The average person who may live a normal life with a desk job in this World cannot even begin to comprehend the extent of hard, physical work that is required to discover any sort of opal of value. Many miners work for months, even years and never see any gem opal. It is very, very difficult to discover gem quality opal. A lot of miners can only find what is known as potch and colour, which is the lowest grade of opal that they can sell to buyers in town to fund the next days operation. A common misconception by people is that opal miners are very wealthy. Only about 1% of miners can call themselves rich with a successful, large operation! It takes a lot of self-education about the Earth, experience and hard learnt lessons to know where to dig to maximize your chances in discovering gem quality opal. To be a master in this industry, it also requires a lot of self-discipline with money management. The best miners treat their operation as a large-scale business, rather than just a job.
Miners work very long days and sometimes even into the nights when they are onto a good trace of opal in their mine; they do not want to stop. This is because sometimes miners can go a very long time without finding any good opal. Nothing is guaranteed in this game; you need to follow the opal when you find it and make sure you get it all! There are stories that we have heard over the years working in this industry. I’d like to share a few:
A boulder opal miner in Winton dug for 3 years without finding anything of substantial value. It put him $300,000 in debt. There are huge costs involved in running the machinery in boulder opal mines. To run and maintain the excavator is the main expense. This man was about to give up and move claims when he hit the jackpot pocket of gem boulder opal. He made $3 Million from it. The find made him vomit from the overwhelming emotions that hit him.
A group of miners spent 9 months digging underground in Lightning Ridge. They found nothing of substantial value. They were camping on site and had a portable toilet setup. The toilet spot was full, so they needed to make a new one. They dug a hole for the new toilet and struck gem black opal of substantial value. One of the opals from this trace was valued at $150,000 alone.
When you hit good opal traces you need to follow them for a few reasons. The main one is to find something of value. There is other reasons, however. If you find opal traces and leave the mine; go away for a few weeks back to town or take a holiday…it may not be there when you get back. There are people who break into mining claims, use your machinery, and dig out your opals when you are not there. It’s very important miners secure their mines, set up cameras and check on their mining sites regularly when unattended. There have been instances where miners have found people in their mines and buried them alive. People have been shot and killed for trespass on opal claims. It’s not an uncommon story in outback opal towns.