Australian Opal Industry
Australia is the world’s largest producer of precious opal with over 95% of the world’s commercial opal comes from the outback.
The remaining 5% are mined in Mexico and in Brazil’s north, also in the US states of Idaho and Nevada. Recently stones have also been found in Ethiopia and in the West African country of Mali.
The history of Australian Opal began millions of years ago when parts of Australia were covered by water and stone sediment was deposited along its shoreline. When the water masses flooded back, they flushed water containing silica into the resulting cavities in the sedimentary rocks. Slowly silica stone was transformed into Opal. The most important deposits are found in New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland.
- South Australian Opal fields produce approximately 60%-70% of the world’s output of precious opal.
- South Australia’s production comes almost entirely from Mintabie, Coober Pedy, Andamooka and Lambina with minor amounts from Stuart Creek and other small diggings in the far north of the state.
- Our Opals are mined from Mintabie and Andamooka.
Mintabie is located in South Australia 35km west of Marla off the Stuart Highway along the popular tourist route going north to Alice Springs and Darwin. It is 180km south of the Northern Territory border.
Mintabie is unique in that the opal field and the township are located on freehold Aboriginal land. Opal miners holding a current Precious Stones Prospecting Permit may enter the field but permission for tourists to visit Mintabie is required under the Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Act.
It is believed that Aborigines were the first to sell black opal from Mintabie at Coober Pedy just after the First World War. They were able to keep their secret for some time until miners discovered the opal field in the early 1930s. As a result of the remoteness of the area, the harsh desert country and the lack of water, Mintabie was worked on a very small scale until 1976 when heavy earth moving machinery moved in.
The Mintabie opal field was the largest producer of precious opal in Australia from the 1970s and 1980s in terms of value.
Andamooka is located 520km north of Adelaide near the western shore of Lake Torrens. It is reached by traveling north for 122km along a road that leaves the Stuart Highway at Pimba and bypasses Roxby Downs.
- Opal was discovered in Andamooka in 1930.
- Andamooka is one of Australia’s most famous opal fields, having produced some of the most beautiful pieces of opal.
- Andamooka is derived from an Aboriginal name meaning “large waterhole”.