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#26

phish
Member
Joined: 01 March 2013
Posts: 15
Member
08 May 2013 08:09 am

Syndyne wrote:

Hi all,

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



Kindest regards,
Shauno.


hi Shauno...

ill be out your way in late june and would be keen to partake in your knowledge... sadly as i dont have 10 posts i cant yet send you a pm....


grrr...

if we can catch up it will be 3 of us at the tail end of a 2 week ute/motorbike tour of the eastern edge of the simpson..

cheers  phish

#27

Billy
Member
From: There or here., NSW
Joined: 09 August 2013
Posts: 1,194
Member
10 August 2013 02:59 pm

I love "the Ridge" and have been lucky enough to get out that way a few times now. I now know a couple that live there so am planning my next trip out that way in the very near future.
My sister was fortunate enough to find this little beauty while we were specking on a property just out of the ridge and she has since made it into a pendant and bought matching earings to go with it. To say she was stoked is an understatement!

1376107062_opal_1.jpg

1376107115_opal_2.jpg


You can lead a horse to water, but it needs to be thirsty to drink!

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#28

Syndyne
Moderator
From: Lightning Ridge, NSW
Joined: 09 April 2013
Posts: 863
Moderator
10 September 2013 05:05 pm

Hi all,

I hope everyone's been well and looking forward to the Spring prospecting season ahead! Apologies for my absence over the last few weeks. Had a nasty bout of flu and to top it off, frustratingly, I managed tear the muscles in my lower back. So after some rest and recuperation I'm almost back to full health once again.

I've been debating what I can share here as far as our varied opal stories go (I'll publish a book on it one day) and I figured I'd go with a more, non-conventional story, rather than the usual stories that you hear of many miners becoming instant millionaires overnight. While there are the exceptions, most are simply blown way out of proportion or, are just not true. So I'm going to tell the story of my experiences out at the Jag Hill opal fields back in early 2000 as it's one of the most interesting for Dad, our mining partner John and I. This might take me a little while to get through, so I'll do it in a few stages smile

During 1999 around late December and after working several claims at the Power Pole field, we had been told by a good friend that we've known for many years that a party of blokes had drilled on opal in the form of black nobbies with good blue-green colour, and that we should race out and peg a claim before word spreads. It's very rare to drill on opal so we had to act fast. We had another two friends that are only a couple of part time older hobby miners and have never really done any serious work here. They were working a claim over the hill from us at Power Pole with no success and they also wanted to come out with us to peg a claim out there and try their luck.
So early the next morning we readied the four star picket pegs, compass and other bits and pieces needed to peg out a claim and met up the other two blokes (who I'll just call M&A) to head out. Upon arrival I could see instantly where the guys had brought up the opal with the 9" auger drill as the holes were all situated in a 45˚ angle across two claims they had already registered.
1378789133_jag_hill_claims.jpg
This little graphic will illustrate the situation for you a bit easier.

Now the two 50x50mtr claims with the black borders were the newly registered ones and I roughly laid out how the 9" prospect holes were situated with red dots when we first arrived. Upon seeing the holes going down towards the middle border I immediately said to Dad that we should split the difference and situate the claim 25mtrs down the border as that's where they were chasing the opal obviously. So I grabbed the four star pickets and we started to drive them in (pictured in blue on the graphic) and take all the bearings for registration, then M&A decided to chime in and ask where they were going to peg as we were already down off the ridge on the black soil plain and there was a boundary fence about 5mtrs lower than the already registered claims and so not leaving them much room to fit in a claim, even though they could have AND still got a lot of opal.

Now this is the point where we made one of the biggest and most costly mistakes in my mining time (Dad has made many more previously but that's for another time) and even thinking about it now still upsets me a little.

So as I was driving in the last peg and M&A were discussing things with Dad and John as far as claim placement, I heard Dad yell out; "Move the pegs back up level with the other claims so M&A can fit theirs in below." (pictured in green on the graphic) I then argued the point to no avail. I was outvoted and proceeded to move the pegs back up square to the top registered claim while M&A put their pegs in below (in purple on the graphic). I should add we only had enough money left to register one claim and if I recall we could barely even afford to drill a 3' shaft at that time even though it was only shallow country.

We then all came back into town and registered the claims as several more soon went in around us all as usually happens when word of a find spreads. So we sold off some belongings in order to drill our first three foot shaft ready for working near the centre-ish edge area of the claim (not marked on the graphic but it would be on the blue line above the black dot) and did no good. No signs of any trace whatsoever. We couldn't believe it as we had all figured the opal would be running right towards the holes position.

About a week had passed by while we were still cleaning up and de-registering the older, worked out claims at Power Pole and we knew that on that day M&A were out at Jag drilling their first three foot shaft about eleven feet off our border up in the corner of the four main claims (I roughly marked the position of their new three foot shaft in orange on the graphic) and as we arrived home from Power Pole, M then, out of the blue, turned up at our place, jumped out of his car and screamed out; "We've hit the big time!!" and then proceeded to show us an ice cream container that was about a third full of gem black opal and several big gem quality crystals. Now we figured there was somewhere in the vicinity of sixty to eighty thousand dollars worth of rough opal in the container from just gouging around the walls of the new hole even before there was enough room to get in under the roof (which was about nineteen feet in depth) to open the shaft ready for working.

To say things were then very much on edge at that point for us would be a vast understatement as Dad knew that if I hadn't of moved the pegs, that opal would've been ours. Not many words were said between Dad and I for the next few days and things got very tense for us all. As Dad had a nervous breakdown back in 78 he was getting ill with severe depression attacks with the whole situation and plain refused to even go out there for a few days.

John and I, while a bit upset still had to battle on and went out organise another three foot hole to be drilled (that my uncle offered to pay for) closer in the corner of our claim to where M&A were working (marked as the black dot on the graphic) while the Caldwell drill was still out there on the field.

Now by this point, roughly three days later M&A had only been gouging with picks but had managed to pull out just over three hundred thousand dollars worth of opal in a small narrow drive just seven feet in length. One of the worst parts for me personally was due to the fact that M&A weren't miners, and so many of the larger gem quality nobbies were simply smashed with their large gouging picks and ended up falling down into the pit at the bottom of the three foot shaft. They simply had no clue what they were doing or the value of what they had.

So John and I lined up the drill and sunk the shaft down. Once again all we had was disappointment. Despite finding a large piece of blue coloured plant fossil, we simply didn't have the 19 foot level that M&A were finding their opal on and to make matters worse our level was all mixed up underneath the 22 foot roof (what we call a blown level). I'll explain why this is so and just how this blown looking level turned things around quite dramatically more into the story.

TBC... smile

Kindest regards,
Shauno.

Edited for spelling/grammar.

Last edited by Syndyne (10 September 2013 07:15 pm)


Opal Miner & Gold Detecting Addict. GPZ7000, GPX5000, SDC2300.

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#29

Heatho
Moderator
From: Central Coast, NSW
Joined: 29 April 2013
Posts: 13,953
Moderator
10 September 2013 07:03 pm

Yeah mate, was wondering where you were. I had that flu also, was very nasty, my whole body ached for a week. Glad you're better.

Good story, I'm hooked, please continue.  smile


Minelab GPX 5000, SDC2300, CTX3030, Equinox 800, patience, lot's of patience.

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#30

headbut
Member
From: Sydney, NSW
Joined: 13 May 2013
Posts: 1,449
Member
10 September 2013 11:47 pm

I so hope it has a better ending


Gem & Gold Walbanker /Minelab X-Terra 705 Dual pack/12v mini sluice/Determination

#31

Syndyne
Moderator
From: Lightning Ridge, NSW
Joined: 09 April 2013
Posts: 863
Moderator
11 September 2013 03:03 pm

Hi guys,

I'll continue the story on...

The day John and I returned home after drilling, we headed down to my uncle's place where my Dad and another well known miner and long time local friend of ours by the name of Bobby Allen (who some of you may know of as he invented the small prop attachment that turns a whipper snipper into an outboard for your boat and was featured on the ABC show New Inventors a few years back) were waiting to hear how we'd gone with the new hole. As soon as we said we couldn't see the opal level at nineteen feet things turned bad. That afternoon was one of the only times in my life that I had been so distraught at what had happened and had so many negative things going through my mind that I couldn't even hear anyone talking to me. As I sat there all I could do was stare off into the distance and just wonder how things got so bad so fast and how the hell we were going to get back on our feet.

It was that point where Bob could see the sheer disappointment and dire straights we were all in and he offered for me to come and work with him as he was on big money at that time out at Jag Hill not far from away where we were (Dad was cutting his opal at that stage just to make a dollar so we could keep mining). I think Dad and John wanted me to go work with him and were encouraging me to do so, but I just couldn't accept as I knew in my heart that it meant abandoning hope for my family and John's family if everything we just did on the claim was for nothing. Bob understood, as he was and, still is a great man with a heart of gold and his morals in all the right place.   

The next few days were very tough and I believe it's what made my Mum finally leave us after twenty five years as, understandably, she'd simply had enough of all the failures and letdowns from mining over that time.

All we could do was just open up the new hole, tough it out and see what happens. Dad and John were quite used to missing out on fortunes but it was my first experience, and my last like that. We had an old blower (like a large vacuum cleaner) and figured instead of taking one or two days with the hoist to open up the hole, we could just lower the pipes down and get it done in a day. Blowers use a lot of diesel (up to $1000 a week if you run it all day) so we were running on a tight budget to say the least. We had a 6354 Perkins diesel on ours that revved the large fan to 1200RPM so it wasn't too bad on the diesel. As we only used it in short bursts we could get away with about 20ltrs a day. You tend to balance the cost of running a blower with the amount of dirt removal and ease at which they do so, also sucking cool fresh air down to the working face at all times is a real treat.

The first day of putting in the collar (corrugated iron ring to prevent rocks falling in and down the shaft), leveling the ground for the blower (which was mounted on an old GMC truck) and lowering the 10" blower pipes to open up the hole was a quiet affair as we were all just getting on with things and trying not to think about what M&A were digging out only mere feet away. We could actually hear them gouging opal when it was quiet below in our shaft.

Taking a few shifts, we got a bit of room down there in what was a very tough and terrible mixed up white looking level, though the roof was a nice dark orange coloured sandstone and extremely hard -which was good as it's very safe to open up large areas if needed without the need to install timber props. By 3pm we had enough room to scratch around with a pick in under the roof, so Dad went down for a gouge, even though it was to just get out of the heat mainly. John stayed at the top of the hole to keep an eye on things, or send anything down that Dad needed, while I was just wandering around the claim contemplating things. Out of nowhere I heard a shout from M from their claim and he gestured for me to come over to his car, so I wandered across and he said; "Have a look at this." while opening the glove box and in there sat a nobby about the size of a golf ball that they had completely smashed off one side of. This nobby had three perfect 1/4" thick bars of gem colour on top of one another and all sitting on a 1/4" bar of black potch underneath. I didn't know what to say or think at that point, I almost had tears in my eyes. I can just recall asking him how it got smashed (even though I knew already) and where the rest of it was, and his reply was that he thought it shot down into the pit of the shaft and was buried by the dirt they were hammering out. The chip alone would've been worth around six to eight grand at that time. Lucky I have a good sensibility as I probably would've let loose on him with dire consequences on my side, but I just shook my head and walked away in disgust. Dad and John couldn't believe it when I told them a few minutes later and we never spoke to M&A for many years after that day.

It shook me up pretty bad seeing that piece broken (we've never broken a single stone in our time here) and the 40klm trip back home was deathly quiet once again. It was a struggle to hold it together for me even at the age of twenty. I couldn't even muster the strength to go out the next day. I was a mess. 

After a couple of days we'd opened up the hole to the point where we could start working and we decided to keep using the blower for the time being as it was already set up and running. We'd got a small drive in about eight feet in length (usually six foot six in height so I could stand comfortably) running at 45˚ back towards the middle of the claim, but still no change in the level. We'd found some traces here and there, mostly angelstone with thin traces of colour and potch running through it (a good indicator of opal nearby) but nothing noteworthy as we'd figured it was just the outer edge of the traces leading back to M&A's pockets of opal just over the border.

John soon had to take his wife Jeanette down to Melbourne to see the heart specialist for tests. Nett had eight bypasses done in the 80's and was always kept under a strict health watch and she wasn't too good at that point, if things weren't bad enough for us all already. I should mention that John and Jeanette were always like a second family to me growing up. Our families have been very close since the early 70's.

So it would be just Dad and I working for a week. We never really rushed into the work there, just took our time to try and work out why we didn't have the level that was next door. Around lunchtime on the second day without John I was just sitting on the blower pipe watching Dad have a scratch around with the pick and I noticed a greyish looking level down at my feet. I told Dad and he handed me the pick to check it out. We were still perplexed as to where the coloured piece of fossil came from when we drilled as we couldn't find the rest of it in the level under the roof. So I started gouging around and found the level to be quite soft and very sandy, then I noticed fine pieces of potch under what seemed to be a hard looking sandstone roof as I dug in a few inches. We immediately said to each other something isn't right so I said to Dad just grab the Kango hammer and punch away a bit of the mixed up level above it. As he did he said that it feels pretty hard and we could see the good orange sandstone roof behind it as the level fell away from a large slide. We both said to each other straight away that we've just found a large Z-wall step (also know as a thrust fault and a main fault that makes opal on every field) that was about four feet in height meaning that we had drilled right on it and hit the mixed up level that sometimes happens against the back of the slide, or high side as we call it.

1378869673_z_wall.jpg   
In this cross section graphic I thought I'd show just what happened. The red line indicates just where we had sunk the three foot shaft down alongside the Z Wall (step/thrust fault indicated by the dotted line) and if you see just where the base or bottom/lowest point of the step where the level is closest to the bottom of the shaft, that's where I had gouged in. We were driving in along side it so we had no clue it was there until I noticed the softer grey looking level at my feet.

Once I started to expose all along the fault and drop the level away from the slide with the Kango, Dad just turned to me and grabbed my hand and shook it. We both knew what this fault meant. Then we both started gouging the level underneath extremely carefully. Almost instantly I hit a large Lungfish jaw plate fossil (Fossils are usually present in a good opal area), I then knew that this was where the drill must have just snagged the piece of blue coloured plant fossil from. Not thirty seconds after I had dug that out, Dad yelled out "Have a look at this!" (which was a common saying for us with a good find underground) and as I looked across I could see he had exposed a good sized pocket of black nobbies a few inches in under the sandstone step! We carefully dug them out only to find they had some weak colour bars here and there. That was all we had to see. I can't even begin to describe what the relief was like after the several nightmarish weeks prior to that.

Dad suggested we knock off as it was already 4:30pm and fairly late in the day for us (time flies by when your digging out opal) and go in and call John in Melbourne and give him the good news to cheer him up. We ended up digging out several of the larger nobbies from the pocket and left a few still sitting exposed in the face for the next morning -as it spurs you on to get to work when you look at them just sitting there! Then we left for home to ring John.

Once back we jumped straight to the phone and I could hear John laughing on the other end of the line as Dad told him what had happened. He was looking forward to returning as he also knew what lay ahead for us from his own previous experiences with large Z Wall faults. We rubbed off a few of the nobbies that afternoon to see what the trace was like and whether or not the colour faced (which means the colour looks as good from the top as it does from the exposed bar on the side) and they were fine.

TBC...

Regards,
Shauno.

Edited for spelling and grammar.

Last edited by Syndyne (12 September 2013 11:37 am)


Opal Miner & Gold Detecting Addict. GPZ7000, GPX5000, SDC2300.

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#32

headbut
Member
From: Sydney, NSW
Joined: 13 May 2013
Posts: 1,449
Member
11 September 2013 04:44 pm

This is sad Shaun , but is getting better .Life is tough when mining is your soul income


Gem & Gold Walbanker /Minelab X-Terra 705 Dual pack/12v mini sluice/Determination

#33

Syndyne
Moderator
From: Lightning Ridge, NSW
Joined: 09 April 2013
Posts: 863
Moderator
11 September 2013 05:50 pm

G'day Paul,

True words.
It is surely a tough old life for most miners in any form of the game. It definitely makes you a resilient person to most things and with a bit of hard work you tend really enjoy the good times when they come. I will guarantee the story will get a little better in the next chapter smile

It's probably unusual to hear the other, more day to day side of mining rather than the instant rags to riches stories.

There are plenty more stories in store. Even in my relatively short mining career (compared to some) I've worked through twenty six claims on sixteen different fields and each has a story behind it that some might find interesting.   

Hope all has been going great!
Kindest regards,
Shauno


Opal Miner & Gold Detecting Addict. GPZ7000, GPX5000, SDC2300.

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#34

Heatho
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From: Central Coast, NSW
Joined: 29 April 2013
Posts: 13,953
Moderator
11 September 2013 06:07 pm

Sounds like a very tough way to make a living. Big highs and low lows. Top story.

Dunno how I missed this thread from the start.


Minelab GPX 5000, SDC2300, CTX3030, Equinox 800, patience, lot's of patience.

#35

Nugget
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Joined: 27 November 2012
Posts: 6,041
Member
12 September 2013 12:30 am

Such an incredible story as always Shaun, I'm looking forward to the next installment.

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#36

Syndyne
Moderator
From: Lightning Ridge, NSW
Joined: 09 April 2013
Posts: 863
Moderator
18 September 2013 06:05 pm

Hi all,

Hope everyone is doing well and enjoying these warmer and wetter times. We finally broke the drought up here as we've had nothing above 2mm since last December so to get an inch-ish (24mm) of rain from a storm on Monday night was a real treat! Could do with a little follow up rain now as the dams are still dry.

While I have an hour or two to spare I figured I'd grab a cuppa and put another installment into the story. Thanks for the kind feedback also.

So as Dad and I started to pick up a bit from the recent downturn in events we nutted out a few plans of attack and decided to rip into it, get busy and forget the few past weeks. The next day on we had to do a bit of fiddling around underground as we needed to drop the roof height down to get in under the Zed Wall fault. This meant disconnecting the blower pipe from the 90˚ bend at the base of the shaft and start sinking the entire floor down about five feet. Using the blower was a real treat for me as it'll take the dirt away as fast as I can hammer it out, even though the sandstone surrounding the level, both above and below was extremely hard (to the point where we had to bring in good quality air hammers later in the piece to rip up the floor in parts of the claim, and even then they still struggled to break it out). 

It took me a few hours to get the small area (about ten by four feet) dug out and down low enough that we could then start driving in under the fault/new roof. I cleaned it all out back to the shaft and began to lower everything down a further five feet to the new floor level. We also had to clean up the level on the previous roof above, along with any large parts still clinging to the slide on the high side of the fault that may slip off. We were now working under a ten foot roof until we got the new drive established in underneath the fault, so any small pieces that might fall could do damage (something like dropping a red house brick on your head from five feet above) or give a nasty headache when they hit a mining helmet. Just about common sense and having a safe working area basically. There's no room for errors mining underground, particularly as we were working forty kilometres NW of town. 

I think it was about lunchtime by the time we got organised with the gear and were ready to begin driving in under the fault. We were on good traces in the form of large pockets of nobbies and some colour here and there as soon as we started gouging in the new drive. I had never seen pockets of such large nobbies like it before. They were situated in either very hard red or white sandstone, or in a hard silica formation we call angelstone.

OT: You normally find angelstone around the outer edge of nobbies and opal. It's a basic white/greyish silicate precursor to opal formation. It starts out as pure and then as you get closer to opal it starts to get potch and colour mixed up inside it, sometimes it contains good opal inside like a kernel. As you get more into the opal the angelstone usually disappears. The old-timers called it angelstone as it seemed to protect the opal all around, somewhat like an angel. It can go by the name dog stone also. I'll get into this when I write a bit about opal in more detail.

It was rather unusual to see it forming like that for us. The pockets were around a foot square in the level hanging down under the sandstone roof like large Stalactites in a way. The pockets were about three or four feet apart as we drove in under the fault. This was normal as we were under the largest/highest part of the fault right where we drove in. We also knew it would get better as the roof was dipping down even further away from us as we got in under it. We look at it like water running down to the lowest point or saddle in the roof once we know trace and opal is about. The lesser, more trace-like nobbies were always scattered around in the pockets like (golf to tennis ball sized) cherries in a cake. We would still cut lesser stones (what we call muggies) from some of these nobbies and every now and then find a nice quality large crystal amongst them. We always had smaller nobbies (some with good colour) that would also cut stones running in a horizontal sandy white band about an inch or two under the roof between the big main pockets. When you've done so much mining by hand you get to know country like back of your hand and you are almost able to read it like a map. Even though ground is very changeable (unless you're in a more settled area) it's not that hard to know where opal will be once you get driving and recognise what faults, slides and blows are producing.

Once John returned about three or four days later we were back to the usual jovial trio and by that stage Dad and I had the drive well established about six feet in and eight feet wide. We spent most of our time gouging all the level very carefully and so shifting dirt and making progress slows down a fair bit. I can remember the first day John was back quite well as we got a beautiful green-orange crystal sitting by itself under the roof that was about ten carats in size when cut and had a stunning radial stripe pattern almost like a star. If it was on a black it would've been a name stone and near the sixty to eighty thousand dollar mark. That black potch backing makes all the difference out here.

We kept on getting pockets of nobbies and the odd stone (nothing too special) here and there as the roof kept on dipping down. We'd dug the drive in about twelve feet and we were heading straight for an air shaft the we drilled out about ten feet out in front of the current drive to allow good air flow once we broke through. As we neared the shaft area we saw the roof had started rising up again slightly. This was good as we then knew we still had a large triangular area (thirty feet on each side roughly) to the border of the next claim where we had a good possibility of getting a decent result. The roof level at this lowest point was around twenty eight feet.

We have a strange thing when working, in that, Dad, John and I all drive in our own separate drives once we're established in a claim instead of working in one wide drive as most miners do. This breaks up the workload for Dad (in his late sixties at that stage) and give us a better and much faster overall look at the claim. Most days we wouldn't really see each other due to the lengthy amount driving we did underground. Unless someone found a stone, we passed one another taking the dirt back to the hoist or it was cuppa time, we were just digging out in our own areas all day.

John and I decided to leave Dad to drive in underneath the low point of the roof (he always had the best luck of us when it came to finding opal) this left John and I to continue the main drive out towards the air hole. We also started another drive back behind the fault area up on the high side at the twenty foot roof and head towards the border to see what actually happened and why we didn't get the nineteen foot level up there. It was rough to start a drive up on a ledge five feet above the current floor but using the blower. We broke the 10' pipe joiner apart on the floor below and scraped the dirt back down to be sucked up the pipe. Easy but fairly slow going once in about five feet or so. Once we got gouging we knew what happened. We drove right to M&A's border (only about 8feet in) and on the way picked up gem quality red on black seam about as thin as tobacco paper. We also found these strange half-baked nobbies very similar to the one M showed me. These were about golf ball sized and you could see three or four bars of gem colour through each one but, once I had dug them out they would basically crumble to dust in my hand. Very frustrating. Later we would find out that there was another step/fault just over the border in M&A's claim that took our twenty two foot level up to their nineteen foot level and is probably responsible for their patch of opal.

Over the next day we continued punching the drives in, both on the high side and underneath the fault. After breaking into the air shaft with a small narrow drive and getting the main drive dug in for Dad so he could gouge we would soon hear that old familiar call of "Come and have a look at this!". John and I raced down into the main drive Dad was gouging in from up on the high side where we were working only to be greeted by a sight that was so unreal I can't begin to describe it. He had found a large pocket of nobbies inside a big, wide white sandy blow (an ancient geothermal vent) that had a horizontal slide of small blue-green coloured nobbies dipping down into an area where there sat one of the largest coloured nobbies I had ever seen! The end of the nobby was just showing and we could see a bar of colour about an inch and a half in thickness sitting on half an inch of black potch.

I think I pinched myself at that stage as I just didn't think what I was looking at was real! John instantly grabbed the light for Dad as he gently tried to undercut the large nobby gently using a screwdriver and small hammer (used in a chisel-like way) but, as they were gently prying away the opal dirt about an inch below, all of a sudden the entire visible end of the nobby broke and fell away. I think time stopped for us all at that point and I'm sure we all stopped breathing for an amount of time. Figuring it was about golf ball sized -from what we could see, we though it was all cracked through and broken up.

It was not as bad as we thought luckily. It was a small naturally jointed/inclusion area of the lump only about a quarter inch wide at the thickest part. So with the panic over and crisis averted we took a few deep breaths and then realised the rest of the nobby was still enormous as we tried to pry it loose but it was still stuck fast. It was sitting there just screaming gem quality blue-green at us as we continued the operation.

It took about an hour of careful prying and digging to remove the nobby from the hard, sandy, white blow in the level.

Once clear and free we could see that it was what we call a clean-skin nobby. This meant that there was no real sand, potch or matrix hiding or filling the colour bar. We could see clear through it all round (other than the black potch on the bottom). It weighed 375 carats and was roughly half the size of my fist. We instantly raced to the top of the hole to get it up into the light. Not many words were said for a few minutes as we stood there staring at it up in the warm afternoon sunlight. Just holding a huge piece like that was something else, let alone owning it. I can remember clearly that I was actually shaking when I first held it in my hand up top. I'll never forget that time.

All the other blokes working claims around us (by that time the word had well and truly got out about the new rush and pegs flew in everywhere) gathered to see what the fuss was about as it was unusual for us to be standing around up top for no real reason. I took the nobby and approached the nearest one who was a good friend of ours working out there by the name of Col. I just said to him; "Hold out your hand.", and as I plonked it down into his hand I think he almost fainted.
Col had never seen anything like it and he's been a pretty decent opal cutter up here for many years and had seen his fair share of good quality opal.
All the other blokes gathering there were simply astonished. All they could do was stare for a moment as it was passed around and let out the odd loud expletive here and there. I think I was grinning from ear to ear by then. Times like these are what opal mining is all about.

Seeing such a large, clean gem quality blue-green on black nobby freshly dug out like that and simply glowing in the sunlight rarely ever happens. It was one of the biggest nobbies to come from the four main good claims there. I only wish I had a decent camera back in those days so I could've taken a picture of it -and the rest that came.
The chip that naturally fell away from the end had cut a beautiful blue-green stone around six carats in size. We had that nobby with us for quite a while and every time we were up top for a morning cuppa, lunch or knockoff time the other blokes would all drop by and congregate around our little caravan (that we always used just to get out of the flies and sun during meal times) just to come and look at it. John and I would also sneak looks at it underground only to be sprung by Dad when he heard that the hammers weren't busy lol. Then we'd all just stand there looking at it until one of us finally gave the 'back to work' order.

That was not the end of it quite yet. We were only getting started... TBC

Kindest regards,
Shauno.

OT: I realised that I still have some pictures of the claim and this area where we found the opal that I took several years later. They're stored on an old windows external harddrive. I only use a Mac today but I'll borrow my Mum's PC and grab a few of the shots off of it if I can.

Last edited by Syndyne (19 September 2013 12:45 pm)


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#37

headbut
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From: Sydney, NSW
Joined: 13 May 2013
Posts: 1,449
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18 September 2013 07:35 pm

Now thats a good story Shaun , love reading your stuff

Regards Paul


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#38

Syndyne
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From: Lightning Ridge, NSW
Joined: 09 April 2013
Posts: 863
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18 September 2013 08:22 pm

Cheers Paul! Getting near to the end of this one with one or two installments to go though, I have plenty more in store.

Hope all is well!
Kindest regards,
Shauno


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#39

Heatho
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From: Central Coast, NSW
Joined: 29 April 2013
Posts: 13,953
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19 September 2013 08:01 am

Yeah me too Shauno, great story this one.


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#40

Syndyne
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From: Lightning Ridge, NSW
Joined: 09 April 2013
Posts: 863
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19 September 2013 12:48 pm

Thanks kindly Heatho!

Plenty more to come after this one is done.

Hope all is going great!
Cheers,
Shauno


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#41

Pro dude
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Joined: 01 August 2013
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19 September 2013 03:09 pm

Gday Shauno,
Mate,your book will be a ripper and Id buy it for sure.
Cant wait for the next chapter.
Reminded me of a book I read as a young bloke.....think it was called something like `The fire in the stone`

Im fairly dirty on M&A,for not giving you at least enough to cover your running costs considering you moved your pegs so they could strike it rich.
I have had some big gold finds over the years and normally gave those blokes prospecting with me a 15% cut each.
Looks like its not only gold that does strange things to people.

#42

Syndyne
Moderator
From: Lightning Ridge, NSW
Joined: 09 April 2013
Posts: 863
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19 September 2013 04:00 pm

Pro dude wrote:

Gday Shauno,
Mate,your book will be a ripper and Id buy it for sure.
Cant wait for the next chapter.
Reminded me of a book I read as a young bloke.....think it was called something like `The fire in the stone`

Im fairly dirty on M&A,for not giving you at least enough to cover your running costs considering you moved your pegs so they could strike it rich.
I have had some big gold finds over the years and normally gave those blokes prospecting with me a 15% cut each.
Looks like its not only gold that does strange things to people.

Hi Pro dude,
Cheers for those kind words! There are plenty of books and stories about, though not many completed from a full time miners perspective that I know of. If I ever do one you'll all be the first to find out I'm sure.

I know The Fire In The Stone story also. I remember seeing the movie adaptation they made (at Coober Pedy I think it was) back in the mid 80's as a kid. Great story that one!

Don't get too worried about the goings on that happened. It's all too common out here for those things to take place. Through theses mistakes you soon learn that when you have a gut feeling you must stick to it no matter what! We did okay in the end. There were five of us in our partnership (if you include running costs and maintenance) and we all got an equal share of whatever we found. We are actually good friends with M&A again. The opal never did them any good and we knew they had been ripped off badly by the buyers due to not knowing the value of what they had. It's just not worth holding a grudge when there are so many others far worse off than us. Karma will usually sort them out wink

Dad, along with my Uncle Dave and John had missed out on many large patches of opal over the years but, again I'll write about those in other stories at some point.

All the best out there! I hope the gold is being kind smile
Kindest regards,
Shauno.

Last edited by Syndyne (19 September 2013 06:39 pm)


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#43

shivan
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From: Nowra, south coast NSW
Joined: 15 February 2013
Posts: 1,082
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19 September 2013 05:00 pm

A great read, sounds like you have had some great ups and downs mining for opal.
Thanks for sharing  cool


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#44

Sw1fty
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Joined: 19 July 2013
Posts: 299
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19 September 2013 08:06 pm

Great story mate, can't wait for the next instalment  big_smile


Don't procrastinate! Do it first thing tomorrow... ML Goldseekers 15000; CTX 3030; Pans,sieves,etc

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#45

dezman
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Joined: 26 July 2013
Posts: 253
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20 September 2013 05:53 am

Great yarn mate,i mined opal there 15years ago and plan to return
next winter if im not on colour with the sapphires!
Glad you got some rain for it was dry when i was out there 7weeks ago
reliving old memorys.
Yeah,have to follow your gut feelings.


Watch where your walking for Gold does not float in the air.

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#46

KGB
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Joined: 06 May 2013
Posts: 27
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20 September 2013 02:38 pm

Great story Shauno, never really considered how hard Opal mining is.  Read the Fire in the Stone story when I was in school.  Can't wait for the next bit!

KB

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#47

jimnyjerry
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From: Blue Mts
Joined: 30 December 2012
Posts: 276
Member
24 September 2013 03:37 pm

Shauno your book will be a ripper when it finally gets done. smile

Looking forward to the next chapter.


I try to take one day at a time, but sometimes several days attack me at once.

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#48

Syndyne
Moderator
From: Lightning Ridge, NSW
Joined: 09 April 2013
Posts: 863
Moderator
25 September 2013 05:27 pm

Hi all,

On with the story...

Once we knew that there was a bit of opal in the claim things settled down somewhat and we ripped into it at full pace. John and I were continuing the prospect drives here and there on the high side of the fault along M&A's border while Dad was still digging in the main drive. We would soon hear that old familiar call loudly over the top of the jackhammers just prior to lunch (I always got excited when that happened as it only meant one thing!) and sure enough as Dad took John and I around the corner into his drive we could see a large pocket of dark red sandstone filled with good trace nobbies on the right hand side. He then said; "Look closely underneath the pocket." and right as the pocket came down to a stop at the bottom there was another large nobby with a beautiful bar of green-orange colour about an inch thick sitting on black. We'd only just saw it when Dad yells "Righto! Get out of the way so I can dig it out in peace." We laughed and said fair enough, then went back to hammering just knowing what we would get to see during the lunch break. I can't recall Dad showing us the piece underground as he usually kept it in his pocket and left it as a surprise to show us in all it's glory once reaching the top. John and I usually both stopped work first to head up top as we were always soaking wet with sweat. It gave us enough time to dry off and get lunch started. It would normally take a few more anxious minutes wait for Dad to reach the top while he was busy gouging, but very much worth the wait for us most of the time.

I always started to get a wry smile when I could see Dad's white mining helmet reach the top of the hole and once up top he would head straight for the water drum to wash the nobby off giving John and I just enough time to race out the caravan door to see what he had. The water drum sat under a large (and the only) tree on the claim, but the light from the shade of the tree was perfect to look at and study the freshly dug opal (best light for opal is usually shady or overcast conditions. Opal should never be looked at in full sun as it normally kills the colour. Another thing to remember is to keep the light source behind your shoulder so you're seeing the full extent of the light hitting the face of the stone or rough exposed colour).
What a sight it was to see something like that. Another clean skin nobby with an intense, thick bar of colour. The thing was simply glowing brightly like a burning ember -even in the shade!   

Back down to work after lunch (around a 20min break depending on how lost in time we were while passing around and looking at the opal) and it was soon apparent that Dad had picked up yet another pocket about a foot away from the last. We could see the familiar dark red sandstone pocket holding a few trace nobbies here and there. Resuming work while waiting to hear from Dad was always tough and there was a strange air of wonder in the back of my mind at just what little treasure was hiding under that new pocket.

Things went on as normal until once again Dad called out. This time it would be another large blue-green nobby with a three quarter inch thick bar on black sitting right at the base of the pocket once again. This was going to be a very good day.
The ride home was always a laugh when we had a bit of opal. It's almost like Christmas everyday. None of us really drink, but we still celebrated the ride home with a frosty bottle of Bundaberg Ginger Beer (still a beer of some variety I guess lol) that we kept cold in the esky each day in lieu of a possible opal find.

Once we arrived home Dad would head straight into the cutting room to rub down the nobbies from the day and face the colour bars of the better ones to see what we had in store. During this time, I'm normally washing handfuls of opal dirt off me in the shower that had built up due to the excessive amounts of sweat running out of me while working. This was good though, as once out of the shower and freshened up I could soon hear the familiar noise of Dad switching the cutting machine off echoing through the house walls.

As he walked in the door I would wait expectedly for the news -which was sometimes good and, sometimes not so good. That day it was a decent, though mixed result. He showed me the faced-off (but still in the rough shape) colour bar of the green-orange nobby. I immediately had seen a large mark where the small matrix cap had been sitting on the top of the colour bar. It had unfortunately permeated down through the bar a fair way and also allowed a small amount of a dark brownish mud to get in somehow. You don't normally see these things until they are put on the cutting machine. Fortunately the bar was very thick and still gave plenty of room to be sliced through and cut good sized stones.

It pays not to count your chickens with opal. Dad always says that we have the most expensive sand in the world here. And that's pretty right.

Even though this had happened (ruining what was one of the best patterns I had seen to that point in the form of a beautiful star-like pattern of pastel coloured stripes radiating out from the centre) all was not lost and we discussed the next step in the cutting process. It was best to cut it through to salvage the biggest stones possible. This was no problem with Dad's expertise as a cutter and a few hours later we had three stunning high domed green-orange on black stones weighing around 6-8carats each. They were sold that weekend to the first buyer we took them to -which is a rare occasion with opal. Sometimes when a buyer can't get the money out fast enough you know inside that you've left yourself short and vastly under priced the opal. Nine times out of ten though the first offer is usually the best.

The other blue green nobby was a ripper! It had good black potch on both the top and bottom. This was pretty rare to see. It made for an easy cutting decision. Dad simply sliced it through to leave a large twenty five carat high-domed stone on the bottom (about the size of a Pigeon's egg) and the quarter inch thick slice on the top cut a stunning fourteen carat stone as the nobby tapered in towards the top to a point (what we call a Chinaman's Hat as they start wide at the top and hang down to a point, either underneath the roof in an opal band, under a pocket of trace or simply attached to the sandstone roof). We got a bit over $1000 per carat for the twenty five carat stone and $1200 per carat for the fourteen carat stone as it had faced a bit more on the green-gold side as opposed to it's larger counterpart.

Back at it again the next day and generally feeling good about life as you do when things go right for a change. Our mornings usually consisted of removing the unwanted dirt in the drives underneath the opal level (known as toe dirt). So we would hammer in and undercut the level anywhere up to four feet at a time, then remove it ready to gouge the opal level that was still left untouched above. This made it comfortable to stand while gouging and left the floor clean just in case a smaller nobby ever fell out, that way it would be easy to find on the floor.

It wouldn't be long before Dad had located yet another pocket in on the right side of his drive making three in a row. Identical in make-up as the previous two and all about a foot apart in a line right under the lowest point of the roof underneath the large fault. Again right at the base of the pocket there was another large blue-green on black nobby. I don't seem to recall this one so well for some reason, but I know it was a fairly good quality piece once again. 

1380087719_jag_hill_claim_top.jpg 
I thought I'd add another little graphic here for more of an overview of what was happening. Definitely not to scale.

The black dots are the three foot Caldwell drill shafts (bottom right corner was our working shaft at that time) and the darker blue line represents the area we were working at that stage. The green line shows the main drive we had in under the fault where Dad was working. The three orange dots close together in a line (on the lower right side) are where the pockets were in this part of the story. The other main pockets where stones were found are also represented by the orange dots but, I had dug one or two other pockets nearer to the border in the area out to the right of those a few months later on. Those aren't marked as I'll do a closer graphic of those when I continue the story.

This area was about thirty five square feet or so in under the main fault area. I thought I'd mark the other two major faults/steps in the claim that we came across, along with the single stones we found near each one (also marked by orange dots).

The lighter blue areas are later workings due to the incident we had in the Spring of 2000. Severe localised flooding events took place out there from several high precipitation and very nasty storms. As we were down on the edge of the old black soil lake we would soon be in trouble once again! But I'll leave that for the next installment... 

Kindest regards,
Shauno.

Edited for grammar.

Last edited by Syndyne (25 September 2013 05:44 pm)


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#49

dezman
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Joined: 26 July 2013
Posts: 253
Member
25 September 2013 06:25 pm

Dam your storys for i cant stop thinking of mining! Even in my dreams,
and gee next winter is a long wait.
I loved coming home with something to rub down and yeah it a worry
when the buyer falls over themselfs to pay ya,i just told myself they know
quality when they see it.
My memorys are as clear today of my mining and you really are living
a dream 'or nightmare' depending on your luck.
Thanks for the yarn.


Watch where your walking for Gold does not float in the air.

#50

Syndyne
Moderator
From: Lightning Ridge, NSW
Joined: 09 April 2013
Posts: 863
Moderator
25 September 2013 06:48 pm

dezman wrote:

Dam your storys for i cant stop thinking of mining! Even in my dreams,
and gee next winter is a long wait.
I loved coming home with something to rub down and yeah it a worry
when the buyer falls over themselfs to pay ya,i just told myself they know
quality when they see it.
My memorys are as clear today of my mining and you really are living
a dream 'or nightmare' depending on your luck.
Thanks for the yarn.

Cheers dezman!

It's definitely a unique old life out here. Glad I can spur you on a bit. There's a bit more to come on this story before I move on to another.

I just posted something in the General Chat section that you might be interested in reading: https://www.prospectingaustralia.com.au … hp?id=2822

We may be seeing the end to the opal mining industry as we know it.
It's gradually descending into a political and legal mess and the fight back from the miners just isn't coming. No one's having their say, so the farmers are winning out as far as stopping access to all the decent opal bearing country.

I'll have a bit more on that once I get the new rules and info from the office here.
The poor old Ridge is dying a quiet death sadly.

Regards,
Shauno.


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