Where to start…As I write this it’s October 13, 2022 today… looking back on my May/June 2022 trip to Australia hoping to concisely report on opal worthy news in this lonely, although beautiful, isolated section of the Australian outback. After a 4-year absence (due to covid causing Australia to close international flights) I entered Coober Pedy on May 20 2022. I noticed a very sleepy town with few cars on the road and the well-kept and conveniently located Mud Hut Motel, where I usually stay was quiet as well. The next morning, I stopped into John and Yoka’s Opal & Art store on Hutchison Street to visit with John and see if he knew any miners who might have opal. John Dunston is my go-to guy in town, who still mines opal and also helps his wife run their shop when he’s not out in the field on his excavator or bulldozer. John’s a great guy who is a clearing house on mining information and usually can steer me to a miner who might have a parcel for sale. But the news was bleak, and John had no opal for sale and didn’t know who might.
Over the years, I’ve compiled a list of miner’s names and phone numbers that I’ve bought opal from on my previous 14 trips to Oz. I dug the list out of my suitcase and started making phone calls in hopes of finding opal for sale. I had visions of miners who may have stockpiled rough opal while waiting for international buyers to finally arrive back to CP in search of opals to buy. The first miner I talked to did have an excellent 2 grade rough opal parcel from 11 Mile Opalfield…beautiful slab-like seam rough opal with full fire multi-color flashes, which I gratefully and immediately bought. After that my search for opal dried up. Many of the miners’ phones had been disconnected or had no opal for sale. I did find a few low-grade rough opal parcels, but my hopes were for mid-grade parcels that I could sell for $300-$700 per ounce. And a bit more high-grade opal would also be useful.
Well…I then resorted to my trusty old method of posting “Opal Wanted” signs, with tear off phone number tabs, in the hardware store and grocery store. I did get a few calls, but not nearly enough to fill my opal needs. I never imagined that I’d ever see the time when I would not be able to spend all of the opal buying funds, I’d transferred to my account at the Westpac bank in Coober Pedy. In fact, in previous years I could have easily spent $500,000 dollars on very gemmy rough opal during a short visit to CP. My fears are that the opal boom is over…the few miners that are still actively mining are having a much harder time finding rough opal as the low hanging fruit is gone. The price of diesel fuel in CP is currently US$7.00/gallon. Opal mining is an expensive endeavor!
When Darlene and I first came to CP in 2000 there were an estimated 500 miners digging for opal here. On this last trip I was told there were less than 50. My fear is that CP is in the early stage of becoming a ghost town…restaurants are closing, many homes stand vacant, and I read yesterday, in the Coober Pedy Regional Times that the Westpac Bank will be closing here. I’m afraid that will be the death knoll for CP. The closest towns with banks to CP are Port Augusta (324 miles) and Alice Springs (413 miles). It will be very difficult for opal buyers to work with opal miners without a bank in town. Opal buying transactions have traditionally all been accomplished with Australian currency. Without a local bank in CP this means that opal buyers will need to carry very large amounts of cash on their person and would be obvious targets for robbery. It REALLY saddens me to hear of the bank closing and experiencing the lack of rough opal to buy. I can only hope that a new opalfield will soon be discovered to reenergize Coober Pedy.