Walgett to Lightning RidgeMay 29, 2015 in Australia
After another day in the Warrumbungle N.P. and a visit to Coonabarabran we headed North-West to Walgett where we had arranged to stay on a sheep property called Caloola with old friends. On the way we hit our first Dirt Road and the caravan handled it very well, including taking dirt and dust samples along the way and depositing them in the cupboards and over a lot of our stuff. (poorly sealed pipe and electrical penetrations). Because of the drought our friends have been forced to sell most of their sheep and only have about 20 now, some of them lambing at the moment. Here the countryside is completely different to the sheep country I’m used to seeing. Very flat with what they call black soil and no grass, just weedy looking prickly plants which the sheep manage to survive on during drought periods. The trees don’t even grow very tall. We were told that when it rains (as little as 2 – 3mm) the ground becomes so soft and boggy that it is impossible for them to leave their property until it dries out. They have built a gravel hard stand up near the front gate where they move their car up to when the rain is forecast, because even their 4 wheel drive can’t get up their 2.5km driveway. The Barwon River flows though their property and is prone to flooding when heavy rains fall. It all sounds a bit bleak but we actually had a really interesting time there (complete with “billy tea” by the billabong) and learned a lot about the area. They also run a Bed and Breakfast business as part of a chain called Outback Beds and have facilities for campers and caravaners.
We reluctantly left Caloola after a couple of nights and continued North to Lightning Ridge which is famous for its opal mining. First we visited the Chambers of the Black Hand which is a fascinating underground mine where the chap who owns it has carved hundreds of sculptures into the walls which are made of sandstone. He was actually there carving a new sculpture when we went through and was happy to have a chat. Later in the day we went on a bus tour around the town and went down into a working opal mine where we learned more about what’s involved in mining opal. (We did lots of stair-climbing during the day). We also visited a shop where opals are cut, polished set into jewellery and sold and were given a demonstration of the process. I wasn’t able to convince Frank it would be a good investment to buy me one though! Our driver took us to other local attractions such as “Lunatic Hill” which is an open cut mine. Another mine up there is owned by an odd 84 year old chap who also loved to have a chat. Also Amigo’s Castle which has been built of stones retrieved from the mines and looks really impressive at first until a closer inspection reveals that it is unfinished and has no roof. The reason there is no roof is that the council rates the property by the area of the roof. No roof No council rates. All these characters are very strange and one wonders whether it’s a pre-requisite for living in Lightning Ridge. The guides told us of the high rate of crime in the area associated with the opal industry, including opal theft from mines at night. Gangs are in the area armed with AK 47 rifles and are not afraid to use them even on the police. Miners encroach on other peoples mines, sell opals and don’t pass on the share of the sale to their partners. This includes Siblings, Father and Son partners, Husband and Wife etc, no one is exempt from the greed up here. The other interesting thing is the collusive opal price fixing by the buyers to keep the price of opals artificially high while they rip of the miners. Interesting place to visit.Read more