This article was written before
1972 --- so many changes have taken place - good road from Walgett NSW to
Lightning Ridge NSW - no train to Walgett.
You get off at Dubbo (central New
South Wales) & catch bus (railway bus) through --- a pleasant trip ---
seeing more country.
Quite a few people mentioned may
not be living.
Accommodation can now be procured
at Grawin @ Rosa's; --- motels at Lightning Ridge; but of course not the
"free" run of the fields as in the old days "scratching" for opal.
- by Poppy Day - written after
the events in 1972 @ Guyra near Armidale NSW AUSTRALIA
Opal - Here I Come
From Sydney to Grawin
You can take a train from Sydney
to Walgett, if you happen to be like me with no transport of your own. On
arriving at Walgett, if it be daytime, & you may make enquiries,
especially if arriving on a Friday or a Monday, you will most likely get a
Now where do you make enquiries?
If a man do a pub crawl; if a woman, you will have to do the same, or
maybe ask a taximan, or inquire at some shop. It may look a big place, but
the business people know where most people came from. A bakery, too, is a
Grawin is between thirty & forty
miles from Walgett, & not the best of roads, but still the school bus
from Camborah, weather permitting, comes in every day. Comborah is eight
miles from Grawin. Grawin people come in for supplies, business & an
outing, mostly on the two days mentioned above.
The weather there is fantastic for
winter. No doubt there are cold days, but it does not penetrate like the
cold elsewhere. Also due to the fact that I was living in a tent, I had
to keep moving for there was no warm corner to nestle into, & the cooking
was done in the open so it was up & out to activity.
The activity was so engrossing
too, one forgets the defects. Apart from the specking & sifting, I worked
down in the mine. First thing in the morning, on descending the forty foot
ladder, the warmth off the earth seemed to come up to meet you & wrap
itself around you. It's a lovely embracing feeling. But then at midday
when it is so hot on top, it is lovely & cool below - until the
perspiration commences to run, because of the pick flying on to & off that
hard wall, or round those "white horses". If Cobb & Co. had still been
running, I would have made a fortune selling to them.
People have asked me, "What are
'white horses'?" I could tell you but not in ladylike terms. They are
like great big pieces of coral. Someone told me (I hope they weren't
kidding) that they can weigh up to twenty eight pounds. Myself I dug out
many. One was large, & shaped like a fan, but very thick & much heavier!
Another was shaped just like a mushroom.
We worked in an old deserted mine.
I can truthfully say "worked", for even if I never struck a blow, I did
work to crawl up a twenty five foot drive with a candle, pick, shovel &
all requirements. Crawl! --- the only job I ever did crawl for. No height
high enough to even kneel in, & there I chased & wished I could have
roped & saddled those "horses". I can agree willingly & with knowledge,
& with those who say there is opal where "white horses" are, & I can
disagree with knowledge with those who say that's where opal is. All I
found behind them was another "white horse".
Then that glorious sight of potch.
Potch is opal that is too young. We were a million years too early. I did
suggest to my partner that we put it back & call later - much later! It
is really a beautiful sight, starting like a thread of cotton to --- at
times, one & a half inches, in colours of either white, grey, green-grey,
blue & black. The black is very beautiful, sometimes having on its face
(that is the edge facing out) little white patterns which make pictures.
I saw a beautiful piece containing in white, a large bird perfectly
formed, with some animal in its claws, tearing it to pieces, whilst on
the other side, where it was broken, was a perfect octopus. There was
"Caspar, the Ghost", even to the big eye & the tentacles.
Flynny used to say, "Follow the
potch." I asked " -- to left or right?" But don't talk to me about
the grey! I worked in a gentle & hard way, with my heart hammering & my
hands trembling, on what appeared to be a lovely green. A beauty in
candle light. Up that forty foot ladder I flew. No professional thief
could have shaken more than I. Out of my pocket I brought the stone to
the glorious light of day - a piece of orangey grey potch! But you'll
always try again.
That opal is the most flirtatious
lady that ever played. She leads you on & on. In fact down the mine I'll
swear I've heard a feminine voice saying "This is the way! This is the
way!" so softly & persuasively. I followed - & went through a wall into
nothing. Again I followed into a wall & nothing. That made two holes in
the wall. Many years ago there was a cafe called "The Hole in the Wall"
but you did get something from that hole.
I vowed once, if when I pulled out
this "white horse" (fifteen days of it) I'd quit the tunnel if there
was another behind it. There was! So I decided to go into the next
tunnel & work into the back of them, so out I crawled & up the back tunnel
I went. I drove the pick in, but that damnable "horse" moved faster than
I, & there he was, sitting waiting for me, as proud as a "wellbred
stallion". I gave up.
At night, throbbing & sore, elbows
aching with the continual hammering onto hard sandstone, that you don't
know whether to stretch them out , bend them up, or leave them on top of
the sleeping bag to cool off, which finishes up being too cool, so you put
them under, & so you lie, & then your legs start to ache. Gosh & on top of
this, the darned night owl commences its usual cry "More potch! More
potch! More potch!" You listen for a while with a grin, then you turn
over with a groan, & your stretcher groans in unison. You think, "He
could be right! He could be!"
Next day, you set off early, with
hope in your heart & the pick in your hands. The birds start saying, "Be
quick! Be quick!" so you think maybe they are right too, so you hasten a
little. On reaching, you commence to descend when suddenly another bird
pipes up with "This way! This way!" Gosh I think of what Flynny says - we
are "opal hollicks" & therefore I have the "dry horrors". So what does
one do in a chase like this? This is the second time that I have quoted
Flynny. So maybe I should enlighten you somewhat. His correct name is Mr
Flynn & he resides @ Combara, but has a mine at Grawin, adjoining the one
that we worked in. Being good chums, we turned to him for advice &
received it, seriously or humourously. Well known to many people for
many years & sought out by many.
Flirting with Lady Opal @ Grawin
was worth all one felt & suffered for it was a wonderful experience.
The glory of seeing that potch running through those walls, gleaming &
sparkling in the candlelight, would be hard to explain to anyone who has
not had the experience of mining. Also when you spiked large lumps out,
to see the yellow sandstone running into pink into all sorts of designs &
patterns that it seems sacrilege to break it. The natural beauty of
pattern is made by years of pressure & water soakage. No hand could print
nor mind imagine.
As mentioned previously, Grawin is
thirty eight miles from Lightning Ridge. You travel towards & through
Combara from Walgett to Grawin & from Grawin to Lightning Ridge. You must
pass through Combara which is really the name of a large station or ranch
owned by the Newtons in the past, & still is, as far as I know.
Grawin is isolated & the fields
are small, but after rain there is good specking but take food & water.
There is a dam there but windmills pump up the eater into tanks. From the
tanks you take your water, & you can also have a good shower under some.
If no wind - no water. The water is far from the best, although people
living there get used to it, & most permanent dwellers have their own
tanks. There is good water on the bore @ Rotten Plains, some miles away,
from which a few of the inhabitants get their supply.
There are the usual tourist
attractions, opals good, opals shattered, opals not, opals polished for
fifty cents, which you find on the fields. It's surprising how beautiful
some of your simple little stones come out of the polisher's hands. There
are puddlers going fast & furiously over the old ground & some getting
opal, too. As a tourist attraction, & a day's pleasure, it is fun, but
make it your daily chore & be anxious for something to come up,
representing your "bread & butter", then the job is hard, especially out
in that dust. For it is dry puddling - meaning no water & under that sun.
No shade as I said. Even in early winter that sun can be hot.
There are also quite a few mines.
One we call the "Rocket" up on Hammond Hill, because it is so high to
the top of the mullock heap. This mine is all electric even the tipper.
I'm not including the men. They may be, but up to the present, they
haven't given me a shock - not to say they couldn't & after reading this
article they possibly might.
If you happen to
see a miner up on top of his shaft with a mirror on his hand, now don't go
misjudging him by asking him what powder (or rouge) he uses or telling
him that he really DOES need a shave. He has already before coming up,
filled his drums with dirt down below, stood the handles of the drums up,
& now, up on top, he gets the sun in the mirror & by knowing how to use
it, he can see his bucket as he manoeuvres the ropes with several hooks on
it. He hooks his drum & hauls it up & tips it & so on; for it's a long
way down to load each one. Two people should really work a mine for this
The gravel there has been leased
by "Crush Tiles" of Castle Hill (suburb of Sydney NSW) for it is
termed as unusual in such manner that it sets well, looks attractive in
driveways, & can be graded in equal sizes, also polishes with use. I saw
old fireplaces that were made by biscuit tins being filled with it, &
although the tins had rusted away, that gravel was quite firm. One old
resident had built most of his hut with small tins filled & although the
hut was down, most of the tins still contained the gravel. The colours of
these pebbles are mostly rusty.
Lapidaries can find some very
attractive stones if they care to go "look see" also at the quarries @
Combara, eight miles from Grawin towards Lightning Ridge. Petrified wood,
chalcedony & agate with many beautiful clear quartz pieces can be found
there. The quarries themselves are very beautiful.
I have drifted somewhat from the
necessities of living.
There is a couple there, Bill &
Marge, who have what is known as the pink house on the right, going in.
They have started a shop of souvenirs & unperishable goods which means
tinned foods, biscuits, soap powders, but later intend getting a "deep
freeze". But like the rest of us they can be cut off from all the
necessities according to the weather.
Although they have one advantage,
a four wheel drive. Around their area is rather a nice camping ground,
providing you have your own water. I understand they have an idea of
putting up a few cabins, which should be very good for people camped @ the
Ridge, & who may want one or two nights there & not want to drag a caravan
over that road or pull up tents.
There are a couple of old
identities there that could give one the grand old story of the old days.
Then there is the beautiful stone house, built by Alex for his bride not
many years ago. Now Rosa his wife, has made it beautiful & dignified by
her own hands both inside & out.
I don't think she or her husband
would resent me mentioning the unusual long baking oven he has built
running back along the big stone fireplace, nor Rosa having in her
possession a double bed sheet which is much more "double" than ours,
given her by her grandmother in Germany. Nothing unusual in that, says
you, but if you were as fortunate as I was seeing that glorious "spider
web" hand embroidery from one side to the other, you would understand.
Also the lovely garden she is
making. Cacti being hard Rosa has a little collection. The open cut well
also, to keep all this going, & a lot of hard work as well. I tasted a
melon in June, grown by Rosa.
I could drift on
writing of Grawin, but must cease before I go too deep, but my closing
lines will be these. Although I left you (Grawin) for Lightning Ridge on
which I hope to follow my next story, lightly I'll speak those famous
words by that famous general (what's his name?) - "I shall return".
- Poppy Day