Lightning Ridge Black Opal

Lightning Ridge is the Australian home of Black Opal.

Australia's Governor General, the Honourable Bill Hayden AC, named the opal as Australia's national gemstone on 27th July 1993. Of all Australia's opal, Black Opal is the most beautiful, valuable and sought after. Most of Australia's supply, indeed the world's supply come from Lightning Ridge or "the Ridge" as it is known locally. 

Located 8 hours drive north west of Sydney near New South Wales border with Queensland, Lightning Ridge is less a ridge than an ever so slight rise of ground swelling out of Australia's wide brown plains. Sparsely vegetated with scruffy eucalyptus and native grasses, the whole area is dotted with houses, camp sites and humpies. At night the silence is shattered by the roar of portable generators powering all the dwellings that are beyond the reach of the towns electricity supply.

The town is a decent size with paved roads and smart houses that decay at the fringes to the shanties at the surrounding mine sites. The population officially is said to be around 1,100 people although the membership at a local club boasts more than 2,500. No one can really say how many souls inhabit the local area but the Black Opal attracts individuals from all over the world to live and dig for the luminescent gems. 

I have met Parisian showgirls, investment bankers and even the make-up artist who looked after Elizabeth Taylor in some of her biggest movies like Ben Hur and Cleopatra. Serbians, Russians, Mexicans and Kenyans all sifting the earth and trying their luck. Fortune has favoured many and others have found solace and friendship in the outback community and never leave. 

Whilst there is a police presence in the town anyone trying their hand at stealing from a local are usual dealt a rough and sometimes brutal justice. This town in many ways is still a frontier of sorts, hellishly hot in summer and subject to flooding at times. The swarms flood mosquitoes can on occasions be so intense it is almost impossible to see and breathe if outdoors unprotected.

There are many rather unique sights and places to visit in "The Ridge". One of the pastimes of visitors is to sift through some piles of dirt that miners have left aside in their diggings. This is known as "noodling" and some famous Black Opals have been found this way. 

What better way after sifting through the dirt and dust than to relax in the bathwater hot Artesian Bores. 

These bores are from Australia's Artesian Basin, when rain falls upon the inland side of the Great Dividing Range, the water seeps underground and a million or so years later is released above ground into man made pools.

A local way to keep cool in summer is to wear a light shirt into the water, when you step out into the hot wind the evaporative effect is so cooling it takes your breath away!

How Lightning Ridge got its name.

Locals say the that Lightning Ridge received its name from early days when a drover with his dog were camped on the high ground, now the area called “The Ridge”, with a mob of sheep. During a large thunderstorm all were taking shelter under the low trees covering the area when a bolt of lightning struck the mob and killed over 200 head.

Pilots from the Royal Flying Doctor Service that fly into “The Ridge” on a regular basis to fly sick and injured from the area to larger base hospitals report that the thunderstorms when present in the area send their lightning bolts from the base of clouds diagonally to meet the high ground of Lightning Ridge. The reason given for this is a large presence of iron rich ore under the raised ground. Probably not a good place to finish your round of golf in stormy weather.

Shopping for Black Opal

Where better to obtain one of these magnificent gemstones but from the place it was mined, cut and polished? There are stores and mines where you can not only buy these gems but do a tour as well. I have put a selection of these shops and businesses on the menu bar at the top of the page under the heading. Buy Black Opal

Where is Lightning Ridge?

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The overwhelming thing about Lighting Ridge is that it is the real deal, there is little phoney about the locals or the business they conduct. It is hard country and can make for some hard characters but many of them are as good value as the Black Opal that is mined there.

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