A couple of years ago the Grace Opal brothers were pillarbashing on the Dead Horse Gully field about 35km north West of Coober Pedy.
It was getting late and being the ‘ol fulla’(Lochy from World Class Opal) was tired and hungry but the young fulla (Shannon from Kimberley Opal), was champing at the bit to go and check an old abandoned claim on 15 Mile.
Lochy wanted to go back to town for food but Shannon convinced him with “nah we’ll just jump down that old cave in claim and there’ll be another cave in and it will be full of shells!” Given the distances involved, they decided to travel the 20k’s to 15 Mile for a quick ‘bash’
They arrived and descended the old claim where they had found 30k over a couple of months of work about 20 years back. Armed with the new, lightweight and powerful battery powered UV torches, the hungry opal hunters started checking over the old workings afresh. There was quite a bit of interesting trace and they had probably found a few hundred bucks worth of skin shells after half an hour of searching..
This mine is enormous, it spans 300 metres long by about 70 metres wide and the main level has been removed to a spine chilling degree.. At one end of the claim, there is a gargantuan cave in the size of a very, very large house. This happened while the miners with the tunnelling machine that did most of the work were still IN the mine!
According to a first hand account from one of the partners, they were tunnelling away as normal when they noticed dirt falling from the ceiling indicating major movement above. They promptly backed the machine out of the affected area thinking some of the roof may collapse. Shortly afterwards, a cave in of horrific proportions sunk maybe 20% of the entire claim a whole 20 feet with a deafening crash, crushing the pillars beneath like toothpicks and plunging them into darkness and horror as the mine filled with thick dust.
That was the last day those miners spent underground, the fear it struck into their hearts seemed to cure them of opal fever. God save the opal hunter from such a horrible fate.. Although it could certainly have been much worse.
At any rate, Lochy was at one end of the claim chipping away when Shannon came scurrying excitedly from a couple of hundred metres away down the labyrinth of caverns, “Oi! We’re effin rich man… seriously… There’s heaps of these and it’s a massive pocket! “ pulling a handful of stunning fully opalised shells with beautiful dark crystal bars from his pocket.
Lochy quickly left his bit of trace to lend his pick to the situation.
It was uncanny, exactly as Shannon had said at Dead Horse Gully a hour or so before, they went down and found a newly collapsed area and there was a massive bed of shells exposed in the roof. They didn’t need a shovel, just several hours of picking from the roof and picking up and breaking level lumps on the floor.
Lochy went up to see what they could use to carry all of the opal out and all he could find was an old sleeping bag, they filled it up along with several other makeshift containers. Pulling the bag full of opal level to the surface late that night proved a dangerous job due to the belled out shaft and extreme fatigue from the extraction work, but it got done without casualties.
Back in Adelaide and a full week of clipping and cleaning later, some stunning gems were emerging.
Graceopal.pty.ltd eventually donated a 170k fossil opal collection, mostly from the Old 15 Mile find, to the South Australian Museum under the Cultural Gifts tax offset scheme. The brothers have dedicated these items their late Dad Kevin who introduced them to the fascinating world of the outback opal hunter.
Most of this opal has been sold rough or set into precious metals at worldclassopal.net and kimberleyopal.com where some is still available.
Here’s hoping for another strike like this or better for the company. It certainly makes life in the desert more exciting and rewarding.
Thanks for reading, watching and for being interested in the amazing phenomenon that is Australian opal!