Cash and Treasures: Digging for black opals in Australia

Cash and Treasures, as mentioned in a previous post, is a Travel Channel show that often features kid friendly places. Host Kirsten Gum, an engaging sort, heads to where you can dig up treasure. I’ve been watching every Wednesday for the past several weeks, finding out more and more about the bounty one can find above and below ground. The finder gets to keep all of it for a price.

Episode: Digging for black opals

What are they? Stones of a variety of color ranging from black to blue with the shades in between that shine up into various patterns and designs. The design influences their value. Most of the opals in the world–95% come from this part of the world.

Location: Lightning Ridge, Australia–a small mining town that’s a bit of a poke to get to. Gum said it took 11 hours through the Outback.

Digging details: Gum started her quest by heading to Black Opal Tours located in Lightening Ridge. This tour establishment is a place to find out about the various types of opal patterns and their value, as well as the history of opal mining in the area. While Gum was in Lightning Ridge, besides digging, she hob-nobbed with some of the miners and downed some beers, “stubbies,” to find out about the miners experience and secrets. They kept the secrets to themselves. None of them looked like they are getting rich.

After sitting in the sun in 110 degree weather, sifting though mine dirt piles by hand, hoping to find an opal that someone missed–but to no avail, Gum headed down into the mine of two brothers whose family has been mining for four generations. The brothers blasted one wall of the mine to loosen dirt for Gum’s benefit which gave her the view she wanted– seams of color. As she describes it, the colors range from blues to purples to greens.

Gum grabbed some rock with black opals inside and headed to Sidney to get them appraised at the National Opal Collection, Australia’s leading opal company. The aim was to find out their value and to see which ones might be turned into jewlery. Only one of the stones was worth turning into something. The others weren’t big enough, or didn’t have enough value. For example, Gum was told one of them might be a nice addition for a kid’s rock collection. My son would find it cool.

The 4 1/2 carat opal that hung around Gum’s neck at the end of the episode was worth $500. Gum was pleased with the results and felt that getting hot and dirty to get this opal was worth the effort.

In case you may think that finding black opals could be easy, here’s a telling comment by one of the miners who sifted though the dirt with Gum for awhile. “You need the patience of a 99 year-old virgin.”

Other things to see in Lightning Ridge:

Check out Kirsten’s blog for her impressions of Lightning Ridge and what it’s like to mine for opals.