This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


Leave a comment

2002 Travels May 13

MONDAY 13 MAY     CHARLEVILLE

I did the washing.

Did a stock up of food at the supermarket and butcher, as we did not expect to be in a town area again for a while. This included getting some meat to freeze – have to trust the fridge again, sometime, and it seemed to be behaving itself again.

Visited the main opal shop in town. John showed the man there the opal we’d collected at Leopardwood – and was promptly offered $1200 for it! We were stunned. Obviously, we’d done significantly better than we thought. However, decided that, if the offer was $1200, it was probably worth more and thus we decided to keep it all. But John did buy a jar of opal pieces there, to add to the collection.


Leave a comment

2001 Travels October 3

WEDNESDAY 3 OCTOBER     WHITE CLIFFS

We slept in somewhat. It was too chilly to get up early!

Spent the bulk of the day browsing around White Cliffs. We had been here before, on another school holiday trip. We liked it before, and that was enough reason to detour this way, this time.

10-03-2001 white cliffs town and solar rig.jpg

White Cliffs from one of the opal mining ridges

Opal was discovered here in the 1880’s and it became the world’s first commercial opal field. The opal was found in seams and veins that made mining it relatively straightforward. The opal from here features colour flashes in a milky pale background – so it is “white” opal, compared to the “black” opal of Lightning Ridge, to the north east.

The mining here peaked in the early 1900’s, and so too did the size of the township. Although the population has shrunk, it is still a viable small township, and opal mining still continues. It is a spread out place, where mining has occurred on several low hills that surround the centre. The name was due to the white chalky hillsides of the opal bearing areas.

Because of the extremes of temperature here, many people live in dugouts in the hillsides, which maintain an even, pleasant temperature.

10-03-2001 white cliffs dugouts.jpg

An area of dugout homes cut into the side of the ridge

When we were here last, we got to know a German lady, Barbara Gasch,  who ran a gallery here. She was a master gold and silver smith and did beautiful work featuring opal she and her partner had found. The dugout gallery was adjacent to their dugout home, which she’d showed us round. We’d loved the skylight set into the dugout “roof”, where they could lie in bed and look up at the stars at night.

This time, her gallery was not open and it looked rather as if they may have moved on. I was disappointed, as I’d looked forward to catching up with them again.

We drove out and around some of the diggings areas. Had a bit of a noodle on some mullock heaps, where it did not look as though there was anyone around, or freshly mining, to care about what we were doing. However, we were aware that we may have been on someone’s current claim, so did not stay long at that.

10-03-2001 opal mining white cliffs.jpg

In one of the opal mining areas of White Cliffs

We drove a little way east out the gravel Mandalay road, where, last trip, we used to ride the bikes out. It was much easier in Truck!

10-03-2001 arid.jpg

Typical country surrounding White Cliffs

It was another cold night.

10-03-2001 john sunset white cliffs.jpg

Dusk over the mining ridge at White Cliffs


Leave a comment

1999 Travels May 30

SUNDAY 30 MAY     MARLA

John wanted to drive out to Mintabie, today. This is an opal mining settlement, some 33kms west of Marla. It is little-known, compared to places like Coober Pedy or White Cliffs, but actually produces extremely high quality dark opal.

John loves these mining settlements, and he also thought he might be able to buy some opal from miners out there.

From what we’d read, a permit was needed to go to Mintabie, because it is on aboriginal lands, but they told us in the Marla Roadhouse that due to some sort of administrative hiccup, no one has bothered, for months, about getting permits to go out there, so we didn’t either.

I was really pleased to find I could buy both the Weekend Australian and the Melbourne Age newspapers here – what a luxury!

It was a pleasant drive, on a dirt road, out to Mintabie. We crossed the “new” Ghan train line, soon after turning off the highway. The country was almost flat, and scrubby. Could tell we were approaching Mintabie, by the appearance of white hills in the distance – the huge dump heaps from mining.

05-30-1999 mintabie scene.jpg

The white dump heaps of Mintabie in the distance

The Mintabie diggings were quite extensive, stretching for kms along a low ridge line. They use machinery, seeming to dig shafts into the sides of deep bulldozed pits.

05-30-1999 at Mintabie opal fields

White dumped material from opal mining contrasts with surrounding red hills

We encountered a man driving an opal mining machine, as we cruised around town, trying to work the place out, and John got out and stopped him. He showed John some opal, but did not want to sell any.

The settlement is small – general store, pub, school, caravan park – which does not look too bad. Had John known that was here, he would probably have insisted we brought the van out! There was the general air of scruffiness that we have found in other mining camp townships, where the land is basically leased. Lots of derelict and old cars around. Stone shacks, a few more substantial. The hotel was built from stone. The store was a large building.

There were several aboriginal women sitting about outside the store; they looked rather derelict and spaced out. Apparently, they were trying to get money from the shopkeeper – there is a bank agency in the shop. He told one that she’d had $200 only yesterday. I don’t know whether the issue was that there was no more money in the account, or whether he felt she would be better off without another big lot of cash to drink away or have taken off her.

John obtained directions from the store keeper to find someone who might sell him some opal. We have no map of the township, of course. I doubt one exists. Because it is not a place that tourists normally visit, there is no such thing as an information centre. Likewise, there is no place for the amateur visitor to fossick about for opal themselves.

05-30-1999 opal machine mintabie

An opal mining machine on the outskirts of Mintabie

After much difficulty in the maze of tracks that is Mintabie, we found the place the storekeeper meant. And there John was enlightened! The local miners sell only to professional buyers and do not worry about the occasional tourist, because the opal is such high quality that batches begin at $10,000 and go to over a million. That was the end of that idea!

We drove around a bit more and found a place to eat our packed lunch. Saw a nankeen kestrel. Then went back to Marla.

Spent the rest of the afternoon reading the papers and having a cook up – a batch of barley and vegie soup, rock cakes, and some tuna and rice patties for tea – they were alright but needed spicing up somehow. Chilli sauce helped.

The caravan park was chaotically busy again this afternoon, but with a fresh set of travellers.

There was a full moon at night, but it seemed unusually small.