Trip Report 2005 Australia: Steve’s First Solo Trip

Jun 05 2005Off To Oz

6/5/05 Left Billings at 10:45 promptly…perfect flight except very limited legroom for someone who is 6’2”.  The jet was a mini version of a DC9 with twin engines on the tail.  Built by Bomardier (Lear Jet people), the CRJ700 seats up to 70 passengers and will hit mach .85 (yup…been spending some time on their website).  Cool plane…seems to get up in the air quickly, but it is a bit noisy.  Up, up and away.  Arrived in Salt Lake about 10 minutes early so we had to wait for a jet way to open before we could exit the plane.   The flight out of Salt Lake was uneventful and again very timely.  Arrived at LAX airport right on time 2:05 pm.  I hiked over to the Qantas (Queensland and Northern Territories Airline Service) desk only to find they don’t open till 4:30 PM…gives me 2 hours to kill so here I am updating the trip log.  Flight from LAX to Sydney, left promptly at 10:30.    Slept about 4 hours of the long uneventful 15 1/2 hour flight.  Really, that’s not bad.

Jun 07 2005Sydney

Grey Kangaroo warily checking me out during my morning walk with Neil Tooth on the Grawin Opalfield.

Grey Kangaroo warily checking me out during my morning walk with Neil Tooth on the Grawin Opalfield.

6/7/05 Arrived in Sydney a little after 6:00 AM. I brought a clean change of clothes in my carry on bag and washed up and changed clothes, in the men’s room at Sydney airport, after clearing customs. Lost a day during the flight when we crossed the international dateline…it’s now 6/7/05.  Picked up an inexpensive cell phone for communications with miners. And it turned out to be the wrong kind of cell phone.  There are 2 cell systems in Australia and the kind I purchased had poor communication with small outback towns.  I hand out business cards with my cell number and hopefully get a few calls from opal miners with parcels for sale.

Took a cab to the Maui/Bartrak Campervan (RV) rental place in Sydney.  Of course the Pakistani driver thought he was Al Unser in the Indy 500 and a hot cup of coffee spilled all over my lap.  I should have known better and left the cover on the coffee cup.  On the upside it was a beautiful day and I was at Bartrak rental ½ hour before they opened.  I was able to sit on the front flower planter and watch Sydney as it was waking up!  The people at Bartrak treated me like a king…very friendly and they even made me a cup of instant coffee…kind of the Australian way.  They make their coffee much differently then we do.  Coffee is made in espresso machines, one cup at a time (or instant is very popular).  Almost no one here has drip coffee makers (or percolators).  I bring my own little 4-cup, camping percolator along for the trip to fill my down-under coffee needs.  Picked up the campervan after signing about a dozen forms and I was able to convince the clerk from Bartak into helping me activate my cell phone…she was a dear!

Left the Bartak office with VERY good typed up directions on how to get out of Sydney and on the road to Lightning Ridge.  Of course the directions were no good what so ever because I made a wrong turn straight away, in the morning rush hour traffic and ended up going in circles; terrified I would never get out of Sydney.   Swallowing my manly pride, I stopped at a Hungry Jacks (same as Burger King…but since Australia is still part of the British Empire, “Burger King” might border on disrespect to the royal family) to ask directions…yes, I stopped and asked directions…but only because panic was setting in.  As it turned out, I had been on the correct road after all those wrong turns (thank you God) and I just needed to get back on the same road and keep following it through a long underground tunnel/expressway which led to a toll-way (AU$2.20) and then on my way to the blue Mountains and out of Sydney…I did it…but not without a bit of panic.

There were lots and lots of small quaint towns along the way and great weather.  Even though I was tired and had drank a gallon of coffee (not just an opalholic but have a caffeine problem as well) on the way it was great to be back in Australia.  Stopped in Bathurst for groceries and and to withdraw opal buying funds from our account at a Westpac bank branch.   Bathurst is a delightful small town.  Then I was off to Wellington, to spend the night at a beautiful Caravan Park.   My campsite was right on the Maccquarie River.  Huge beautiful gum trees on the shore and was awakened, once again, by the Gallah’s noisy 7:00AM raucous.

Jun 07 2005On Time In Sydney

6/7/05 Arrived in Sydney a little after 6:00 AM. I brought a clean change of clothes in my carry on bag and washed up and changed clothes, in the men’s room at Sydney airport, after clearing customs. Lost a day during the flight when we crossed the international dateline…it’s now 6/7/05.  Picked up an inexpensive cell phone for communications with miners. And it turned out to be the wrong kind of cell phone.  There are 2 cell systems in Australia and the kind I purchased had poor communication with small outback towns.  I hand out business cards with my cell number and hopefully get a few calls from opal miners with parcels for sale.

Took a cab to the Maui/Bartrak Campervan (RV) rental place in Sydney.  Of course the Pakistani driver thought he was Al Unser in the Indy 500 and a hot cup of coffee spilled all over my lap.  I should have known better and left the cover on the coffee cup.  On the upside it was a beautiful day and I was at Bartrak rental ½ hour before they opened.  I was able to sit on the front flower planter and watch Sydney as it was waking up!  The people at Bartrak treated me like a king…very friendly and they even made me a cup of instant coffee…kind of the Australian way.  They make their coffee much differently then we do.  Coffee is made in espresso machines, one cup at a time (or instant is very popular).  Almost no one here has drip coffee makers (or percolators).  I bring my own little 4-cup, camping percolator along for the trip to fill my down-under coffee needs.  Picked up the campervan after signing about a dozen forms and I was able to convince the clerk from Bartak into helping me activate my cell phone…she was a dear!

Left the Bartrak office with VERY good typed up directions on how to get out of Sydney and on the road to Lightning Ridge.  Of course the directions were no good what so ever because I made a wrong turn straight away, in the morning rush hour traffic and ended up going in circles; terrified I would never get out of Sydney.   I stopped at a Hungry Jacks (same as Burger King…but since Australia is still part of the British Empire, “Burger King” might border on disrespect to the royal family) to ask directions…yes, that’s right I stopped and asked directions…but only because panic was setting in.  As it turned out, I had been on the correct road after all those wrong turns and I just needed to get back on the same road and keep following it through a long underground tunnel/expressway which led to a toll-way (AU$2.20) and then on my way to the blue Mountains and out of Sydney…I did it!!

There were lots and lots of small quaint towns along the way and great weather.  Even though I was tired and had drank a gallon of coffee (not just an opalholic but a caffeine addict as well) on the way it was great to be back in Australia.  Stopped in Bathurst for groceries and to withdraw opal buying funds the Westpac bank.   Bathurst is a delightful small town…the oldest inland town in Australia with about 33,000 people and was the sight of the first Australian goldrush.  Then I was off to Wellington, to spend the night at a beautiful Caravan Park.   My campsite was right on the Maccquarie River.  Huge beautiful gum trees on the shore and was awakened, once again, by the Gallah’s noisy 7:00AM raucous…that was just fine by me.

Jun 08 2005Broken RV…..

A couple of hungry Galahs on a feeder at Neil and Willies camp in Grawin.

A couple of hungry Galahs on a feeder at Neil and Willies camp in Grawin.

6/8/05 Back on the road at 8:00, just as I was pulling out of the caravan park, the gearshift linkage cable broke.  I was stuck in first gear with a top speed of 15 k/hr.  I turned around in the street and drove back to the caravan park.  I would like to mention here that the people that I dealt with at the caravan park, Tony and Kay Abra, were VERY gracious and treated me as though I were a member of their family.  They kept my coffee cup full, gave me access to their telephone (I had no cell phone coverage in Wellington) and were patient and sympathetic with my plight.  I called Britz, the campervan rental office and was told the unit was still under warranty and I needed to call GE Capital Fleet services since the unit was leased.  Well, it seemed it was still under warranty from Mercedes, so I had to speak with Darren and Chris at Mercedes also.  Sounds like a nightmare, but everything went off well and everyone I spoke with was helpful and courteous.  I supposed it helped that I kept my cool, but how else could I behave…after all, I was in Australia and I was here to buy opals.   I wasn’t going to let a small distraction interfere with a wonderful trip I had been planning for 6 months.  And I met some great people…this must be the silver lining.  Or maybe this was the other shoe dropping very lightly.

I finally got my vehicle towed to the Mercedes dealership in Dubbo.  Rode into town in the tow truck driven by a Scottish immigrant with great stories to tell…sorry not enough room in this trip report.  Dubbo is a medium sized city of about 60,000 people with many modern conveniences found only in larger towns.  And most of their homes are quaint versions of the Victorian homes we see in the USA, from the early 1900’s.   The people at the Mercedes dealership were also amazing (this must be getting old, but it’s true).  Greg Smart (Western Plains Automotive) was the service manager in charge of my repair and he was able to steal a part off of a new vehicle to replace the broken gearbox linkage cable.   And his service crew worked overtime that night to get me on the road the next morning!  I spent the night in Dubbo at the Cattleman’s Country Motor Inn and had a room with a Jacuzzi.  Suffering through this repair was tough?!  Had a seafood dinner that night at the restaurant in the motel and the food was excellent as was the service.

Jun 09 2005On The Road Again

Camp of "part Time" opal miners (Peter, Ted and Gilly) and their wives from Melbourne, who spend the chilly southern winters in the warmer climate of Lightning Ridge...a wonderful group of people.

Camp of "part Time" opal miners (Peter, Ted and Gilly) and their wives from Melbourne, who spend the chilly southern winters in the warmer climate of Lightning Ridge...a wonderful group of people.

6/9/05 Picked up my repaired van at the Mercedes dealer at 0830…on the road less traveled by 0900.  Drove through Gilgandra, Gulargambone, Coonamble and Walgett.  Those cities names sound like they are straight out of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.  I just love the names of Aussie outback towns.  Stopped in Gilgandra for groceries and a sleeping bag…it was very cool at night and I was getting cold.  There was a 240vac heater in the van, but it was noisy and kept me awake…so a sleeping bag was a great solution.

Met an old friend, Willie Tooth in Cumborah and followed her to Grawin…home of black seam opal.  Spent the evening catching up on what Willie and Neil Tooth had been up to.  I had first met Willie 8 years ago, through the Internet, when I helped her find some wire wrapping tools in the USA.  We have kept in touch through the years, through e-mails and phone calls, but this was the first time we had met in person.  The Tooths have a very comfortable camp in Grawin off the electrical power grid.  Neil has rigged up several photovoltaic panels to charge an array of huge lead/acid batteries (they weigh over 200 pounds each).  He has the batteries connected to an inverter to supply 240vac (50hz) to run lights and appliances.  For backup he has a single cylinder diesel generator that also can charge the batteries on cloudy days.  I like the Australian system of using 240vac…gets a lot more work done then our lightweight 120vac.

Set up times to look at parcels the next day and saw a few stones that had been left with Willie for me to have a look at.  Lots of gorgeous material to see…wish I had a one million dollar budget to buy opals with.  I was prepared to not see much in the way of opal parcels, but I obviously was blessed to find a large number of parcels, of a fair price, to be able to choose from.

We went out to the Grawin Club for a pizza dinner that night.  It turned out to be a very tasty thin crust pizza with any number of ingredients.  After stuffing myself with way too much pizza, I went to be early.  Still suffering from jet lag!

Jun 10 2005Grawin..Black Seam Opal!!

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6/10/05 Up at the crack of dawn I was anxious to head out to a mine in the Grawin field and see more parcels of opal. Went for an early morning walk with Willies husband Neil and we talked about our common electronics and computer interests and saw a multitude of gray kangaroos, flushed out of the brush by our quiet footfalls.

Another miner had heard that I was in town and stopped over to show me a nice parcel of rough black seam opal…very gemmy with many, many possibilities of red/blue/green fire over a true black base.  Grawin seam blacks are definitely beautiful.  Spent a good deal of money on that parcel and it was worth it.  It is almost impossible to find truly rough, unrubbed, black opal like this.  Went over to Peter Coulton’s camp to meet his group of miners and their wives.  What a wonderful group of people.  They were very friendly and gracious and filled me with fresh scones from the camp oven, smothered in butter and honey…what a treat.

Finally we drove over to their mine and climbed down 25 feet of ladder to the first, shallow, opal layer they were presently working.  Had a nice tour of their extensive workings and saw several examples of nice black potch in the walls and some of the potch had a bit of blue/green color present…so I guess it wasn’t potch after all.   The work was beginning.  Three miners and myself began working on a pillar at the intersection of 2 drives, with an electric jackhammer and rock picks.  At first they were finding nice small bits of gray and black material with color.  Then a larger seam of beautiful crystal was spotted while excavating right below the silcrete ceiling.  Further digging showed this seam to be very extensive and gloriously bright with lively multi-color fire.  Imagine my delight to be present when opal of this quality was found.  It was unbelievable!!  We worked carefully, ignoring lunch to unearth this delightful opal and I even was able to lend a very careful hand.  All I can say is WOW!!  Finally we decided to have a late lunch break and leave the rest of the opal in this drive until the next day.  Lunch was great, at the camp, with a self-service buffet of wheat bread, cheese, ham, lettuce, onion and a desert of more scones with honey.  Peter cleaned up the mornings finds with an improvised grinder that was equipped with a single 400 grit diamond grinding wheel and an ingenious gravity water feed.

We drove back to Willies camp to talk business.  I ended up making an offer on the parcel that was accepted and was able to leave with that beautiful 107 gram parcel.  Wish I could be present the next day or two to see what else came out of that drive.  Willie cooked up a great meal of fresh lamb shoulder chops and a mix of steamed vegetables.  We topped it off with fruit and whipped cream.  What a feast after a hard day mining opal.   We sat and visited until bedtime.  I went back to my little campervan (RV) to catch up on the computer and listen to Australian folk music playing on the radio!! ZZZZZZZ

Jun 11 2005Lightning Ridge

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6/11/05 Up early and had brekkie (Australian slang for breakfast) with Neil and Willie Tooth.  Left for Lightning Ridge early with Willie leading the way.  With all the rain the day before the roads were very muddy so we took the long way around.  Got to the Ridge around noon, checked into the Crocodile Caravan Park and had lunch with Willie at the Pub.  After a filling lunch of roast chicken, chips (French fries) and zucchini we stopped in and visited with Daniela L’Abbate, a very, very talented opal cutter who specializes in opal carving.  We spent several hours visiting with Daniella and talking about opals, gems and life in Lightning Ridge (and drinking lots of tea…need to keep the caffeine level up).  I was able to have a peek at her carving/cutting room and gleaned a few cutting and polishing tips to improve my carving skills.  Daniela is very talented in many other forms of artwork, not just stone.  And I admire her drive and energy!  Back at the caravan park I washed a load of clothes and climbed into the sleeping bag early.

Jun 12 2005Lightning Ridge to Cobar

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6/12/05 Slept in a bit and had a shower around nine and rang up Len Cram to schedule a visit.  Len’s wife answered and said Lenny had just left with relatives to see the sights of L.R.  She said I was welcome to stop in and pick up a few books if I needed.  I had a great visit with her and picked up 2 more copies of Len’s wonderful book on Lightning Ridge to take home in my suitcase and save some cash on shipping costs.  I stopped by Peter and Lisa’s store to see if they had found any nobbies and just to visit.  No nobbies (nobbie production has been way down with most of the opal production coming out of Grawin as seam opal) available but I spent about ½ hour catching up on the news from the Ridge.  Lisa is quite a gal and it was fun watching her with the young kids that come into her video rental store…she would have made an excellent elementary school teacher. It was really great to visit with Lisa.  Peter was home packing for a trip to a gem show in Hong Kong.  Peter and Lisa mine opals, run a video store and market cut black and crystal Lightning Ridge opals.  When available, we’ve also bought a bit of rough nobbies from them in the past.  Left L.R. about 11:00 planning to make it to Wilcania for the night.  Drove like mad for several hours and enjoyed seeing many emus near the road, but not too near the road.  It started getting dark, so I stopped in a caravan park in Cobar for the night.  And I was getting very tired driving on these narrow, bumpy outback roads.  Cobar is a fairly large city (maybe 5,000) and the Caravan Park was tidy and neat.  I will try to get on the road just before sunup tomorrow and drive like a mad man again, with very few stops to make it to Port Augusta or further.  I am very glad I have a toilet and kitchen in the campervan, so I don’t need to look for a rest area…just a wide shoulder.  I can only do 120kph (down hill with a tail wind) flat out in the Mercedes Sprint camper (she has a 3 liter, 4 cylinder turbo diesel which is very stingy with fuel) and the speed limit is 110kph (68mph) so there is little chance of a ticket…unless I forget to slow down through towns.  I will take the Barrier Hwy a good deal of the way tomorrow and that’s a major highway so driving should be easier with a wider and smoother road.

Jun 13 2005Cobar to Port Augusta

Outback scenery: Mulga trees (Acacia) and Saltbush shrubs...hopefully enough to feed a few head of sheep.

Outback scenery: Mulga trees (Acacia) and Saltbush shrubs...hopefully enough to feed a few head of sheep.

6/13/05 Rose at 5:30 and hit the showers.  Cranked the heater up in the van…it was in the 30’s…frost on the ground.  The walk to and from the showers was frigid.  Had cold cereal and an orange and off to the races.  On the road at 7:00AM just after the sky began lighting up.  Drove slowly at first to avoid any ‘roos in the dim light and rain.  At about 8:00 when the rain picked up to a steady downpour the ‘roos and wallabies came out.  In the last 45 minutes I have seen 10 wallabies and 4 big gray ‘roos.   The road between Cobar and Wilcannia must be kangaroo row.  Dead carcasses are visible every hundred yards or so.  Seeing all these live ‘roos during the daytime is very rare.  Usually they are seen at night, suddenly illuminated inn your headlights, hopping into the middle of the road.  It’s a terrifying sight, as you break hard and belongings are thrown around in the campervan.  I prefer seeing them safely off to the side of the road during the daytime.  By the way wallabies are a miniature version of kangaroo that only grow to about 3 feet high and gray kangaroos are the larger version with heights up to 5 feet.  Reds are the largest size with weights over 200 pounds and heights over 6 feet.  This was written at roadside rest for a coffee break after my heart ended up in my throat from a near collision with a gray!  The long trip from Cobar to Port Augusta finally ended at a caravan park with a supper provided by Colonel Sanders.  Question: Why go all the way to Australia and have Kentucky Fried Chicken?  Answer:  ‘Cause I was too exhausted to cook.  What a drive!

Jun 14 2005Port Augusta to Coober Pedy

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6/14/05 Slept in late at the caravan park in Port Augusta.  Talked to Darlene in the AM and didn’t get on the road until about 9:30AM.  Woke to a bright sunny day.  The Mercedes Sprint campervan was a bit underpowered for the strong head winds I was encountering today.  Gusty crosswinds, at times, caused to it wander and make travel exhausting along the Stuart Highway.  The attached photo is of a flock of Galahs hanging onto the electric wire, in the gusty wind, for dear life.  Stopped at a rest area (for a rest) and took a hike down a dirt road to take pictures and get some exercise. Found an old deserted homestead with an overgrown graveyard and a huge commemorative white marble gravestone with a date of 1892 and the surname of Clark.  There was just a small dirt track going back here and it was a very surrealistic setting.  Camera batteries were dead so I was unable to get a photo.  Stopped in another rest area in Pimba and gassed up and made a quick soup and bread lunch and caught up on the trip report.  Still blowing up a gale out of the north.  Going to be dusty in Coober Pedy today.

Rolled into Coober Pedy around 5:30PM and luckily the wind had died and the dust had settled.  Decided to spend the night in the Mud Hut motel and rest my sore back in a comfortable bed.  The driver’s seat in this van could sorely (pardon the pun) use a bit more padding and extra lumbar support.  Checked into the Mud Hut motel and got the last room available.  Had dinner at the motel restaurant, which was a sumptuous buffet including dilled fish, curried chicken and roast beef, a great mix of steamed vegetables and cheesecake for desert.  Went back to the room, watched a bit of TV and hit the feathers at 9:00.

Jun 15 2005Time to Look For Opal Parcels

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6/15/05 Checked out of the Mud Hut Motel after a nice restful nights sleep. And my old lumbar vertebrae were grateful.  Drove out to the rest area, on the highway near the exit to Coober Pedy and had brekkie and took a few photographs.  Met with Rose and Trevor at the Old Timers Mine and had a good visit and caught up on the latest news in Coober Pedy.  Drove into town and did a load of laundry and shopped for a few groceries at the Miners Store.  Not much has changed in Coober except one of my favorite places to have lunch has closed…The New Millennium Café…best gyros (or Yuros) in South Australia.  Visited miners Sam and Tim and heard news of their mine at Turkey Ridge.  They have been working an open cut there for about a week, but haven’t found much opal…only a small parcel of bright inlay material.  Saw several other parcels they had collected and unlike the rumors I had heard, found that there was a bit of opal to be found and the prices weren’t crazy.  Had supper at Tom and Mary’s Greek Taverna (my favorite restaurant in Coober…maybe the world) with Rose and Trevor and thoroughly enjoyed it. My order consisted of oysters on the half shell for an appetizer and Calamari for the main course with Mary’s special cake for desert.  Had an offer of a place to park my RV so am staying with Tim and Sam outside of their dugout home.  Will be packing and shipping opals home tomorrow and driving around Coober Pedy to take a few photo’s…maybe even head out to Sam and Tim’s mine to see the workings.

Jun 16 2005Turkey Ridge And 17 Mile Diggings

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6/16/05 Slept until 8:00 when the noisy Galahs, Cockies (Cockatoo) and crows woke me.  This is the wonderful Australian outback alarm clock.  Went with Tim out to see two of his mines…one at 17 Mile Field and the other at Turkey Ridge.  The two brothers are working a mine at Turkey Ridge that was originally mined by their father, in the seventies, with great success.  Everybody says this about their claims, but in this case I can verify it’s true (I have seen finished opal from this mine): some of the prettiest opal to come out of Coober Pedy came from this mine.  Their father is staying at their dugout at present and is excited to see what his two miner boys have in the works and I am sure he is just a bit sentimental about their working his old diggings.  After Turkey Ridge we went out to see his diggings at 17 Mile field.  This is one of the most extensive open cuts in all of Coober Pedy and their plans are to continue this cut further out into areas, which have shown some color during test drilling.  They are working this area with a huge Komatsu 355 bulldozer and a noodling machine to go through the mine waste (mullock) .  After a tour of the opal fields with lots of picture taking it was off to town for a couple of gyro sandwiches.  My tastes sure appreciate the wonderful Greek cooks in this town!  After lunch I packed and shipped parcels off to the USA.  I visited with Tim and Sam’s father and uncle after returning from the post office and heard tales of their mining days in the Coober Pedy opal fields, gold fields and boulder opal fields.  The group of three brothers certainly led an adventurous life and finally settled in the Murray River country with an almond farm where Sam and Tim were raised.  That evening we went to the Chinese Restaurant in Coober for a delicious meal and back to the campervan to clean the place up and get it all in shape for the trip to Mintabie.  That’s me, at 17 Mile opalfield, using the Komatsu dozer for an arm rest.

Jun 18 2005Mintabie

Possibly the largest  open-cut opal mine to be found in Mintabie...hope they struck opal!

Possibly the largest open-cut opal mine to be found in Mintabie...hope they struck opal!

6/18/05 Woke at about 7:00 and cleaned up, made coffee, had a brekkie of cereal and took a hike away from their camp into the opal fields.  Found a few pieces of opal along the road while walking.  Mostly my finds were just potch with a little color present…but it was great to find some opal myself.  Came back to camp and after having a few cups of good drip coffee with Dan and Patsy, Dan drove me out to Max Novelli’s diggings.  This trip I had my camera along and I took lots of photos.  Back at Dan and Patsy’s camp I said my farewells and hit the road back to Coober Pedy.  It’s about a 280-kilometer drive to Coober and with the warm sun shining and the road deserted I became sleepy.  Stopped at a small rest area for a short nap and then brewed a pot of coffee for the rest of the drive…the convenience of traveling in a small RV.  Arrived at Tim and Sam’s dugout about 5:30 PM and was welcomed in by T&S father, uncle and their mate.  Got an invite for supper with the group for an Australian specialty.  This is mince (hamburger) mixed with onion, fresh tomato, soy sauce and grilled on the barbie.  MMMMM!  But before dinner Sam came in from the mine with a large sack of un-cleaned opal.  We had a look at some of the stones and it was extremely bright multicolor crystal that might sell for about US$3,000/ounce.  Be nice to unearth about 100 ounces of opal like that.  It could happen.

I heard a story today about a miner whose Calweld drill (9″ exploration drill) broke down along the road back from Alan’s Rise in remote spot away from most of the opal workings.  While ha was broke down and waiting for someone to come out and help him he decided to sink a hole and see if he could drill up a bit of opal here away from all of the action.  Upon reaching the opal level he drilled up some very nice color indeed!  He called a few mates who also came out with investigator drills and more color was drilled up!  They are now calling this area Reynolds Ridge (on top of a slight hill and found by Paul Reynolds).  There is a pegging party (opal rush where many people come out and put pegs [claim markers] down when they stake a claim) going on out there now and this only happened yesterday.  Opal news travels fast in Coober Pedy.

I have been able to experience a lot of interesting happenings during this year’s opal buying trip.  After supper (they call it tea here?) we watched an Australian Football game on the TV.  Australian football is a very different sport, which is like a cross between our football, basketball and soccer: lots of action, speed and scoring.  Now it’s off to the camper for computer work and bed.

Jun 19 2005Turkey Ridge Opal Field-Crystal Opal

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6/19/05 After coffee and a quick breakfast of cereal and fruit, it was off to the opal-fields and Turkey Ridge in particular.  Worked for several hours with the Sam and Tim noodling yesterdays mullok in search of a missing piece of mouth-watering crystal.  We had no luck noodling, but when they were working the claim with the excavator, electric jackhammer and hand picks a large parcel of opal was uncovered: everything from large potch pieces, potch and color to very bright multi-color crystal.  I came back to my campervan before the rest of the crew because I wanted to do a bit of souvenir shopping and get the campervan ready for the trip home.  I was unable to pick up souvenirs as the shops that I really wanted to visit were closed on Sunday.  There’s always next year.  Filled the van up with fuel and water, and had tea (supper) with the rest of Tim And Sam’s family…chips and steak sandwiches with “the lot” (with the works…fried egg, onions, bacon, tomatoes and lettuce…fried egg?)  Had a shower, watched a bit of TV and off to the campervan and bed.  When I was heading out to the van I stopped into the opal grading shed and had a look at some of today’s opal finds that had just come out of the washing machine sized tumbler.  They were all small pieces, but many of the pieces had gorgeous multi-color crystal and some were an electric blue/green in color.  Very nice opal!  Wish I could be here to see the large pieces come out of the tumbler.  It has been great to be here to see the “behind the scenes” opal processing.  I have seen everything from bright opal being pulled out of the mines to cleaning and processing the opal in the large tumblers and cement mixers.  Again I must say…this has been quite a trip!

Jun 20 2005Coober Pedy-Port Augusta-Port Wakefield-Adelaide-Billings

Watched the sky darken, with an approaching storm, from the boat launch on Gulf St. Vincent near the Port Wakefield Caravan Park where I spent the night.

Watched the sky darken, with an approaching storm, from the boat launch on Gulf St. Vincent near the Port Wakefield Caravan Park where I spent the night.

6/20/05-6/24/05 The trip back home.  On the road again to Port Augusta, Port Wakefield and Adelaide…then the long flight back to the USA.  I decided to do the last leg of the trip in a slow 3 days.  Just to add a little extra time cushion in case of another breakdown.  Coober Pedy to Port Augusta, Port Augusta to Port Wakefield and Port Wakefield to Adelaide…the stop in Port Wakefield is just for campervan cleaning and an easy stopping point to bring the campervan back to the depot around noon the next day.  Dropped the rental van off at Maui/Bartak in Adelaide.  This is very convenient as it’s only 2 blocks from the Airport Motel, which was right across from the Adelaide Airport.  The morning of the 24th I caught the early 6:00AM hop to Sydney.  At the Sydney airport I had a couple hour layover and then 30 hours of travel back to Billings.  On the long leg back to Billings I sat smack in the middle of a large group of junior high school students on the way home from a school trip to Australia.  Good to be back in Billings!  Now for the long wait for all of my opal boxes to make it back home.  It can take up to 2 weeks for all of the boxes to arrive and since they are not insured (or insured for very little) the trip isn’t truly over until all the boxes are in my office.