Blood Diamonds & Battlers
The United Nations General Assembly recognized that conflict diamonds are a crucial factor in prolonging brutal wars in parts of Africa. Fortunately Australia is and always has been a stable country with strong labour rights and a uniquely egalitarian ethic.
During the Great Shearers' Strikes in the 1890s, five hundred shearers were camped just south of Winton in outback Queensland as the town was placed under marshal law. This was not only the beginning of the foundation of the Australian Labor Party, but an opportune time when disaffected men without work were willing to chance their luck; It is by no coincidence that Opalton, 100 kilometers further south, developed into a township of 600 (nearly twice Winton's population) during the Great Opal Rush of 1895.
Australian Opals have almost always been mined by individuals, families and small partnerships. Since Opal production began in earnest at the turn of the 20th Century numerous companies have floated over the years, in an attempt to become large scale producers, all have had limited long term economic success.
How 'bout some Dinkum Blood Red Opals!?
Red is the most sought after colour in gemstones, red on black opals are worth $10,000 per carat or $50,000 per gram. Although this sounds expensive - gem Opals are a bargain - when you consider that a monochromatic stone such as a red ruby could set you back 10 times that and a red diamond 100 times that price!
By 1854 the Australian 'Gold Rushes' were in full swing when miners, government soldiers and police went to battle. The blood soaked into Australian soil as the miners took Eureka Stockade fighting to abolish the harsh system of licensing imposed on them by the government and the cruel and inhumane treatment meted out to them by the administrative level. From this bloody battlefield came the Miner's Right.
In the 1880's the first 'Opal Rushes' began in Queensland. Many of the first Opal gougers on the Queensland Opal fields were disaffected shearers and station-hands who had little or no geological knowledge. They were however joined by a number of miners who left the Victorian goldfields, after hearing the stories of Opal strikes in western Queensland.
For Henry Davenport and his family to reach for the Fermoy in search of Opal, they would have to had to bypass a number of producing Opal fields, including the Yowah, where one of the famous claims was found by another Victorian Goldminer, Mr Evans.
The Opalers came by horse, cart, buggy, wagonette or humping their swag. Some, after leaving their horses at the nearest station, hitched a ride with the mailman or a hawker going to the outlying Opal fields.
In 1895, Banjo Patterson wrote "Waltzing Matilda" - Australia's unofiicial national anthem, whilst visiting Dagworth Station 100km north-west of Winton. The Kynuna Opal fields had been discovered only 30 km west of Dagworth Homestead a year earlier.
Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong,
Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
The 'swagman' was an itinerant worker, his bed roll bundled his belongings, he likely could have specked a colourful shard or even had a dig on his foot-weary travels.
Up jumped the swagman and sprang into the billabong,
"You'll never catch me alive", said he,
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me".
Combo Waterhole, the 'billabong', where Patteron's 'swagman' met his fate is also surrounded by Opal mines. Alas the swaggie's secret spots went with him!
The Opal diggers came from all over the globe. Mostly Irish, Anglo-Saxons, Germans, Scandinavians or Chinese in the early days. The shafts they dug were generally rectangular with the exception of the numerous Chinese diggings in which the shafts were sunk with rounded ends to save time, or as superstition would have it - 'so the devils couldn't hide in the corners'.
Cobb & Co. connected the nascent Australian Opal fields, from Eromanga in Queensland to White Cliffs NSW, ferrying German Opal traders who played an influential role in the development of an industry which became a crowning glory of the colony. The advent of The First World War (1914-18) meant the relationship between Germany and Australia came to an impasse until the postwar era.
Europeans, predominantly of Balkan decent, were the main inhabitants and the driving force behind the Australian Opal industry's greatest boom period - centered around Coober Pedy between the 1960's and 1970's. During the late 1980's the Coorcoran Rush saw the population of Lightning Ridge boom to over 7000 as home to more than 50 nationalities.
Attracted by various ventures these tenacious individuals soon find themselves struck by 'Opal Fever 'and over time Opal mining has developed into a profession.
Sources & Image Credits:famousdiamonds.tripod.com/moussaieffreddiamond.html
Opal Miner at his campsite, Lightning Ridge, 1911. B & W Photograph by E.C.Kempe. nla.pic-vn3801038 used with permission from the National Library of Australia
P.R. Evans Collection & photography ( Red on Black)
SWEAT, TEARS AND BLOOD RED OPAL, Ron McKenzie, 2000.
THE Opaline COLLECTION (Photo. Black opal)
TO THE DIGGINGS, Geoff Hocking, 2000. (Lithograph)
Wikipedia on Banjo Patterson's famous bush ballad "Waltzing Matilda