The hot Artesian Bore Baths were amazing. We decided to go check them out but upon arriving we not sure whether or not to go in. It was still very cold and we were still wearing long pants and jumpers. After a few minutes discussing it we decided we wouldn’t be up this way for a bit so we bit the bullet and changed into our bathers, had a shower (prerequisite before entering the baths and very chilly in the change rooms) and got into the pools.
There are two pools at Lightning Ridge. The smaller pool is a little cooler than the larger pool. The larger pool maintains a constant 41.5 degrees Celsius. The pools are free and are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. One of the local ladies ( who had the hairiest armpits we had ever seen) was happy to tell us a little about the pools. She said that at times the temperatures get up to 50 degrees in Lightning Ridge and the locals head to the baths to cool off. The water temperature at times is cooler than the air temperature. The water felt quite hot when we first entered the pool but after a while it was a good as soaking in a hot bath.
The water comes from the great Artesian Basin (one of the largest freshwater basin in the world) and the water in the pools come from 1 kilometre below the ground and is approximately 2 millions years old. The basin contains approximately 8,700 megalitres of water. Natural pressure sends the water to the surface through an artesian bore.
Over the last few years’ changes have been made to conserve the amount of water lost through seepage and evaporation. An annual amount of 450 million litres was lost because of this. Water used to flow at 20 litres per second and 800 tonnes of salt entered the landscape. The water is now capped and no longer flows continually and 170kms of underground pipes now replace open drains. Water now flows at 11 litres per second and the equivalent of 450 Olympic sized pools is saved annually. Used water from the bore baths is piped to the opal fields to separate opal from waste rock saving even more water.
You can’t visit Lightning Ridge without trying your hand at noodling. We spent an hour or more searching for opals in the mullock heap beside the visitors centre. We found quite a few small opals and even a black opal. None of them were very good quality but it was still fun trying to find them. Only months before a man found a large black opal in the same mullock pile that was worth a considerable amount of money.
The local aborigines have an explanation of how the opals came to be in Lightning Ridge. According to legend a huge wheel of fire fell to earth and sprayed the countryside with brilliant coloured stones.
Lightning Ridge is the only place in Australia where the highly prized black opal can be found. Black opal has carbon and iron oxide trace elements in it producing a very dark stone that still has hints of blue, green and red. The first European to discover these coloured stones was Charles Nettleton in 1902. Nettleton had been an opal miner at White Cliffs but his luck and money ran out and he moved to Queensland. Convinced that there were more opals across the border he returned to New South Wales and started seriously prospecting on a hill, later known as Nettleton's Hill, on Angledool Station. This was to become the site of Lightning Ridge. The Lands Department later gazetted it as Wallangulla and it was known as that until World War 1 when it reverted to its original name. A number of famous stones have been found at Lightning Ridge, including the 822 g 'Big Ben' and the 'Flame Queen’, which was sold for £80 because the miner hadn't eaten a proper meal for three weeks. August 2005
The story of the walk in mine as told by Amos Randell (Sandy).
I came to Lightning Ridge in my mid forties to start mining. I married a local lady and we had five children together.
I chose the ridge at the walk in mine as they reckoned in those days that the best opal was to be found on the ridge. So I staked a claim at the walk in mine to find my fortune.
But now we all know that this is not true and good opal can be found anywhere.
The first year at the mine I worked with a pick and shovel and candles and moved 2000 yards of dirt by hand during that time. It was very hard work.
It was consistent for me to work up to 16 hours a day down the mine and sometimes at night. The days and nights I worked the mine I remember it got very hot in summer time and I used to go down the mine where it was much cooler.
We used to use flour and water and pour it down the fault lines to see which way the water was running and this gave us a good clue as to where to start digging.
At first I found black nobby’s with no colour and then I got onto some nobby’s with some blue and green they weren’t worth very much though. One of the biggest nobby’s I got weighed 4 oz.
I did find some reasonable ‘trace’ under where the old camp used to be before it burnt down. Most of my good opal I got from the six-mile field.
There was very little water available in those days so we had to catch water where we could to wash our dirt.
I soon got tired of the pick and shovel and made a motorised version of the modern jack hammer which made life a little easier.
In those days a lot of tourist buses came to town. I remember one Easter there were many many buses that came into town as people would go down the walk in mine as this gave them a good idea about how mining was done.
Some notable people who have visited my mine are Lord and Lady Casey and they were amazed at the lifestyle that miners chose to live.
The things I loved about living at the walk in mine was the sunrises and sunsets because I was high on the ridge and it was always a spectacular view with plenty of wildlife and birdlife.
Amos Randell (Sandy) 3/7/1915 – 28/10/2002
We found the walk in
We went to the mine
early in the day.
It was still quite cool
outside so we wore
Inside the mine
it was cold and damp.
We watched a
great short film
about the mine.