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Australian Opal Mining Fields
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Australia produces 90 percent of all the opal found in the world. Countries like Honduras, Mexico, former Czechoslovakia and Brazil make up for the remainder of opal in the jewellery industry. It is estimated that the Australian export market for opals at the turn of the millennium had a value of $60 million. Between the years of 2000 and 2005, this value rose and varied between $100 and $200 million.
Opal fields in Australia lie predominantly in three states - Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia.
New South Wales - Home of the Black Opal
In terms of actual value, New South Wales is the most important state when it comes to opal. Lightning Ridge is famous for providing the opal market with the finest black opals. What makes the black opal so sought after is the carbon and iron oxide traces in its makeup. White Cliffs is another opal field in New South Wales that is known for its white or crystal opals. Here, 'opal pineapples' are also formed. An 'opal pineapple' is an oddly shaped opal fossil resembling that of a mineral crystal.
Queensland - Boulder Opal Country
Queensland is known for producing boulder opal. Boulder opals are unique in that they are attached to rock like ironstone. Queensland is the only place where boulder opal can be found. Such stones are often found in weathered sedimentary cretaceous rocks. Quilpie is an opal field in Queensland that is the largest producer of boulder opal in the world. Winton is another beautiful region where such opals are found. The Opalton Field, also known as the Fermoy Field is one of the busiest fields in Queensland that tourists often visit to get a firsthand experience of how opal miners go about their business. Finally, the Yowah Opal Field in Queensland is the southernmost opal mining region in the area, famous for opal formation in ironstone nodules that have come to be known as 'Yowah Nuts'.
South Australia - The White Opal Fields
South Australia is the largest producer of opal in terms of volume, with its three main opal mining sites being Adamooka, Coober Pedy and Mintabie. The Andamooka field spans 52 square kilometers littered with shafts, bore-holes and small tunnels. Coober Pedy produces more white opal than any other region. The field is located around 750 km north of Adelaide. Discovered as early as in the 1920s, the Mintabie field was not extensively worked on until the late 1970s. Mintabie is found 180km south of the Northern Territory Border.
Lambina is another opal field in South Australia that many miners claim was the first place that opal was mined. The region experienced rigorous mining during the 1930s and the late 1980s.
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