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lLIGHTNING RIDGE

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After walking through the opal mine, which was 80 feet underground, accessible only by very steep steps, I
have the utmost respect for the miners who choose to spend so many hours every day mining these beautiful stones.  In the majority of mines the work is done with a pick and shovel because, not only is heavy equipment expensive but it also destroys a lot of the precious black opal.

The most despised section of the community are the "ratters".  These are people who spy on claims to ascertain whether there have been any good finds.  If they see evidence that the owner of the claim has struck opal, they wait until after dark, or when the claim is unattended and go down and completely strip the claim of opal bearing rock.  Miners have their own way of dealing with ratters and as is common in small communities, someone usually "talks".  There have been a few instances where people have been found at the bottom of  80 foot mine shafts after accidentally falling in during the night.

We were fortunate enough to meet two local identities, Dot and Lloyd.  Dot is a dealer in opals and Lloyd is a gem cutter. We spent many hours in their home, which doubles as their "office".  I had never seen such an eye popping collection of opals, as evidenced by this photograph, which by the way was NOT posed.  Dot and Lloyd were extremely generous with their hospitality and introduced us to other friends, Denise and George, who like many of the residents arrived for a short holiday and have remained indefinitely.

I was very taken with the sign which was outside their home.  It is typical of the wry sense of humour prevalent in remote areas of Australia.

It became obvious that we would not be able to fly out when we had planned to because of the adverse weather conditions both in the Ridge and also in Canberra, and we were marooned for an additional four days - I might add that we were not exactly breaking our hearts about the enforced extension of our visit  as it enabled us to explore the township a little more.   Unfortunately due to the rain and local flooding we were unable to go out into the various mining areas surrounding the township. 

We were told that normally, miners come into town with their rough opals and it's a common sight to see the main street lined with parked cars, with miners selling their rough opals to buyers alongside their cars.    I did see one such "deal" so I can vouch for the fact that it does happen.  I can readily believe that thousands of dollars changes hands in the main street during these deals.  Some dealers, however rent a room in the Black Opal Motel for the day and do their dealing from there.  Although "the Ridge" has all the appearances of being very laid back about the amount of opal which is in evidence and the money which changes hands, don't let that fool you ..... security systems are there in abundance but they are not overt.

One of the most unique buildings in Lightning Ridge is Amigo's Castle.  Not much is known about Amigo, however he built the castle himself  out of local rock.   It's an amazing achievement and no one knows, not even Amigo himself, when it will be finished.  Understandably it's taken him many years to build as much as he has.   The photograph on the right shows where the ballroom will be when its completed.

One of the highlights of our stay in "the Ridge" was a visit to the Goondee Aboriginal Keeping Place.   It is run by June and Roy Barker, who are members of one of the aboriginal tribes which live in the area.  It was a fascinating and at times poignant experience.   June told us, without bitterness,  of the history of aboriginal tribes in the area and for the first time I understood and was thoroughly ashamed of the treatment these people received at the hands of successive Australian Governments and the misguided "do-gooders" who ran the aboriginal missions.  June and Roy have a wonderful collection of ancient aboriginal tools and weapons, as well as an authentic gunyah (shelter) and Roy, together other members of the aboriginal community, makes magnificent traditional artifacts which are for sale.