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