A Town With Secrets
Lightning Ridge is located in outback Australia, situated 760 km north-west of Sydney in New South Wales and 50kms due south of the Queensland border. The population is multicultural with many people coming from all over the world to try their luck at striking it rich in the opal mining town.
With such a transient population it’s difficult to know exactly how many people live in Lightning Ridge. When entering the town, you will see a sign saying “Population ?”. However, it’s estimated there are approximately 3,000-5,000 people living in the town. The variety of nationalities is huge, with approximately 50 percent of the population born overseas.
The township sits on what is believed to be excellent opal bearing grounds. Mining inside the town’s boundary however, has been forbidden for a long time. No one really knows how much mining has been done inside the boundary and people often make jokes about the town collapsing.
Lightning Ridge has over 90,000 people visit per year. Visitors are either looking for their fortune, fossicking for fun or just relaxing and taking the opportunity to learn what an outback mining town really is like.
Today, the town boasts great accommodation facilities and an endless array of souvenir and gift shops. There are good quality restaurants and the very impressive water fun park, including an Olympic size swimming pool and diving towers and a waterpark for the kids. Not to be missed is the town’s hot water spring, where the water temperature is around 40°C year-round.
The annual event you do not want to miss is the town’s Opal and Gem Festival in July.
The climate here is extremely dry and the horrendous heat is very intense between November and March, where you will experience more than 40°C in the shade.
More pleasant times of the year for visiting Lightning Ridge can be experienced between April and October.
The name Lightning Ridge is believed to derive from an old story where a shepherd, his dog and more than 600 sheep were killed during a massive electrical storm, while sheltering on one of the ridges in the area.
The Black Opal was discovered in Lightning Ridge at the end of the 1880s.They were first found in eroded creek beds and underneath the roots of fallen trees. The first hand sunk shaft was put down by the boundary rider Jack Murray around 1901.
Charlie Nettleton, a miner from Bathurst started his opal mining career at White Cliffs with no success. He began serious prospecting on one of the ridges, later known as Nettleton’s Hill, on the Angledool station. This was to become the site of Lightning Ridge.
In 1903, Charlie sold the first recorded parcel of opal gems from the field, receiving only 30 dollars. That same parcel would have obtained 50 times the money just 5 years later.
Opal fields are large areas of land where opal has been discovered and miners have struck their fortunes. Some of the traditional fields of Lightning Ridge are Three Mile, Grawin and Coocoran.
One of the most famous and extensively worked opal fields, Three Mile, located three miles outside the township has been an extremely productive area since the beginning of the 20th century. Even today, this field is still supplying beautiful black opals.
After a long down period with no real finds, Grawin was another milestone found in the 1970s approximately 45 km west of Lightning Ridge. The surrounding ridges created new areas with fields like Sheepyard and Carters, peaking in the middle of the 1980s, which produced large quantities of black opals. Then there was a 10-year opal drought, followed with a boom of several new “rushes”, like Mulgas and Wee Warra. Here the opals are found in seam and Grawin is still producing top quality black opal.
In modern times, Coocoran opal fields are known as the greatest opal bearing area in history. Coocoran is located 20 km west of Lightning Ridge. This area exploded in 1990 with more than 40 new fields, creating huge wealth for the township from the top quality black opal extracted. Lightning Ridge became the number one ranked place of dollar millionaires per capita in Australia.
Nowadays, due to limited prospecting areas only smaller fields are found, for example Jag Hill, Wyoming and Mehi. No one knows when, or if any new prospecting areas will be released.
'Stake' Your Claim
Write your own piece of history by ‘staking’ a claim in one of the opal fields we offer.
Become an owner of a 25-year lease for a square foot of an opal claim in Lightning Ridge and the chance to strike it rich!