Lightning Ridge is a tiny opal-mining town about 70 kilometres south of the Queensland border in New South Wales and 700 kilometres north-west of Sydney. The city is situated on the edge of an ancient inland sea.
The population of Lightning Ridge has fluctuated over the past 20 years from different opal rushes found at different times. The Largest of all the rushes was the Coocoran Field. The Cococoran had supplied the world with black nobby opal in large quantities in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
The 80s bubble economy in Japan was the largest export of black opal Australia had ever seen before. With opal coming out of the ground at astonishing speed and quantities, Lightning Ridge was a town of cash, opal miners, opal runners, opal buyers and crooks. Sometimes they all were hard to delineate.
With now the opal market at its peak, Top red on black harlequin opal was reaching prices of over $10,000 per carat on the fields. And it seemed that there was no slowing down.
Opal buyers were making astonishing amounts of profit by buying black opal in Lightning Ridge and travelling to Japan to sell opal at huge profits and making the opal exporter and miner an overnight millionaire. There was a lot of hard work involved in travelling from Lighting Ridge and Japan always.
Some opal exporters thought that there would be a market in the US and tried their luck there with success but nothing like Japan.
The opal miner was a rich person as well, people with nothing to their name finding their patch of opal and making the big time. Sadly a lot of miners, who had never had money before, didn’t know how to hold onto their dollars, so it came and went just as fast.
The population of Lightning Ridge was in the 80s and 90s about 15,000 people. Many of who did not want to be found. Living in tin sheds called camps, freckled all over the countryside, their opal mining machinery at the ready to go to the next opal rush.
When the Japanese bubble burst, opal prices slowly fell over the years. Opal exporters were scratching their heads wondering what happened, and why their fantastic income stream had ceased.
Even today, we still wonder when the opal industry will take off again. But things don’t look good for the miner. With opal prices down, diesel prices up. The mines department is making it very hard for the simple opal miner to try their luck. And with the broken economy, things don’t look good; opal hasn’t this been this cheap since the 60s. Opal is becoming hard to find, making it an excellent investment for the future.
With Lightning Ridge now only having a population of about 3000 people things are slowing down even more. The opal is still there underground, (not as much as the ’80s) there is still a fortune to be made out there, and some very few select opal miners are doing well.
New miners are trickling into Lighting Ridge to try their luck, and with them not knowing what they missed out on in the past they are a pretty positive bunch of happy go lucky people.
We are not sure when the next opal strike will happen again and where but when it does Lightning ridge will be back on the map.