Particularly in the earlier times, before the use of modern machinery like bulldozers, the effort involved in making an open cut was not proportionally  rewarded. Two possible reasons why the Lunatic Hill cut was made was because the ground was very unstable for shafts, and the opal there rich enough to justify it.

Ventilation shafts for underground mines

The tour route wound through the mining area, past lots of shacks – works of art and ingenuity in themselves. I particularly liked one where the roofing iron was held down by large rocks on it.

Rocks are cheaper than nails around here – and maybe easier to get in the early days….
A trap for the unwary explorer….

We came upon a church structure made of sheets of corrugated iron – spooky, gothic, incongruous.

 But it wasn’t really a church, having been part of a set for an art house film “Goddess of 1967”. I had never heard of it, but later found out that it was made in 2000, the goddess of the title was a 1967 car, and the dark and gloomy film won some awards in overseas film festivals.

It looked realistic enough…..

It was late lunchtime by the time we finished exploring along the Yellow Tour route. Back in town, John decided to buy a cooked chook. We had to go back to camp so he could eat some of it then store the leftovers in the fridge.

Then we backtracked into town for the other two tours, which were the shorter ones to the eastern areas.

The highlight of the Blue Tour was the Cactus Garden. The entry fee here was $5 a person, but it was well worth it.

I had no idea there were so many different cacti, ranging from tall ones more than twice my height, to tiny ones.

Ever read “Day of the Triffids”?

Some had fearsome spikes, others were almost soft. Some looked like they might suddenly come alive and chase you.

The gardens were extensive and very neat, tidy, with clear explanatory notes about some of the plants. Obviously a huge amount of work had gone into establishing and maintaining the gardens. I did hope, though, that the Hudson Pear had originally not been an escapee from here!

I nearly bought a very pretty, small cactus, but then decided that it might not travel too well, there might be quarantine issues – and it wasn’t a very friendly house plant to keep in a small van, either.

On the Red Tour route, there were two unusual structures. Amigo’s Castle was built of ironstone. There were mine tunnels under it, but one could only tour it with the organized, paying, district tour. This was not for us, being herded around like cattle, straining to hear some semi-audible commentary, and cooling our heels whilst some attention seeking type asks questions no-one else is interested in the answers to.  

Apparently, there was a full Plesiosaurus (?) fossil down there – that would have been interesting.

We also saw a really strange, cement, “Astronomers’ Monument” structure – a bit castle like. It was not open to look at though. I found it a shame  a feature like this that could attract tourists, was closed off.

One heavily publicized local attraction was the Theatre of the Black Queen, featuring a house built from coloured bottles, lots of old lamps, and a one-woman dramatic act/presentation. This was another Ridge experience we decided to pass on – just didn’t come across as our sort of thing.

Back at camp, John had the remaining chook and some salad for tea. I had a fire-baked potato, and salad.

That was an interesting and varied day of being a tourist.

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2009 Travels May 15


This morning, I managed to sew a complete patch before John was up and about – and there were five pieces of varying sized material in a six inch square patch, to be hand sewn together, with tiny stitches, so it wasn’t done quickly.

We left at 11am, for the Grawin. Took the back way – the gravel road from town that came out to Lorne, then continued on to meet the highway opposite the Cumborah road. It was the short way to go for us.

The drive out to the Grawin was pleasant enough for it not to matter that we were doing it so soon again. I found myself looking at the farmland – and the bush – that we passed, and wondering if there was opal to be found under there? Given the history of subsequent fresh finds in these parts, it could be possible that there were new fields yet to be unearthed? But I guess modern geological surveying methods are much more able to detect likely opal bearing areas, so probably the areas ignored were for good reason.

We parked amongst the trees by the Waste Dump. John got out and exclaimed “I’ve got a flat tyre!” The rear diver’s side was leaking – we could hear it going down. It wasn’t totally flat, yet, so it must have just happened. We had hit a couple of gutters in the track a bit hard. We changed it, finding that the air was coming from a fracture in the rubber. This created a discussion about whether the tyres should be deflated a bit on these hard, stony roads. It was not usually our practice – and “expert” opinions differed. I remember Adam Plate, of the Pink Roadhouse at Oodnadatta, telling us the first time we went up that way, not to run tyres softer than usual, except on sand.

Then we finally got up on to the heap. There were lots of other noodlers there today. I got sick of it quickly, and went back down to Truck, for lunch and to read and do some bird spotting.

Noodling on the waste dump, in fresh “biscuit” coloured heap

John came down later. for lunch, then went back. I went up later to take some photos, to find that most of the others had gone. Maybe because it was Friday, to get a head start on the night’s festivities?

John was working alongside a tourist, like ourselves, and a local. The latter was in his 30’s, had been a shearer, did some boxing around the country circuits, then had a stroke. Now, he noodled – and drank. He was doing both together, up there. When we drove away, he was just sitting on the front of his old car, all alone, drinking – a forlorn, sad, picture. I guessed there were a lot of hard luck stories to be found around here.

The tourist was out from the Ridge, for the day, like us. He was new to opals and noodling, and had left his ailing wife back at their van. He was dealing with some big problems and seemed pretty timid. He found a nice piece of opal on the heap and was soooo excited – it was nice to see him happy.

The little pile the men were working on was interesting, so I joined in for a while. I might have found a few small, good bits – I found it hard to tell if they were worthwhile.

We left at 4pm and got back to camp an hour later. The place was yet more crowded. A couple of camper trailers had set up quite close to us, and the Hacienda was still occupied.

Truck parked by the Hacienda cottage at Lorne

I had a bit of a chat with one of the camper trailer men. He was rather into the “I am the greatest travel expert” mode – one of those who had to go one better than anything anyone else said. But credit where it was due, and he had been to some interesting and out of the way places, like Old Doomadgee and Massacre Inlet. I gained some street cred by even knowing where these were, and by having also been to Massacre Inlet and Old Doom. He didn’t have it all his own way!

John had flathead and fries for tea. I only had fries, because the label had come off the fish pack in the freezebox, and when I went to cook it, there was only one piece!

We sat around the campfire after tea, for a while. It was so pleasant not to have TV!

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2009 Travels May 14


It was a fairly usual morning, just taking it easy around camp.

An unusual occurrence was that there was an extra signal bar on our phone – and the Internet dongle was able to work. Email! John emailed our doctor at home, to get him to set up an appointment for later in the year, with the hip replacement surgeon. He had decided it was time to act on this painful hip. Having had the first one done in 1997, this time he knew the ultimate benefit of the surgery.

When I was handwashing a windcheater in the camp laundry, discovered that the gold ring I wore all the time, that had a curved shape with three stones set in it, was missing one of the little stones. It was a gift, many years ago, and I wasn’t sure if the stones were diamonds or cubic zirconia – suspected the latter. I would have to try to get a replacement stone put in at home. I didn’t know if I lost it down the laundry drainhole, or scrabbling around in the dirt yesterday. A noodler might find an unusual stone out there! Despite the levity, I was quite sad at the loss.

Into town for bowls at 2pm. I had not envisaged me doing so much bowls on this trip, but it was keeping the driver happy. I guessed I owed him some bowls credits for the Warrumbungles walks – and the ones we might be doing later, if my plans worked out. It was a good idea to build up the credits in a pleasant bowling environment, I judged.

We both played in different teams. Mine drew the game. John’s lost. No prize money for us today. After a quick afternoon tea at the club, the supermarket was next. They had scotch fillet steak on special – really good value – so I bought a couple of lots; there was a bit of room in my little freezebox.

For the past couple of nights, since the big group left, there had only been three or four other lots of campers at Lorne. But it was now filling up again, with about ten vans in tonight, including another Bushtracker. They were becoming – like Trakmasters – much more commonly seen than was the case when we first set out, eleven years ago. There was a van parked just around the corner from us, tonight, the closest neighbours we’d had, so far, here. The Hacienda cottage, next to us, was also occupied for the first time since we had been here.

The vast unpowered camping area at Lorne

Decided that we would extend our time here by three nights and leave next Monday. That would allow a day for another trip out to the Grawin – John wanted to have another try at the noodling. I wanted a day to play tourist and do the car door tours of the area. And John wanted to play social bowls on Sunday. The timing of that would allow me enough time back at camp to cook us a roast dinner – if we could decide between chook (John’s wish) or lamb (mine).

We paid for the three more nights – $18 per night.

Tea was pasta with sauce based on tuna, capers, tomatoes.

After a few days here, I now had two gripes about this caravan park. One was that the permanent residents, of which there were several, smoked in the amenities. And, at night, there was often a sewerage smell drifting over the area.