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.
By 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:
SALTBUSH RAINBOW: THE EARLY DAYS AT WHITE CLIFFS, GWEN ROWE, 1998.