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major opal fields


Since the late 19th century, Australia has been the prime producer of gem opal in the world, even today supplying more than 80% of the world's production. It makes a significant contribution to Australia's economy, including the export market, so that its occurrence has been extensively studied by the geologists of the Departments of Mines of the three opal producing States: South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland. While there are differences in detail in the geology and manner of occurrence of the gemstone in the various opal fields, the general principles are closely related and are outlined in the following sections. The locations of the major opal mining areas are shown here.

The first record of opal in Australia appears to be the material found near Angaston in South Australia by Johannes Menge in 1849, a German geologist-mineralogist brought out to that State to look for water and building materials. A search of the Angaston locality has, however, only revealed an abundance of common opal, opal-CT. Opal has also been recorded as being found by gold panners in the Beechworth area of Victoria in the 1860's. Dr W.D. Birch, of the Museum of Victoria, states that this material was described as 'fire opal', and there is no evidence of precious opal showing diffraction colours being found. Unfortunately, none of this material appears to have been preserved.

The opal fields are in very isolated and barren areas, so that a special way of life has developed in these settlements. In earlier days especially, they tended to be somewhat lawless areas.