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#1

Syndyne
Moderator
From: Lightning Ridge, NSW
Joined: 09 April 2013
Posts: 863
Moderator
10 April 2013 06:12 pm

Hi all,

I thought I'd kick off a thread about Opal. I'll try and cover both the Seam and Nobby types of Black Opal and the Crystal varieties we get here at the Ridge. QLD Boulder Opal is not really my area. Maybe I can even step into some of the very well made synthetic/cultured types that are available now.

I have a lifetime background in opal. I'll give a little info on how it started and possibly continue into other stories of the amazing journey it was and any and all information I can offer when it comes to opal if there's some interest. I know a lot of people are hesitant when it comes to opal, simply from a lack of understanding about our beautiful national gemstone.

I started mining here at Lightning Ridge full time back in 1993 (straight out of high school aged 14). I was immediately out working with my father (who has been mining and cutting opal here since 1964, becoming a full time local in 1971 along with my uncle) learning the trade and a few good life lessons along the way. Everyday was a new adventure and there's was always that possibility and dream that today would be a good payday. However the reality was usually all hard work and no pay.

I will post a few photos that I managed to take in the last few years. My uncle has amassed one of the greatest opal photo collections around today, mostly of all the older, more famous stones from early in the piece done in conjunction with another local Len Cram (now famous for his amazing collection of opal books done all around Australia). So I may post one or two of our older famous stones that came from our claims on the Deep Four Mile back in 1978-80. A few of those circulated on many postcards etc worldwide over the years. I was fortunate enough myself to have a stone take pride of place in one of Len's books. It was a beautiful 9.6ct gem that I dug from a field called Power Pole back in October 1999.

I'll try not to bog this thread down with photos if I can help it. I'll add a few in actual working series of myself mining our claim out at the Jag Hill Opal Fields (situated about 40K's NW from the Ridge) from back in early 2008. I'll also add one or two of the exceptionally large specimen pieces we dug there back in 2000. Unfortunately I never got the chance to photograph the large cut gems that came from that claim due to not owning a camera at that stage. The rough nobby that I dug pictured here is 570cts. 

Feel free to ask any and all questions you may have regarding opal or Lightning Ridge in general as I'd be more than happy to offer an answer if I can. smile

1365576840_opal_mining1.jpg     
1365576940_opal_mining2.jpg
1365577029_opal_mining3.jpg
1365577261_opal_mining4.jpg

Kindest regards,
Shauno.


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#2

Gold miner
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10 April 2013 06:40 pm

Wicked Shauno!!
Mate dont worry about bogging the site down with photos! They're worth a 1000 words!
Matty will just have to get a bigger server allowance!! cool
looking forward to hearing more mate!

#3

Nugget
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10 April 2013 07:14 pm

Incredible story and pics, thank you very much for sharing it with us mate. I would be more than happy to get a "bigger server allowance" if it meant seeing more great pictures like those  wink

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#4

axeman
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From: Maryborough, QLD
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Posts: 627
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10 April 2013 07:39 pm

Bloody brilliant Shauno, love the stories, keep-em coming as well as the photos. smile Mick smile


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#5

shivan
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From: Nowra, south coast NSW
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10 April 2013 07:53 pm

Brilliant photo's and story  cool Would love to make it up there and have a look one day.


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#6

ChrisM
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From: Sydney, NSW
Joined: 28 January 2013
Posts: 584
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10 April 2013 08:24 pm

Keep the pics and stories coming Shauno.
just keeps building the fire in the gut...
thanks for sharing


Of all the things I've lost......I miss my mind the most.

#7

Gold miner
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10 April 2013 08:30 pm

Nugget wrote:

Incredible story and pics, thank you very much for sharing it with us mate. I would be more than happy to get a "bigger server allowance" if it meant seeing more great pictures like those  wink

Good onya!! roll wink cool

#8

Syndyne
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From: Lightning Ridge, NSW
Joined: 09 April 2013
Posts: 863
Moderator
10 April 2013 08:37 pm

Thanks very much guys!

I'll do a little writing on the fossicking side of things tomorrow. That is more along the lines of info most seek today. 

Cheers,
Shauno.


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#9

kemjak57
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Joined: 25 February 2013
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11 April 2013 08:43 am

Hey Shauno, Great story and photos. What do you do with a large opal like the one you're holding? It's an incredible colour. Cheers Rick


Get a life! Start prospecting........

#10

Syndyne
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From: Lightning Ridge, NSW
Joined: 09 April 2013
Posts: 863
Moderator
11 April 2013 11:52 am

kemjak57 wrote:

Hey Shauno, Great story and photos. What do you do with a large opal like the one you're holding? It's an incredible colour. Cheers Rick

Hi Rick,

That piece is basically kept as a rough specimen. You could cut it into stones but it would be a shame to lose such a rare large size piece. The colour in it is what we refer to as water colour or sun flash which is a sort of low grade, lesser variant of proper bright opal colour. This piece was located in a small pocket of several large nobbies as traces to the better quality piece that was sitting right next to it.

What makes these so rare is the sheer size. Ordinarily nobby opal is around the marble size to golf ball size. Digging these large pieces was a real treat for us. We had four exceptional gem quality lumps in the 50-300ct range that were cut into their respective large stones after several unsuccessful attempts to sell them to the buyers uncut. Finding opal here is only half the battle. Getting the buyers to pay a decent price is the hardest part of the process.

The gem quality red on black opal was unusually rare out at this field. It seemed to be more gem quality blue-green and green-orange predominantly, though when a red stone was found it was usually a ripper piece.
     
Here's another rough nobby from the same claim. This nobby divided on a natural inclusion due the the hardness of the surrounding opal dirt as we were digging it out but the main piece is still in the 700carat area, also just showing on the blue/blue-green colour side. The opal bearing matrix (that we call Angel Stone) in this claim was so hard in places that our gouging picks and jackhammers would throw sparks. This was due to the heavily concentrated silica content in the opal pockets and possibly why the nobbies were of a larger size.
1365641092_rough_opal.jpg

Cheers,
Shauno.


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#11

Syndyne
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From: Lightning Ridge, NSW
Joined: 09 April 2013
Posts: 863
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11 April 2013 12:45 pm

Hi all,

I'll give an outline on the way fossicking/specking has gone up here at the Ridge.

Due to the drastic changes to the rules and regulations that took place around the year 2000 most fields, both working and not, are now off limits to tourists  and to a slightly lesser extent the locals also. Keeping in mind that I've never heard of anyone (that wasn't intoxicated and walking in the dark) falling down a shaft while visiting the area.

This was pretty much start of the demise of the opal industry once those laws were in place. You may have seen us on the news of late as there's a battle taking place with the farmers and compensation but that's a whole other story for a later time.

There never really used to be any hindrance on the old original fields around town to go out and have a speck on the mullock heaps. It was quite normal to head out there in the rain and find a few stones left here and there. Many locals here including myself used to make good money doing so. What really put the nail in the coffin was the mines department using all the payable dirt to fill in all the old open shafts on the fields, now couple that with removing all the old original mining gear and crushing it for scrap and it's a recipe for just making the place bland and sterile.

Slightly off topic: We used to rely on those open shafts to go down and see if it was worth doing a bit of work there. Looking for traces of opal or a fault that wasn't followed correctly. Now the running a cost of drilling a new three foot shaft with a Caldwell drilling rig is $20/foot. Most claims we worked over the years were in the 30-40foot range (some more shallow in the 12-20feet range and some areas down 60-80feet) this is measured to the sandstone roof where it meets the correct opal bearing level, not the working floor. So when a new shaft is drilled most times you need at least a twenty foot plus depth lower than your working floor would be. This allows you room to drop dirt down into the pit below and open the shaft comfortably enough with room for your gear ready for driving/tunneling. This makes an "average" shaft of say 40feet run about $1800 keeping in mind you normally need two shafts drilled to be linked for air circulation and if the ground is hard at the surface (mostly a dense silica/ironstone rich conglomerate we call silcrete) then blasting is required at around $300+ per shot. You can now see why we weren't happy with all the shafts now being back-filled.   

All is not lost however... There are some exceptions though if you know where to look so don't despair if you come up this way. I believe they still allow specking on the main dumping areas out on the Grawin Opal Fields. It would be rare to find anything of quality today due to the amount of people that speck there, but not impossible. This is a fairly long way out West from town though (about a 40min run when the roads are good).

It simply disgusts me when I see the likes of opal dirt being dumped in the Tourist Information Centre parking area just as you come into town. This is pretty much where you'll be directed to when looking to speck for opal and is salted regularly with mediocre to poor quality Grawin seam opal. I guess it's very similar to the designated gold prospecting areas we're seeing in a lot of the old gold towns today.

If any of you ever make it out here please feel free drop me a PM and I'll give you directions or simply take you out to areas away from town where there's still the chance to find a small stone or two in safety and away from any open or working claims. There's more than one way to skin a cat! big_smile

I still have a small 1.2ct green-gold stone specked about three years ago out on a field where we worked. I'll try and take a nice shot of it and post it up. 

Kindest regards,
Shauno.

Last edited by Syndyne (11 April 2013 12:48 pm)


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#12

Hunting the yellow
Member
From: down a hole
Joined: 20 December 2012
Posts: 1,803
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11 April 2013 01:36 pm

Syndyne wrote:
kemjak57 wrote:

Hey Shauno, Great story and photos. What do you do with a large opal like the one you're holding? It's an incredible colour. Cheers Rick

Hi Rick,

That piece is basically kept as a rough specimen. You could cut it into stones but it would be a shame to lose such a rare large size piece. The colour in it is what we refer to as water colour or sun flash which is a sort of low grade, lesser variant of proper bright opal colour. This piece was located in a small pocket of several large nobbies as traces to the better quality piece that was sitting right next to it.

What makes these so rare is the sheer size. Ordinarily nobby opal is around the marble size to golf ball size. Digging these large pieces was a real treat for us. We had four exceptional gem quality lumps in the 50-300ct range that were cut into their respective large stones after several unsuccessful attempts to sell them to the buyers uncut. Finding opal here is only half the battle. Getting the buyers to pay a decent price is the hardest part of the process.

The gem quality red on black opal was unusually rare out at this field. It seemed to be more gem quality blue-green and green-orange predominantly, though when a red stone was found it was usually a ripper piece.
     
Here's another rough nobby from the same claim. This nobby divided on a natural inclusion due the the hardness of the surrounding opal dirt as we were digging it out but the main piece is still in the 700carat area, also just showing on the blue/blue-green colour side. The opal bearing matrix (that we call Angel Stone) in this claim was so hard in places that our gouging picks and jackhammers would throw sparks. This was due to the heavily concentrated silica content in the opal pockets and possibly why the nobbies were of a larger size.
https://www.prospectingaustralia.com.au … h_opal.jpg

Cheers,
Shauno.

wow yikes yikes yikes big_smile  yikeslol


A dream written down with a date becomes a goal a goal broken down into steps becomes a plan a plan backed by action becomes reality.

#13

WalnLiz
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From: Australia, NSW
Joined: 20 January 2013
Posts: 3,533
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11 April 2013 06:30 pm

I hear where your coming from Shauno. My cousin has a claim in the Ridge and we use to go up regularly visiting and specking. With all the crap that goes on now up there thanks to the bureaucrats we no longer go there and spend our tourist dollars. Instead we stop off at White Cliffs on our way out west hunting for gold and do really well on the old mullock heaps in a friendly environment. We spend a fair bit of cash doing so, and the place gets plenty of tourist dollars. Wonder how long it will be before the same bureaucrats stuff that place up as well ....Hope it doesn't effect you guys too much .All the best.. Wal  smile

Last edited by WalnLiz (11 April 2013 06:33 pm)


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#14

Mystyk59
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Joined: 21 February 2013
Posts: 347
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11 April 2013 07:20 pm

This is such an interesting subject Shauno , thanks for posting it mate. Look forward to reading more  cool
Bill


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#15

kemjak57
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Joined: 25 February 2013
Posts: 1,545
Member
11 April 2013 09:58 pm

Thanks for the reply Shauno very interesting. Sorry to hear about all the crap you have to go through but it's a part of life now and I can't see how we can change it. Bloody shame, you just have to find a way around it and carry on I suppose. As Aussies we always seem to be able to do that. smile Cheers


Get a life! Start prospecting........

#16

Palmer Digger
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Joined: 26 March 2013
Posts: 174
Member
11 April 2013 10:21 pm

Gedday again Shauno,
                                Mate, thanks so much for sharing the wonderful pics and information .. The beauty and colour variations of opal never ceases to amaze! .. Exquisite specimens there.


In Gold We Trust

#17

jimnyjerry
Member
From: Blue Mts
Joined: 30 December 2012
Posts: 276
Member
12 April 2013 12:30 pm

Syndyne wrote:

Due to the drastic changes to the rules and regulations that took place around the year 2000 most fields, both working and not, are now off limits to tourists  and to a slightly lesser extent the locals also. Keeping in mind that

Hi Shauno.   smile
A great piece on the Ridge. 

3 guys I know have a claim with a shack out 7 Mile way and they have had so many courses to do and cash to fork out just to work there claim let alone go down a shaft.  Definitely over kill by the mummy police.  yikes

Syndyne wrote:

If any of you ever make it out here please feel free drop me a PM and I'll give you directions or simply take you out to areas away from town where there's still the chance to find a small stone or two in safety and away from any open or working claims. There's more than one way to skin a cat! big_smile

Will take you up on that if I ever head out that way again  smile

Jerry

Last edited by jimnyjerry (12 April 2013 12:37 pm)


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#18

Syndyne
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From: Lightning Ridge, NSW
Joined: 09 April 2013
Posts: 863
Moderator
12 April 2013 12:31 pm

Cheers guys. Plenty more to come regarding the opal types etc.

WalnLiz wrote:

I hear where your coming from Shauno. My cousin has a claim in the Ridge and we use to go up regularly visiting and specking. With all the crap that goes on now up there thanks to the bureaucrats we no longer go there and spend our tourist dollars. Instead we stop off at White Cliffs on our way out west hunting for gold and do really well on the old mullock heaps in a friendly environment. We spend a fair bit of cash doing so, and the place gets plenty of tourist dollars. Wonder how long it will be before the same bureaucrats stuff that place up as well ....Hope it doesn't effect you guys too much .All the best.. Wal  smile

Your sentiments are pretty common amongst all visitors we talk to now Wal. This place used to thrive on tourist dollars. It's amazing just how fast things have gone south here over the last few years thanks to the DPI.

I'm sure it's still possible to enjoy yourself over a short stay out on the fields but there just isn't so much to do or see today. I think you can wrap up a visit in a weekend, where once you could spend a week or two on the fields. We used to take visitors underground now and again to see how it's all done in a working mine but, once those pesky insurance demons took hold we even became worried at the thought of someone just tripping over on our registered claims.

I'm probably painting this cut down on fossicking side in a bit of a harsh light, more from a miners point of view (that I'm sure the seasoned prospectors here can understand) but it's still worth a visit if you haven't been up this way. It's a very unique place that has more than it's fair share of stories to tell. wink

My personal best find just from specking alone over the last few years was a nice 2ct green-orange on black gem that sold for $2400. That pales in comparison to some of the lucky finds over the years however.

I'll share a recent specking result (just photographed with my iPhone) from about a year ago which will show that it's still very much possible to do okay now and again out on the outlying fields. This little gem quality blue-green stone is 1.2ct with a fairly high dome, nice pattern and colour play. We value it at around $1200. I usually have a good laugh at the fact that I've actually done better specking in the last three years than I did over the ten years up to 2010 working underground.

1365729753_cut_stone.jpg

Kindest regards,
Shauno.


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#19

Syndyne
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From: Lightning Ridge, NSW
Joined: 09 April 2013
Posts: 863
Moderator
12 April 2013 12:53 pm

Hi Shauno.   smile
A great piece on the Ridge. 

3 guys I know have a claim with a shack out 7 Mile way and they have had so many courses to do and cash to fork out just to work there claim let alone go down a shaft.  Definitely over kill by the mummy police.  yikes

Syndyne wrote:

If any of you ever make it out here please feel free drop me a PM and I'll give you directions or simply take you out to areas away from town where there's still the chance to find a small stone or two in safety and away from any open or working claims. There's more than one way to skin a cat! big_smile

Will take you up on that if I ever head out that way again  smile

Jerry

Thanks kindly Jerry. By all means mate, feel free anytime!

There were three full day courses the last I recall. Mostly common sense regarding safety and environmental issues. I know they aren't cheap either. We had no choice but to do them otherwise our claims would only be pending (unable to prospect or mine) and only upon course completion would they be registered. I'd say you'd need around $4000 to get a claim comfortably started today from scratch with drilled holes (both 9" prospect and 3' shafts) etc. -even without the cost of the mining equipment which, if you go the way of a new hydraulic digger and blower can be anywhere up to and beyond $30,000. Ridiculous really.

Take care.
Shauno.


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#20

Syndyne
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From: Lightning Ridge, NSW
Joined: 09 April 2013
Posts: 863
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02 May 2013 10:03 pm

Hi guys,

Just thought I'd put up a quick update here as it's been a while between drinks, for which I apologise. I've been pretty crook these past couple of weeks so I haven't had the chance to sit down and write a bit more as yet. Dad and I are just about to head off on a gold trip for a few weeks but 'hopefully' the Wi-Fi access gods smile down on me so I can do a bit of posting while on the road, both about the Ridge and how we're going on the gold. Really looking forward to doing my learners permit on the new 5000 over the next four weeks or so. big_smile

Kindest regards,
Shauno.


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#21

Gold miner
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02 May 2013 10:55 pm

OMG.....
Shauno,
Firstly, I hope you are feeling better, and its not too serious???

I just had a quick look at your website....

You have to be fooking joking...........
Some of the most amazing photo's I have seen...
You have a skill man!
A definate skill........

I now have my Gopro 3 and my quad copter is on the way......
Dont think
I'll compete with you on your stuff, but I'll give it a go!!

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#22

Dogmatic
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From: Hunter valley, NSW
Joined: 27 January 2013
Posts: 443
Member
03 May 2013 10:58 am

An excellent thread Shauno, thankyou.  Hopefully there will be plenty more.  It is good to here how it is from a working perspective.
Look forward to your posts from your gold prospecting trip.  I have put a special request into the Wi-Fi Gods so that we are not left
waiting. 

Have a safe and productive trip.


Whites TDI Pro OZ series, Whites SPP, MinelabSovereign GT, Minelab Pro-Find, SYM 12x45 Half n Half sluice.

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#23

Syndyne
Moderator
From: Lightning Ridge, NSW
Joined: 09 April 2013
Posts: 863
Moderator
03 May 2013 02:04 pm

Gold miner wrote:

OMG.....
Shauno,
Firstly, I hope you are feeling better, and its not too serious???

I just had a quick look at your website....

You have to be fooking joking...........
Some of the most amazing photo's I have seen...
You have a skill man!
A definate skill........

I now have my Gopro 3 and my quad copter is on the way......
Dont think
I'll compete with you on your stuff, but I'll give it a go!!

Cheers GM!
Had a nasty bout of severe acid/indigestion (Gastritis -which is mostly stress related) that eventually put me in hospital last week. All good now and I'm on the mend and trying to put back on the weight that I lost due to loss of appetite etc. This prospecting trip should do me the world of good smile

Thanks for the kind words on the shots! The lightning/landscape photography is a secondary hobby of mine that took that off way beyond anything I ever thought it would.
If anyone here ever needs any camera advice I'd be more than happy to offer any knowledge I can.
Looking forward to seeing the quad-copter and GoPro in action. Those little DV cameras are so great today. Sounds like it could be a lot of fun!

Kindest regards,
Shauno.


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#24

Syndyne
Moderator
From: Lightning Ridge, NSW
Joined: 09 April 2013
Posts: 863
Moderator
03 May 2013 02:10 pm

Dogmatic wrote:

An excellent thread Shauno, thankyou.  Hopefully there will be plenty more.  It is good to here how it is from a working perspective.
Look forward to your posts from your gold prospecting trip.  I have put a special request into the Wi-Fi Gods so that we are not left
waiting. 

Have a safe and productive trip.

Thanks for the kind words Dogmatic!

Rest assured if we find a little nugget or two they'll be up on here asap smile
I've had a good think about explaining the opal mining side so I have a few ideas to lay out in what I hope will be an easy to understand manner. There will be plenty to come over the next few weeks.

Take care,
Shauno.


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#25

kemjak57
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Joined: 25 February 2013
Posts: 1,545
Member
04 May 2013 03:40 pm

I agree with GM about your photography, it is magical, what a flare you've got and patience too or a quick finger on the button. Whatever it is it's good. Good luck to you and your dad mate, safe travels. Cheers Rick.


Get a life! Start prospecting........

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