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  • Mining absolutely stunning natural Australian opal on The Farm, Coober Pedy Australia.

    Opal in the wall on The Farm opal field, Coober Pedy.

    Several years ago we were in Coober Pedy and a bit hard up for places to find opal.

    I went for a fly over on Google maps and found this open cut i knew had been started over 20 years ago but had now been completed to the opal level. We went to check and sure enough it had been abandoned so we had a scratch around for a few days, and here are some of the results in a quick video! Shows opening up, digging in the opal level, some of the stunning precious opal kingstones, and of course, the finished one of a kind pieces of beautiful Australian opal jewelry that resulted. Miing explosion moving mullock..fast

     

    Stunning top opal rough from the dig we made in to beautiful opal jewelry.Rough opal from the dig.

     

     

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  • Mining by hand on Dead Horse Gully Circa 1999 Excerpt from 'Pillarbasher'

    Mining by hand on Dead Horse Gully Circa 1999 Excerpt from 'Pillarbasher'

    Quite a few years later my younger brother Shannon and I were champing at the bit each morning to get to the field. After a sauce with pasty and a farmers union iced coffee, we were totally pumped. Off down the dusty track in the crusty ute to our claim in the desert. In those days we had what is known as a 'self tipper' or automatic hoist. Dead Horse Gully was a favourite field we dubbed "red sauce gully" because of the stunning unusually blood red colour in the opal. On one spot we drove 200 odd feet by hand which is blasting and removing the dirt with 2 x 20 litre buckets on a barrow. We wheeled the buckets to the base of the 45 ft shaft and transferred them into the 50 litre bucket on the automatic hoist, and away she went, up and over and back again. Ironically, when we arrived and were installing the winch, we found 3 $2 coins at the top of the shaft and said, maybe its a sign we will find 6 million! Turned out to be 6 thousand, barely wages at the end of it, but an experience I would probably do over for free.
    At one point in that claim we were trying to open up a 9 inch air shaft that was blocked with gibbers about 30 ft down. We devised a simple plan to drop a sausage of anfo (ammonium nitrate/fuel oil) or 'nitro' locally. With the safety fuse alight, Shannon dropped the plastic bag down the hole attached to a skinny frayed rope with the idea that a small jolt at the bottom would release the sausage and we would crack the blockage. I still clearly remember the look on Shannon’s face when he brought the rope up and the bomb was still attached! There was still a smidge of time on the fuse so I grabbed the rope and hastily dropped it in the hole. Right then we realized the ute was only about ten feet from the hole and could suffer some damage from the blast. I quickly grabbed a short handled shovel and covered the hole thinking it may stop some rocks from flying out. Cerrracckk!! Off went the shot as we woo hooed and leaped with excitement at the adrenaline rush, being not too far from the hole. As the dust cleared, we noticed the shovel had disappeared, then looking upwards saw the shovel spinning at rpm about 150 ft in the air on it's way back down. Thankfully everything missed the ute and we survived. We literally had a blast, got the shaft cleared and the air flowing but all for very little opal in the end. One of the partners was always totally beside himself and yapped his face off every time a bomb exploded, our trusty red heeler cross mining dog Goof, Goofaloofa or Loofy as we liked to call him most. He loved the back of the ute better than anywhere else on earth, like any other bush dog. If we approached speed on the Stuart highway the wind would catch Loof's eyelids and lips, turning him into a freak. Brilliant for a laugh after a hard day mining, being full of endorphins and pretty 'surfed out'.

     Watch to see the process we followed mining this claim, and some of the spoils at the end...

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  • Gold Gem and Treasure article "Pillarbashing in Mintabie" by World Class Opal Circa 1999

    Drilling and blasting, looking for precious opal in Mintabie

    An old World Class Opal article from back in the day detailing an adventure to Mintabie, note the blasting, subsequent seam and resultant fine jewelry set ready for sale. 

    We have been at this a while! 

    The author drilling to place explosives, and then jackpicking after blasting.

    Drilling and blasting underneath the opal level and subsequent jackpicking down of the opal level. Circa 1999.

    Opal seam in the mine, opal freshly dug, and finished fine jewelry for sale.

    The 'kingstone' I cut this stone into a nice larger oval and two smaller ones, then had them set into solid 18k gold as a pendant and earring set. 

    The photos are pretty bad as I only had an analogue SLR camera but was happy to have documented the process!

    Sadly both Australian federal and state Liberal governments have shut the township of Mintabie meaning this opal field, and the opportunities it afforded to adventurous, entrepreneurial pioneers and indeed the local indigenous people, is now virtually abandoned. 

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  • Finding opal in the city... Pillarbasher continued..

    Rough opal parcel

    Saddleworth was the archetypal shire, only largely bereft of the whimsical characters and warmth depicted in Tolkien’s work. Although to be fair, it did have its share of wonderful people. 

    It was a post war relic, steeped in religiosity, but not all that spiritual. Really just a small village that existed to support the surrounding farming community and to otherwise navel gaze, or to gaze over the fence to criticize the neighbours, for little else to do. 

    The judgemental gaze of so many old Methodists and Church of England parishioners is indelibly seared into my mind. In hindsight, it was probably well deserved disapproval as I was a well known terror around town.  

    Around 1986 I was staying with my much older sister in Glenelg, a beach side suburb of Adelaide.

    My two slightly younger nephews and I were madly exploring the nearby area, searching desperately for some mischief, and found the patawalonga river channel.

     The Patawalonga is a fully concrete river channel running for several kilometres where we roamed and found drain pipes to climb in full of spiderwebs and rubbish and several inches of water flowing.

    I clearly remember balancing on the edge of the concrete slope trying to avoid slipping into the water when I spotted a white stone by itself beneath the 3 or four inches of flowing water. It had a familiar ‘opalescence’ to it. Drawing closer I detected a fleck of red, then green twinkling at me… ‘that's opal!’ 

    I was incredulous, wading in,  I picked up the stone and marvelled at the large almost golf ball sized chunk of white based red and green opal. I didn't know it then, but it was what we call ‘pinfire red grey’ Although its name is inaccurate for much so named Coober Pedy material, as it is often not ‘grey’ at all, but porcelain white in base colour. Although not the most expensive of Australian opal, it is still very highly sought after for jewellery.

    Standing amazed, looking around, I spotted another stone a bit farther upstream, and again, a decent chunk of the same opal! And another! and yet another.. Soon we were in a ‘patch’ where there were close to fifty or so decent size pieces of the opal scattered all around. My nephew recalls me demanding he find a container to fill up.

    The opal was scattered 50 metres or so downstream from a footbridge, we assumed someone must have thrown it over the bridge. We will never know why, but certainly as kids, we didn't really care either.. 

    This experience was to cement my fascination with opal.

     I had previously wondered if my destiny lay in the opal fields, now I knew it. 

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