The name Lightning Ridge is believed to derive from an old story where a shepherd, his dog and more than 600 sheep were killed during a massive electrical storm, while sheltering on one of the ridges in the area.
The black opal was discovered in Lightning Ridge at the end of the 1880s.They were first found in eroded creek beds and underneath the roots of fallen trees. The first hand sunk shaft was put down by the boundary rider Jack Murray around 1901.
Charlie Nettleton, a miner from Bathurst started his opal mining career at White Cliffs with no success. He began serious prospecting on one of the ridges, later known as Nettleton’s Hill, on the Angledool station. This was to become the site of Lightning Ridge.
In 1903, Charlie sold the first recorded parcel of opal gems from the field, receiving only 30 dollars. That same parcel would have obtained 50 times the money just 5 years later.
The demand of this gemstone escalated in leaps and bounds, which brought miners from all around the world. The intense opal hunt resulted in many new fields near Lightning Ridge.
One of the most famous opal fields, 3 mile, located 3 miles outside the township has been an extremely productive area since the beginning of the 20th century. Even today, this field is still supplying beautiful black opals.
After a long down period with no real finds, Grawin was another milestone, found in the 1970s, approximately 45 km west of Lightning Ridge. The surrounding ridges created new areas with fields like Sheepyard and Carters, peaking in the middle of the 1980s, which produced large quantities of black opals. Then there was a 10-year opal drought, followed with a boom of several new “rushes”, like Mulgas and Wee Warra. Here the opals are found in seam and is still to date producing top quality black opal.
In modern times, Coocoran opal fields are known as the greatest opal bearing area in history. Coocoran is located 20 km west of Lightning Ridge. This area exploded in 1990 with more than 40 new fields, creating huge wealth for the township from the top quality black opal extracted. Lightning Ridge became the number 1 ranked place of dollar millionaires per capita in Australia.
Due to limited prospecting areas, only smaller fields are nowadays found, for example, Jag Hill, Wyoming, Mehi, etc.
No one knows when, or if, any new prospecting areas will be released.
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