Fossicking in Opalton
A collection of articles, the first one is from ABC News
The red, rugged country of the remote Queensland outback is a far cry from the white powdery slopes of the French Alps, but there’s nowhere else that Chamonix chairlift builder Remi Demazure would rather be.
- The remote locality of Opalton is experiencing a tourist boom
- Local miners say it’s thanks to being featured on the internationally popular TV show Outback Opal Hunters
- Work is underway on improving existing facilities and developing future projects
Mr Demazure and his partner Malicia Sliwimski had been travelling the world before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and the pair managed to get into Australia to complete their pilgrimage to an unlikely location — Opalton.
“Since we were children, we grew up with these TV shows, Opal Hunters and Gold Hunters, and it’s always been a dream to see the outback life, and we had this opportunity, so we thought why not.”
Opal fever, not COVID tourism
Opalton, almost 1500 kilometres from Brisbane, has featured on the television show Outback Opal Hunters since 2018, and local miners attribute the rush of tourists to the remote location to the success of the internationally popular program.
It’s late in the tourist season, and most of the big crowds have retreated to cooler climates, but the camping grounds atop one of Queensland’s largest opal fields are still alive with domestic and international travellers.
It’s a joyous sight for Queensland Boulder Opal Association (QBOA) secretary Alison Summerville, who says Opalton’s tourism has relied on word of mouth for the past 40 years.
“I think the Outback Opal Hunters are far, far ahead of COVID,” Mrs Summerville said.
“We’ve actually been restricted, because we used to get all the southern people come up from Victoria because it’s warm, so we’re expecting a bumper year next year and possibly even the year after when all these people go, ‘thank God we can get up here and enjoy the warmth again’.
“To see it today, it brings me a lot of joy to hear all these young people chatting and talking, and how passionate they are about something that we’re passionate about.
“We’ve been doing this for 30, 40 years and it’s just fantastic.”
Bold vision for boulder opal mining
Pickaxes have been downed, and mining machinery left dormant for a series of working bees over the past month to improve facilities to cater for the growing tourism demand.
But it’s just outside the Opalton Bush Park where the future of the region is being designed.
QBOA president James Evert says the time is now to capitalise on the tourism boom and immortalise the stories of the past.
“What we’re seeing is a generational change,” Mr Evert said.
“We’ve got to capture this modern history from the 60s, 70s onwards, when a lot’s happened here so the timing is right to grab it while the memories are still here.”
The Opalton Exhibition and Visitors Centre is still in the design phase but will be unlike anything the mining outpost has ever seen. It’s hoped the centre will provide the foundation of a bustling tourist industry.
“As a local coming from the Winton district, it’s so great,” he said.
“It’s going to be a major attraction for all the tourists that come into the area, and the operators in the surrounding area to come here to Opalton confident there’ll be people here to greet them.”
Gems in the rough capturing imaginations
Opal miner Col Duff has called Opalton home on and off since 1991, and is currently fixing up his campsite in preparation for retirement.
Mr Duff has been watching the region he loves slowly develop over the past 30 years, but few can say they’ve contributed more to the spike in Opalton’s global reputation than him.
His opal fever and larrikin persona caught the eye of the producers of Outback Opal Hunters, resulting in his mining operation in Opalton debuting on the first season of the show, and securing the remote outback town’s presence for the following six seasons.
“This has been the best opportunity to promote the outback, Winton Shire, Opalton, and the Bush Park for the past couple of years,” he said.
“We’ve had heaps of people coming through, and that means it grows, we get more water tanks, more dongas, more shower and toilet blocks.
“This is a little community way out in the middle of nowhere, so to get people to come and visit is great, it gives miners a chance to sell stones, a bit of socialisation, and people get to enjoy the outback as it really is.”
But is the dedicated opal hunter worried about all the extra fossickers and miners digging into his profits?
“We’ve probably only dug about 5 per cent of the known opal reserve here in Opalton, so we’re not going to run out of ground to chase opals in,” he said.
“This’ll last 1,000 years.”
From the Queensland Government Website
Western opal fields
Opalton designated fossicking land
The Opalton Field, also called the Fermoy Field, was one of the largest and most extensively worked opal deposits in Queensland. Mining activity on the field is mostly limited to small-scale hand mining but some larger operations using heavy machinery are present in the surrounding area.
The Opalton Field is located about 124km south-west of Winton. From Winton, take the Jundah Road (mostly unsealed) and travel 15km, turn left and travel a further 109km (unsealed road) past Weona Homestead to Opalton.
Visitors are requested not to call at Weona.
The Opalton community has established a bush camping park with shade shelters, water, toilets and showers adjacent to the area. A small fee applies. There is a shop with limited supplies.
Camping is also allowed in the Opalton designated fossicking land for a maximum period of 3 months. Camping permits can be obtained for the payment of a small fee from the same outlets as for licences.
The Opalton area is popular with tourists as a place to speck or noodle fragments of opal or ironstone matrix from the surface or from the spoil dumps of old workings. However, known areas of shallow ground, such as the old Brilliant Claim area, may offer the more serious fossicker a chance to dig and find that outstanding gem.
Commercial mining activities still occur in the designated fossicking land and numerous mining claims and a mining lease (ML6032) are current (see map). Do not enter these mining tenures without the written permission of the holders. Pegs mark the corners of each tenure.