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Snippets 19 November 2008
Dunstan’s Stone or Queen of the Earth was mined at Angledool field in 1906 by Charlie Dunstan and 'Happy Jack' Burke. It was the largest nobby of opal ever found at the time measuring 12 cm x 6cm x 6cm – wouldn't fit into a tea billy! In 1928, it was surpassed in size by the Pandora that came from a claim nearby and Light of the World from the Grawin.

This named nobby was probably only rubbed and one story says it 'went missing' from Dunstan's care in Angledool village, just 30 miles north of Lightning Ridge. Or did he sell it? We will never know, of course, but the incident caused great worry in the mining community, certainly to Dunstan's partner! In 1910, Dunstan was the first recorded suicide, but the cause was unrelated to the missing nobby.

However, local Walgett Spectator correspondent, John Landers, reported that Dunstan sold his stone to Frank Martin for £100, who sold it to Ted Murphy for the same amount. When he showed it around and could realize no profit, Murphy sold it to Pappa Francis for £100 who couldn’t sell it either so gave it to Samuels who sold it for £100 and got £3 commission.

In about 1945, a local miner was passing the time at an AMPOL petrol station in this part of NSW and picked up a publication which recorded Things of Note in Australia. He read that the world's largest opal was purchased for £100 in Angledool in 1908 and subsequently sold to John D. Rockefeller for £75,000.

In 1953, a Brisbane jeweller and sometimes Ridge opal miner in the 1940s wrote an article in the Commonwealth Jeweller & Watchmaker naming Queen of the Earth as this opal and described its beauty, specifically, as well as its location at that time, identical to Ampol's 1940's publication.

The last we heard, Queen of the Earth was sitting in the Rockefeller Collection valued at $US250,000. That was 1968. Another source dated 1940 says that Dunstan's Stone was in the Washington State Bureau, America, valued at $US255,000.

Barbara Moritz
9 December 2008 03:27pm
Snippets 12 November 2008
In 1915, four notable stones were found in the same Phone Line patch – Flamingo, Black Prince, Pride of Australia and Empress – by brothers-in-law, Tom Urwin and Snowy Brown. Sherman paid them £2000 in 1919 that was the most ever paid to that date for four black opals. Ernie's sister Bertha named the stones.

Empress of Australia displayed a flag pattern and weighed 110 carats until dropped at Bruce's house and broken into two pieces – Gan Bruce says three – by Jack Ferguson, a Llanillo farm worker. Subsequently, she was recut into three stones.

Black Prince (Harlequin Prince) was the least significant of the four black stones from the same claim. One side was a flag pattern and the other red. The opal weighed 181 carats and had a sand hole in the face. It was confused with Empress when thought to have been dropped at some point and broken into three. Black Prince was acquired in England for the New York Museum of Natural History.

Pride of Australia (has been known as Red Emperor) is described in the April 16, 1914 edition of Walgett Spectator as weighing 225 carats and just fitting into a tobacco tin. It was double sided with two distinct colour bars. The one on the back was totally different – much lighter and almost harlequin – to the main bar of dark, rich flashes of colour. Pride and Black Prince became part of the Forest Lawn Memorial Cemetery collection in Los Angeles and were both stolen. Greg Sherman was at a complete loss, of course, when he was asked to replace them!

Flamingo was the largest of the four notable stones in the Phone Line patch and weighed over a quarter of a pound at 800 carats!

Barbara Moritz
15 November 2008 06:10am
Snippets 5 November 2008
It was a cool, grey day in Sydney for the Friends of Lightning Ridge gathering in Hyde Park on Sunday, November 2. Like-minded people came together to share family history and the latest news from Lightning Ridge – the opal industry, Australian Opal Centre, tourism and the general state of affairs on the opal fields. This annual event is based on a tradition set by early miners who met across from David Jones near St James Station to relax, feed the pigeons and discuss the news whilst in the Big Smoke to sell their opal.

Joy Clayton is well known in the opal industry and joined us for the first time as did the late Horrie Howard’s two daughters, Annie and Barb. New friends from the gathering are Countrylink’s Kerry Reid, a great promoter of Lightning Ridge, and retired nurse, Ruth Zionzee. She and husband George are annual visitors at Lillian Thomas’ camp on the 6-Mile. Opal lovers Ian and Mineko Kearns joined in. They are proud owners of a Charlie Nettleton mini-bronze.

Eight members of the McNamara family met up for the first time in ages to share recent discoveries about their ancestor Jack ‘Mac’, opal miner and piano player, 1910-1935. Also present was Denise Brady, whose opal buyer grandfather Phil had his home built in Opal Street in 1909 – Walford’s house in 2008.

Nola Rennie, whose grandfather Big Jim Denis brought his family to the diggings in 1905, was escourted into the city by her grandson and wife. Nola’s father built their house east of the Anglican Church (an empty block in 2008) that became Harold Hodges’ home when he setup the Tram-o-tel in 1960. Judith Longhurst, 1961 prima ballerina in Black Opal, and Karl Pirwitz, who mined with Mick Bauer and Les Voller in the 1960s, reminisced.

Other friends of Lightning Ridge included Dr George Tripe and Clare, Jan Cooper, Chris Rowell, June and Milton Moore with daughters Orel and Kylie and Carole Bond and friend Bev. There were several apologies including Cliff Bond, who repaired the 1930s Anglican Church organ donated to Lightning Ridge by Winn and Rhonda White. The Bonds donated 8 Flight Care Bears – doctors and nurses plus Santa – to the colourful bush nurse collection.

Also on the weekend, four black opal lovers visited Charlie Nettleton’s grave at Rookwood Cemetery. In 2003 the historical society placed a marker on his grave to celebrate 100 years of the black opal industry. Without Nettleton’s knowledge, black opal would not have come to the world’s notice so early in the century.

Barbara Moritz

15 November 2008 06:09am
Snippets 29 October 2008
Butterfly was also known as Red Admiral because the pattern was reminiscent of the British butterfly bearing that name. This 30 carat gem was not too large for a pendant or a brooch – a mixture of all colors from every direction, predominately red. She was given a supreme pride of place by Ted Murphy, one of the best judges of opal at the time.

The exact field of origin remains a mystery but, it was around 1920, that the Butterfly diggings became the 'new rush'. Other accounts put Butterfly as coming from nearer to Phone Line, not far from the discovery site of Pride of Australia and Empress. The confusion may be the result of efforts to keep it 'dark', i.e. to avoid a sudden rush of men pegging out claims all around.

The name of the miner also remains 'dark'. Some say the lucky man was Jack Boules, one of local builder Tom Urwin's brothers-in-law. Other accounts give credit to 'Canada Bill' Etheridge and a son of Jack Murray, the first registered miner on the Ridge (at Nobbys, not far from Phone Line). It is reported that Butterfly was sold for £96 in Sydney. Not much else is known about this Gem of Gems!

Barbara Moritz

15 November 2008 06:08am
Snippets 22 October 2008
For the rest of the year Snippets will review some famous opals found at the Ridge. In the early years miners passed their stones up/down the bar for inspection. After 1930 fewer were recorded – too many strangers? Just to read about stones of the past reminds us that anything is possible – finding the big one could happen when you least expect it!

Don't forget the Hyde Park Gathering in Sydney on Sunday, November 2 at 10.30. This is the third year to meet across from David Jones near James Street Station as did the old timers when in the city. Nagoya Gardens has seating for friends of the Ridge to snack and chat so, if you are in town, please join us.

Barbara Moritz

15 November 2008 06:07am