Mining Opals – A Labour of Love
The opal miner must possess special qualities in order to survive in the rugged terrain of outback Australia. It goes without saying that opal mining takes dedication, sacrifice, commitment and passion. Being a miner means being able to see the beauty in opal not just the money.
Our mining team continues to work in the opal fields displaying the same passion and drive that lured them to the opal fields many years ago. They continue to explore the wonders that the earth has to offer and the excitement of making the find of a lifetime!
Mining for Opals
There are two main methods that are currently used when mining for opals in the outback. They are underground and open cut mining.
Open Cut Mining
Opal is sandwiched between hard layers of sandstone. The rock layers are drilled or blasted through with explosives to enable the bulldozers to get to the opal bearing ground. Open cut mining uses heavy machinery to cut wide furrows in the ground slicing through these thin layers of sandstone until the opal level is reached.
Although this method is more expensive than underground mining, the chances of mining opal are increased because such a large area is being covered. Having said this, it depends on the good eyes and reflexes of the “spotters” to pick up gem opal from uneven levels. Unfortunately, it is estimated that 30% of the opal is missed through neglect.
Underground Mining / Sinking a shaft
Underground mining is one of the most effective ways of finding opal although it is also the most labor intensive. Underground mining requires sinking a shaft to a certain depth where the miners must descend and search for the “seam” or “nobby” patch of opal dirt that may contain opal.
Underground miners work with hoists to haul mullock to the surface. Mullock is the whitish clay that must be removed from the mines so that the opal miner can get down to the opal bearing levels. Once a miner gets into the bearing level, he uses a technique called gouging to search for opal. Gouging means using a small pick to remove the dirt in the earth surrounding the opal.
Noodling is the activity of going through what other miners have discarded. All you need is a keen eye. An abandoned open cut mine is a good place for a noodler to try their luck. Some people have even tried large scale machine noodling by placing large amounts of opal dirt on a conveyer belt and passing it under ultra violet light. The ultra violet light detects opal by showing its iridescence.
Noodling is a very popular activity with tourists whilst many locals make a living out of searching through heaps of discarded earth in search of opal.