We have based ourselves for three nights at the Outback Resort & Caravan Park which is on the main drag just before entering the town proper. Good big sites, albeit on red gravel but there is not a lot of green grass in these parts. The football field opposite is very lush and green, priorities.
Lightning Ridge is a quirky place. The township is surrounded by opal mining activities, largely conducted by sole or family operators. Not something for large scale company outfits. The miners tend to live on their claim in what can best be described as shanty type accomodation. Old caravans and tin sheds, containers. Yesterdays ‘Tiny Houses’ that are currently the vogue among some! There are a few more substantial shacks made of local rock. Old equipment lies around rusting, old cars seem to have been left where they have stopped. Some of the miners come to their claims to mine during the winter months, gets very hot here in summer.
There are a number of self guided tours of the opal fields marked out with old car doors that are colour coded. We went off on the yellow door tour that took us along what is known as the 3 Mile field to the Lunatic Lookout. This area has been one of the richest mining areas in the town. From the lookout you gaze down into a big open cut hole, a huge area that has been mined out over 100 years of operations by all and sundry.
Not far from Lunatic Hill, there is a tour of an underground mine that we ventured on. It was not so much to see mining operations but rather hundreds of carvings down the mine by an old timer.
Simply amazing work! Here at Lightning Ridge opals are found in the soft rocks underlying a bed of also soft sandstones. The opal level is 20 metres plus down. So shafts are dug down to this level and then horizontal drives go out in search of the opal. The whole of the Ridge is a labyrinth of shafts and drives, honeycomb like. The old miner carver did his carvings in the upper sandstone level, not the opal level, and cut drives just to get more wall space for the carvings.
He did all this work after he retired at 66! He is now 80 plus and returns each year to add more, recently did one of Shane Warne.
Back in town we had a look around the street art, mostly done by the local John Murray. He has a gallery in town, specialises it seems on emus. Lots of other works that all tend to be of a humorous nature.
Allthego was tempted by the Artesian water baths and had a couple of dips in the 40’ pool, interspersed with a cold shower. Very therapeutic it is claimed and did loosen the limbs for a while. The pool is open 24/7. It was tempting to go back in the dark to have a look up at the night sky through the steam coming off the water. But the weather has not been favourable for star gazing, cloudy with scattered showers.
Allthego, after another plunge in the pool, charged off for a sunset shot over the opal fields. Alas, the sunset was a fizzer but there were lots of people there trying to get the shot. Allthego took a shot of them instead!
The following day we took off for Grawin, another opal field about 65 km from Lightning Ridge. Now if Lightning Ridge is quirky then the Grawin field, together with nearby Glengarry and Sheepyards, is positively like a clip from a Mad Max film. The area is quite remote and very basic. There are two rustic pubs out there, the Glengarry Hilton and the Sheepyard Inn. Rusty old equipment and abandoned trucks everywhere. Even the miners seem rusty.
The highlight though was having a burger at the Club in the Scrub, a licensed premises and even had to sign in. A few local characters were in residence, a recently retired grandma miner held centre stage among a group of ‘drive in ‘ workers who were there for the day to do something. She was in her element, colourful language too! The burgers were good, everything on them, bacon, egg, beetroot even a slice of pineapple and as a consequence we had an omelette for dinner.
Back at the van we readied for the move on to Coonamble in the morning. Hitched up the truck and packed up as much as we could as heavy rain had been forecast for the morning. Not good to do these tasks in the rain!
Stanley farewelled us on the way to Coonamble.