An amazing place, amazing stories full of eccentrics all in some strange competition to out do each other. It is a unique landscape of piles of white dirt, old shacks and mining equipment with the characters of the town interwoven in a harsh, unforgiving environment.
The locals have a love/hate relationship with the tourists and you do get the impression that many would be happy if things returned to a simpler, quieter town. Whilst I was soaking at the artesian bore the locals commented that the water was much hotter a couple of days ago which was good as it kept the tourists away.
Shane and I go fishing for a day at Walgett in the Barwon River, one of Shane’s favourite spots. Unfortunately it is our usual record of just catching carp after carp with one surprising little perch that managed to get hooked and naturally had to be released. The countryside is dry, really dry with not a blade of grass to be seen. On the other hand the birdlife is prolific and it is a wonderful sight to see a red tailed black cockatoo majestically circling above me – truly spectacular.
The next day Shane can’t resist another crack at fishing and I head out on a tour around the ‘Ridge’. It is an education on mining, the heartbreak, the jubilation and lots of great stories. I know I couldn’t do it and when the dig next door to you pulls out $12million worth of opals in one day and you are lucky to get $50.00 worth in a month of Sundays it must be just devastating. I guess that’s why so many x miners are the ones driving the tour buses around.
Here are some pictures of the incredible Chambers of the Black Hand Gallery and mine I visited – what do you do when you can’t mine – you pick up a butter knife and steel wool and start sculpting.
The population is unknown and people can just disappear. We are told the police have been looking for a fella that has been missing for about 3 weeks. ‘Ratters’, the name given to the low life’s that raid camps/mines for opals mostly under the cover of darkness, are often dealt with by local vigilantes and in the best case scenario are booted out of town never to return, worst case they are never seen again.
Opal mining is a hit and miss affair with no known way of telling where the precious stone might be hidden but once bitten by the bug there seems to be no known cure. The stones are as colourful as the local people and just as fascinating. Local artist, John Murray, has an incredible talent for turning these colours into art with humour and great detail that truly captures the special bond he has with this place.
The water at the communal baths is hot, very hot coming up from over a thousand feet below ground but I still enjoy my daily dip and chat with my fellow bathers.
We will be back!
A few more pics of the sights of Lightening Ridge