/  A Trip To Lightning Ridge

/  A Trip To Lightning Ridge

This year, at the end of Winter, I took a trip with my family to Opal country in Lightning Ridge, north-western NSW.

It was our first proper holiday family since lockdowns, and covid restrictions—an 8-hour drive from Sydney and somewhere I’ve always been interested in visiting. I had worked with a few pieces of black opal in the past and have long wanted to learn more about the magnificent dark stones found in this part of the world.

It was also an opportunity to show my girls the outback. I knew that there would be something out there for each of us: for me, the opals and the potential to form new relationships in my industry. For my husband Michael, the chance to enjoy cooking over fire. For my daughter Amelia, learning about where opal comes from and seeing how they dig it out of the ground—for my little Penelope, falling asleep at night and waking in complete silence. For us together, it was also a chance at some time away, with nowhere else to be, out in the bush, observing wild emus, kangaroos and lizards.

We went with no real plans except to stay about 30 minutes from Lightning Ridge on a farming property called Kigwigil. When we arrived, we spoke with the owner, who turned out to be good friends with a local opal miner, Chris Cheal. He put us in touch straight away, and we arranged to meet.

Chris generously offered me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit a wash plant and working opal mine. With my two girls and husband waiting for me up top, I nervously made my way 40 feet underground. Chris showed me around three claims where they mine. They were dark, cold and a little eerie. Chris also showed me some of the inventive machinery he had built himself, in action. He shared with me stories of the successes he’s had underground and others of struggle and disappointment. I am amazed at what he and his team physically and mentally go through underground.

The opal mines weren’t as claustrophobic as I thought they might be. It was very easy to move around and well equipped; I even saw a little cooktop down there where they must heat their meals while working. It was wonderful to get to know someone who really knows these stones and is so passionate about the industry. It gave me a renewed sense of pride in my work with local gemstone suppliers here in New South Wales.

I have only ever worked with three black opals; one was a client’s heirloom piece, and the other two were from Lightning Ridge, which I purchased through suppliers here in Sydney. I have bought and worked with predominantly white, crystal and boulder opals in the past, but after this trip, I feel inspired to see what I can do with some black and dark opals. To see where these ancient stones are found was a real privilege, and an experience I won’t soon forget.

If you’re interested in working together on a piece of custom jewellery using Lightning Ridge Opal, send me an email info@marinaantoniou.com

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