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Opal mining at Lightning Ridge in New South Wales is undertaken by many individual miners, each working their own claim that can be no more than 50 metres by 50 metres in size. No miner can hold more than two licences. These are the basic rules of opal mining at Lightning Ridge, although, in recent years, a miner has to complete a safety course and undertake mine management training before registration of a claim will be granted.

Opal Mining at Lightning Ridge is Hard Work
Opal mining at Lightning Ridge is all carried out underground. Most of these mines are worked at a depth of around 25 metres after a hole of about one metre in diameter is drilled as a shaft. The miner then goes down this shaft and begins digging a drive, or tunnel, using either a jackhammer, or other similar hand held mining equipment, in his or her search for the elusive gem stone. The 'dirt' removed from the drive by the miner is taken to the surface by means of a blower or hoist and placed into the back of a truck.

The dirt, which comprises clay and gravel, is then washed for several hours in a cement mixer especially modified for this type of procedure. It is then called an agitator by the miners. This results in producing tailings which are closely gone over for any evidence of opal “colour.”

All Mining of Opal at Lightning Ridge is Carried out by Individual Miners
There is no large company mining opal at Lightning Ridge, it is all mined by either individuals, or a group of miners who have formed small partnerships. Partnerships help take much of the frustration out of the work that is more often than not a fruitless exercise. The larger the number of miners banding together, the more the chance of one or two of them striking it rich. However, the find in this case has to be shared among others in the partnership.

It is also the case that many miners have found it highly rewarding, proving that if you are willing to work hard you increase your chances of coming across a valuable opal, particularly the black opal that is unique to the Lightning Ridge opal field. For this reason people come from all over the world to try their hand at opal mining at Lightning Ridge.

Opal Contains all Colours of the Spectrum
Opal is sought after because of it containing all colours of the spectrum. It can contain iridescent greens and deep, clear blues through to fuchsia, red and golden orange colours. An opal can also be brilliantly dark or delicately pale, some displaying a countless number of combinations. Some opals reveal all their sparkling colours all the while and others again can appear quiet and surprising, only displaying brilliance when moved. There is no other gemstone that changes colour as you observe it.

The Black Opal Gave Lightning Ridge Worldwide Recognition
There are few opal fields in the world and Lightning Ridge itself is rare among these because of the black opal. Lightning Ridge became famous because of the discovery of the black opal in its region. The outside world took a while to recognise the importance of the Lightning Ridge black opal as nobody had ever seen such a gem before. However, determined efforts by Lightning Ridge miners finally won the day and it is now widely acclaimed as the rarest and most valuable opal in the world.

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