First Impressions

Old mines and mining machinery, visible wherever you go around the town, give Lightning Ridge much of its distinctive character.

When I first came here [in 1979] I found a graveyard of machinery from the cities.

Lawrie Cree, 2013

My first impression as we drove into town [in 1966] was that of a lunar landscape, with all of the white mullock dumps.

Knud Nexo, 2003

Since the 1940s, tourists have been coming to Lightning Ridge in increasing numbers, drawn by its reputation for producing unique black opal, its quirky character and opal field landscapes.

Many visitors coming to Lightning Ridge tried their hand at specking, or noodling – sifting through the dirt in the mullock heaps hoping to find opal which had been missed by the miners.

Dad made lots of gouging picks, called Nifty Noodlers, and his kids had to dip the handles in paint to finish them. We couldn’t keep up with the numbers bought by the tourists to go noodling.

Barbara Wright, 2013

Tourist Attractions

Starting in the 1970s, visitors became more aware, through newspaper and magazine reports, of the new machines being developed for opal mining in Lightning Ridge.

The Walk In Mine was the first tourist mine in Lightning Ridge. It was a working mine, first excavated by hand by Sandy Randell in 1961. Unlike most mines around the Ridge, it had a ‘drift’ or sloping ramp which provided a walk in entry down steps into the drives.

The drift was made for a winch-operated scoop which took dirt up to the entrance. Locals directed tourists to us because they could walk into the mine. As more tourists came to town, the numbers wanting to visit us became a nuisance. When Dad moved on to another mine, he asked Fred, a retired miner, to take tourists down and explain how the mining was done. They paid twenty cents each.… I went back in 1976 and took it over for a few years.

David Randell, 2013

The Big Opal was also a working mine, excavated using machines, until becoming a tourist mine in the 1980s. Tourists can descend a spiral staircase to the old drives to see the mining methods and machinery once used.

Other tourist mines, like Chambers of the Black Hand, and the remnants of the open cut at the 3-Mile, museums like Kangaroo Hill, Lightning Ridge Historical Society and the Australian Opal Centre, have displays of mining machinery for visitors to inspect.

Tour companies draw visitors’ attention to locally-made mining machinery at sites including Bevans’ Cactus Nursery, the Visitor Information Centre, motels and caravan parks, Lightning Ridge Miners’ Association and outside mines and homes.

Mining Heritage and Rehabilitation

The machinery invented or modified for opal mining by local miners and fabricators is a crucially important part of the heritage of Lightning Ridge, along with its buildings and landscapes. But this machinery will gradually decay, or be recycled or scrapped, unless its heritage value is recognised and steps taken to preserve important examples.

After 100 years of opal mining, the Ridge is a maze of sunbaked mullock (mining refuse) heaps, mine shafts and open cuts.… But tourists love it, which is why the Three Mile has been allowed to stay the way it is. Elsewhere, most mining sites are supposed to be rehabilitated.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 2012

I submit that it is the remnants of the hundreds of miners’ dreams, both broken and realised, which make Lightning Ridge a truly historic village, the likes of which Councils spend millions of dollars trying to recreate.

Bob Pelchen, 2006