White Cliffs - 'Australia’s First Opal Town'

on . Posted in New South Wales Opal Mines

white_cliffs.jpg White Cliffs - discovered by George Hooley who was in a party of Kangaroo hunters in 1884. 'Australia’s First Opal Town' was developed after the pioneering Opal buyer and promoter Tully Wollaston bought the first parcel in 1889. White Cliffs was the jewel in the colony’s crown producing the bulk of the world's Opals for more than a quarter century. Several syndicates were floated in London; each employed hundreds of men, who worked on a tribute system.

Large amounts of stable seam opal brought a renaissance into the overseas markets in England, USA, Germany and France. Although often passed as Hungarian Opal until the turn of the twentieth century, Australian Opal was easier to value, clean and manufacture. Opal of this quality had not been seen for more than a century, thus the new Australian Opal soon gained credibility. Appreciation for the national gemstone developed and it became highly sought-after, which in turn spurned the discovery of new fields like Lightning Ridge.


White Cliffs was richly endowed with opalised fossils and is home to the ‘pineapple’, a replacement of a mineral crystal of glauberite or ikaite which is first replaced by calcite and then opalised.

pineapple.jpgBy 1899 around four thousand people lived within two miles of the town area of White Cliffs. No less than fourteen opal buyers advertised in the town's own newspaper, The Opal Miner, the best known being Mr Ted Murphy, who represented Mr Wollaston on the field. There were as many as 2500 miners and production peaked around £150,000 in 1901 and 1902 according to official records. The actual figures were likely several times that as Murphy alone claimed to have been buying more than £10,000 a month.

There were five hundred odd timber and iron houses, as well as countless 'calico mansions', tents, fabricated from Hessian and bark, or canvas. There was an underground restaurant, bakery, and bar; however dugouts were scarce and most miners lived in mine shafts. Intense summer heat drove the first miners underground and by 1900, most residents had followed suit.

Two outlying fields are 4 miles away; the Bunker aka. Gemville or Barclays Bunker, and Poverty Flat aka. Clancy's just north of White Cliffs.

To this day eighty per cent of the 200 local residents live in dugouts and there is excellent underground accomodation a truly iconic experience not to be missed!

So go on! Get 'off the beaten track' and visit this fabulous Aussie treasure of a tourism destination, to plan your trip goto www.whitecliffsopalfield.com

Sources & image Credits:



Sue-White opals29 June 2013
Dear Rainbow Serpent,
Thank you for your email and membership.
It is great to know that you are out there promoting Australia's National gemstone & NSW emblem.
Keep up the good work, I love your concept.
Sue White - Orana Glitz & Glamour Extravaganza Inc Assn.

15 march 2013
Hi Peter,
Colourful characters are key,
your Facebook page and the photos look like there are some fantastic people!
We loved the look of Tarzan of Opalton.
Gemma Brady - Boundless productions.tv

Alexander fink.PhysicsPHD opal28 Nov 2012
I would like to welcome your information page on opal,
with detailed information about nearly everything their is to know in a general term.
Alexander Fink PhD - Dept. of Physics La Trobe University

5 August 2010
Hi from another opal lover.
Just wanted to say I love your site, a wealth of information.
I always send people to your page for opal info.
Kind Regards
Sean Tapner - Planet Opal

8 july 2010
Dear Rainbow Serpent,
Will be recommending your website as a primary reference to 15 Macquarie Uni media students who will be doing a PR project for us as part of their assessment soon.
Best wishes
Renata - Opalminded

Opalminded recommend opalsinformation6 June 2010
Dear Rainbow Serpent, 
Greetings from Opal Minded In Sydney.
We are all very impressed with your website – one of the best things that has happened to this Industry for a long time. 
We would love to share it with the visitors to our website. 
Would you mind If we post with us links to your website, 
also on our facebook and twitter. 
Best wishes
Renata, John, Nelly, Fabrice and Summer

Fri, Apr 16, 2010 
Good Morning,
I have just found your wonderful website.
I produce a monthly e-newsletter which is circulated to the Tourism businesses in Coober Pedy and neighbouring stations plus the Info Centres around SA & the NT.
I wondered if I could use some of your Opal info in my October Edition (Opal Month), mainly the parts in your “About Opal” section – names, spiritual info etc.
I would obviously reference it to your website noting the address so others could read your site. 
Sandra Harris
Tourism Officer - Coober Pedy Information Centre

5 April 2010
I am wanting to use your site in an assignment as it is a superb example
of a site to use for a primary teaching unit on gemstones.
Many thanks,