The history of opal mining in Australia is one of danger, regeneration, and success against great odds. As far back as 4,000 BCE, humans have treasured opals and mined them in various locations, such as Kenya and Hungary. However, due to an unlikely combination of geology, fortuitous finds, and the two world wars, Australia has become the world’s primary source of opal since the 1880s. In the process, a rich opal-mining culture has risen around its mining fields.
Australia produces roughly 95% of the world’s precious opal, including black opal. This most valuable variety is found at Lightning Ridge, the largest producer of opal by value. However, the town of Coober Pedy is the largest producer by mass. Coober Pedy’s culture is so rooted in opal mining that a mining truck is raised on poles above its town sign.
The Beginnings of Opal Mining in Coober Pedy
Around 1915, a teenage boy whose father was gold prospecting discovered opal in Coober Pedy. Although the first opal claim was staked soon after, it took time before opal mining took off in the area. After WWI, returning soldiers, accustomed to living in trenches, drifted to the opal fields to seek their…