The New Andamooka Saga
On Friday afternoon I was sitting with my wife having a coffee when I saw
a friend, who was standing in the middle of the road dialing his mobile
phone. Who's phone do you think went off? Yes it was mine, I didn't
answer the phone I just called to him, saved his call and he came over
sat down and had a coffee with us.
I said, "Hey, would you like to come to Andamooka with me?"
He said "Yes, of course, when do you want to leave?" and I said
"What about in 1 hour?",
and he said
"What about I let you know tonight?".
So before watching a pretty big football match on television in the
evening, I rang him and he said :
"Yes, 95% he would come", so I didn't bother to ring any other of my
friends. (I have been promising 2 other friends for years that I would
take them to our mine and haven't done it yet.)
The guy I wanted to take is an opal miner and has lots of suggestions
and he is the best company that you could ever have on a 400 mile trip.
After the football match I rang him and he was asleep, had lost his
enthusiasm and didn't want to come. I planned on leaving at 5 am but
I didn't sleep very well due to the excitement of going to our mine so
I was up at 4.15 am and left by 5 am.
Whilst I traveled down the highway, there were police cars and
ambulances etc., the road was blocked off and I was re-directed around an
horrific accident. Unfortunately 3 out of 5 youths had been killed,
the 4th is critically injured and the driver walked away just about
I arrived in Andamooka after watching the sunrise in the east over some
beautiful hills. There were dead Kangaroos on the road with crows and
eagles pecking at them and having their breakfast. On arriving in
Andamooka I went straight to the mine and saw our little bulldozer and
listened for our excavator but alas I couldn't hear it working.
first I thought it may have broken down and then I thought, Aha, we are
on opal. My partner must be sitting down the hole digging it out. No
he wasn't there.
I drove back into the town, past Willis Corner and found my friend.
He had been selling some opals to a friend's friend who was about to
travel overseas. So we had some lunch in a local store as my partner
is a bachelor and we then ventured back to the mine. Well, what an
afternoon we had.
I brought joy to at least 1000 bush flies, they
were everywhere. Fortunately for me with every scrape we had of
the excavator into the face of our mine we found some material even if
it was only potch. I found dead Matrix, I found a Painted Lady, the
excavator had come down and obviously broken a stone in two.
I found the
stone that was in the wall but I couldn't see the one that had probably
been picked up in the bucket and thrown on the dump. The Painted Lady
was only worth about $50 but you never know what the other side would
have been like, it had beautiful reds and greens in 3 different places.
The first person who wants it, can have it.
My partner has got me a new pick, both ends are flat, normally there is
one sharp pointy piece to a pick but we prefer both ends to be flat. I
spent quite a lot of time sitting on the loose dirt with our 30 tonne
Kommatsu excavator while my partner dragged down loose rocks at the top
of the cut which could come down and smash my skull in, even with a hard
He then trims off the top of the cut to expose what we call "the
Squibby level". The ground is then dragged down and lands at the bottom
of the face of the cut. I then crawl up on it. It is very uneven and it's
difficult to stay on my feet, to look at the squibby level to see if
there is any opal in that level.
A miner from years ago had a little D6 and he said to one of his
friends, "That D6 has pushed me a $1,000,000, however, I know now that
it has probably pushed $500,000 from the squibby level that I never
checked in the early days. He then said that he was getting quite a
bit of opal from New Hill on the squibby level. Unfortunately I never
found any opal in the squibby level in the 2 days that I was mining.
When I had completed the squibby level I had to climb down from the
mound and then climb up a very big mound of dirt that is sitting in
front of the excavator and go and sit on one side of the excavator
far enough away so that I didn't get knocked over when it swings
around dumping dirt and wait until the face is scraped probably about
6 to 9 inches back from where we last checked it. I eagerly watched
the wall to see if that big ultimate fantastic flash of colour is going
to be reflected by the sunlight. So far that hasn't happened but we
are always hopeful that we are going to hit one as big as a football.
We will see it from afar.
We opened up the face and a lot of loose dirt appeared just to the right
of centre, it was at least 12 foot wide and went from the bottom of the
face to the top. My partner and I suppose that may have been an old D6
bulldozer cut. My partner tells me that the ground to the right will
yield a little more colour and looks more promising than the ground to
On the 2nd scrape to the right as I picked into the opal
level I hit dead matrix, it is like a river stone about 9 inches long
and 5 inches wide, beautifully smooth and under that stone I could see
colour, I saw brilliant colour.
I saw greens and golds covered with
dirt. I took a screwdriver and pried it away from the stone only to
find that less than 1/3 of what I am looking at was opal and the other
2/3 was just dirt and rocky type material. My heart sinks, then I look
into the hole where the stone came from the face and I see another
little lump with a sparkle of light coming quickly to my eye.
My heart jumps
and I think this could be a beautiful stone. I carefully remove the
stone from the mud and clay, put it in my mouth to wash off the residue
of mud and as it comes from my mouth, I am gladdened of the spectacle
of a beautiful green orange crystal, it is better than the one next to
it but not as big.
My partner is right. The best opal is going to come
from the right hand side of the claim or at least it had until that
moment. The back of the stone is flatter than you could get anything
if you saw through it. A closer inspection shows that the colour is
mainly in the top of the stone but that doesn't matter because that
is what one is going to look at when it is set in jewellery.
left hand side of the face, my partner is carefully placing his pick
into the level and finds a huge piece of potch with a speck of red,
so out came the screwdriver and the probing went on. Out came 2 lovely
little red stones, not full but very bright and enough to lift our
spirits until the next scrape. But alas it never opened into a pocket,
just the 2 little red stones.
It is things like this that split partnerships unless all the partners
are at the face of the mine, when 2 good stones are produced they are
always thinking where is the rest? Andamooka is like that, it might
just put 1 or 2 nice stones there and then nothing. The next climb back
up to the excavator is done much more easily, who cares about climbing
up this loose dirt when the next scrape might produce the big one. Not
I watched eagerly and with my renewed enthusiasm started to brush the
flies away from my face. Normally my face is theirs to do their will,
the more you chase them the more you stir them up. Sudden movements and
you get an extra 50 flies in your face. I then checked the squibby
level with eager eyes and anxiety and I watched the face as it was
This time well to the left, just one single stone of
jelly was produced. It weighed about 3/4 oz, not a lot of money but a
nice stone. 100 oz of that jelly would make beautiful faceting material
or beads so today might be THE DAY.
Whilst I was there I made some new friends and met some old ones. At
the bottom of this you will see some very very beautiful Treated
Concrete. These stones weigh approximately 20 oz plus and can be yours
for only $1000 which is less than 30c per carat, you can't be that.
TO BE CONTINUED IF REQUESTED.
It is now winter but you wouldnÕt know it in Andamooka it is very much
like the Arizona area, hot and dry in summer and beautifully warm and
clear in winter, balmy days and very chilly nights but no snow
Andamooka is a beautiful town set in a valley with a creek running
through the middle, however, only in times of flash floods do you see
water in the creek. There is part of a branch known as Andamooka
Station and for almost 100 years have hopeful people endure the 400
mile drive in the hope of finding that elusive rainbow.
The rainbow is well in our sights. At 6 am we arose for some quick
toast tea, donned our heavy boots and tough mining clothes that would
protect our bodies should we fall across one of the thousands of piles
of sandstone in our mine and headed to our cut on New Hill.
excavator was up on high ground as every night when we finish work
we take it from the cut in case of a flash flood or another mishap. We
put it in an area that we could work on should be have any problems
with the machine. Before we took it down its steep and narrow drive
to the base of the cut we greased the machine as we do every 2 days.
We have a special grease gun that is operated by an air-compressor,
this is no more than a 15 minute job and then the machine is walked
down to the face. I don my hardhat, throw my pick over my shoulder, as
did the 7 dwarfs and glided to the cut face. For a moment I feel like a
foot soldier walking behind a tank towards the enemy.
In reality, I am
the soldier who has to fight the earth. The earth is prepared to take on
the machine and always wins. There is not a mining machine that has
never broken down with the wear and tear of tearing into the earth for
its treasure. The earth takes the men on and wears them down with
its dusty hot desert, tests their patience and sends many men from the
fields with their tails between their legs. Some lose their families
because they have become opalholics and continue to drive and dig
in search of the earths treasure. They are besotted by the stone and
finally lose their stake and often their families as a result.
Today once again my partner and I did battle with the earth. In the
cool of the morning and the renewed energy produced through the
night is sat with very high hopes. As you will remember the last scrape
had produced some very beautiful jelly. Was there to be another few
stones hiding behind the last? I watched the machine as the large
bucket, which will hold 3 men shoulder to shoulder, drove through the
squibby level down to the bottom of the face. No. I couldnÕt see any
brilliance from the safe distance I sat from the bucket, but as I stepped
down through the mullick, tiny bits of sandstone tried to sneak down the
side of my boot to aggravate me.
I did spot some dark potch, maybe
4 or 5 pieces but it was as dark as lead. I indicated to my partner as
he sat on the machine waiting for it to cool down before he turned it off
to come down and check the level that there were traces. Here it was
early in the morning on our first scrape and we have a trace already.
Surely today was going to produce the big one. Potch was just potch
nothing more. To the left some very thin skinny translucent potch and
to the right, well today we wonÕt know what is to the right because there
is so much overburden that if we step in there we could be buried.
partner thinks that to get opal in this cut the opal will come more to the
right. He tries to explain why to me but I figure it is more intuition than
any reality. He talks of opal running this way and opal running that and
something stopping the flow and the opal is formed one hundred million
years ago. How he knows I donÕt know. I certainly wasnÕt there to verify
his theory. So we were concentrating on the left. Nothing on the first
scrape, a little potch on the second scrape, even less potch on the third
The sun was coming out and so I lifted the collar on the back of
my neck, I didnÕt expect to be getting sunstruck on this Sunday. In
battling with the earth I didnÕt figure I was going to allow the sun to
become its ally. I carefully covered the rest of my body with some
material so that the sun would not damage me. On the 4th scrape I saw
some colour as large as the point of a pin. As I scraped around it, it
The tinge of blue became bright blue green, however, to
my disappointment there is a little sand through the blue green. Yes, we
were on blue green Crystal trace. Behind that stone was another and to
the side of that stone was another, behind that stone was another but it
was only trace but that was good enough for us so early in the day.
Scrape after scrape more potch and more potch, the blue green
disappeared as fast as it appeared. Opal is shy and it is hidden for many
eons and by lunchtime had not shown her face.
I had lots of work to do in Adelaide. I had asked my partner as a special
favour to me to work on a Sunday morning. I figured that if I knocked off
by 12 noon I could have lunch, clean up and be ready to leave by 2 pm
and be back in my home in the city by 8 pm. As the excavator was driven
from the cut, I walked behind it, took my hardhat from my head and felt
the cool relief of the wind as it fanned my perspired brow because to get
the excavator to high ground we have to go up hill.
I trudge behind the
machine and felt like a defeated soldier, I had no fear of what was ahead
of me. My footstep was heavy in contrast to the lighthearted step I had
behind the machine as we walked down the incline towards the cut in the
morning. My mining for the weekend was over with just a few stones to
show but nowhere near enough to pay for the fuel that we had expended
or to cover the food that we had consumed or to pay for the electricity for
the power to heat the expensive water used to clean our bodies though in
my case it doesnÕt matter much because fortunately I have an opal
business to rely on for my living.
But I can tell you my partner didnÕt have
too many smiles on his face. He has payments on his 4 wheel drive to
make and no opal to sell to make those payments. He also has other
commitments and has taken me in as a partner and I have to pay all the
mining expenses and provide the machinery. He has had to take in a
partner to minimise the gamble of producing opal.
We attend the local supermarket to have our lunch. We have to provide
our own because the miners wife has had enough of the fields, taken the
children and gone, another disappointment for my partner. He told her
many times that things will improve, that he will find a big one. He did
before he became my partner and he will again and he will enjoy the
luxuries of what the earth has to provide but she is gone and so we will
buy a pie for our lunch.
There are little tables in front of a television screen and the locals are
Sitting staring at the screen. I am told that it is a Keno screen and
play. As number 23 was my old football number I watch to see if the
number appears, it doesnÕt in 3 games so I put $20 on the 4th and it
doesnÕt come, I put $50 on the 5th it doesnÕt come, I put $100 on the 6th
it doesnÕt come, I put $200 on the 7th it doesnÕt come. I asked my
partner to put $400 on the 8th and he doesnÕt come fast enough so my
money is not on. We anxiously watch the screen to see whether number
23 comes up, we are sure that it will and this was my last punt, it
On the 9th game we are on and 23 comes, we collect $1200 but
had an outlay of whatever it adds up to and we figure that I am $480 in
front but not really because I have a partner. I handed him $240 and
keep $240 for myself so the day wasnÕt so bad. My partner doesnÕt want
to take the money but he knows how badly he needs it and tries to give
it back but I force it on him. It should feed him for another 3 weeks.
TO BE CONTINUED IF REQUESTED
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Last modified: July 8, 2007