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Snippets 7 April 2010
Good Friday's Wind Lass, Wind photo exhibition was opened by retired lady opal miners, Gwen Jenkins and Val van Emmerik, who shared a few experiences of their 1960s and 1970s mining careers with eager listeners. At least 50 viewed the event that kicked off Easter 2010 at the Ridge.

We are open through October, Wednesday-Friday, 10-4 or by appointment. Don't miss this display!

Saturday, 10 April at 3pm, there will be a gathering on the verandah to officially launch Gouger of the Bulletin, a selection of Ion L Idriess items, published in late 2008 to celebrate the end of the Bulletin's circulation. Avid Idriess collector, Jim Bradly of Bolton Point, initiated the book and has become a specialist on Idriess' jaunty writing style.

Gouger of the Bulletin coincided with 100 years since Idriess took out his Miner's Right at the Ridge where he began his writing career. We alerted Bradly to the first published item in the Sunday Mail, July 1910. Sure enough, put it to print and there are usually a few stragglers. Seemingly endless subsequent discoveries under other Idriess pseudonyms in the Bulletin are testing Bradly's passion for the subject. Come to Saturday's gathering and hear all about it!

Barbara Moritz

6 April 2010 02:28pm
Snippets 31 March 2010
It's Easter Week at Lightning Ridge, and we have water views – can real estate values go up? – so will the water please stay-put or drop-back until after Ridge weekend festivities.

Events kick-off on Good Friday at 10.30am, when the society's tenth annual photo exhibition opens. Come to the Hospital Gallery verandah behind Heritage Cottage, 9 Morilla Street (next to the Crocodile Caravan Park), to see a photo collection of some lady opal miners with a special tribute to the late 'Eskimo Nell', Barbara McCondra.

The theme WIND LASS, WIND is initiated by the centre piece, an original 1897 poster from the Town & Country Journal that had three times the circulation of any other weekly newspaper in Australasia at the time. This vintage piece entitled The Miner's Daughter was found in Life Line at Cairns and donated by Kylie Moore, co-owner of the Red Car Door Tour's Astronomers Monument. Lightning Ridge's own Miner's Daughter and family history will be presented. Who can she be?

Retired (not tired!) miners Gwen Jenkins and Val van Emerik will open the exhibition and probably tell a few tales since we don't have any photos of them mining. Were they too busy winding up those buckets? Is this how the windlass got its name – WIND LASS, WIND?

The society's launch of My Own Boss, Migrant Opal Miners at Lightning Ridge, the new brochure published by the Power House Museum recently revealed at Harmony Day, is in conjunction with WIND LASS, WIND, so please join us. There are bound to be a few laughs over a cuppa.

Barbara Moritz
29 March 2010 08:53pm
Snippets 24 March 2010
The Coocoran Lake is an 800-hectare depression (7km x 16km) a bit north and west of Lightning Ridge that only fills when it floods with water from Queensland. A local Finn says Coocoran means 'birds migrating' in an Aboriginal dialect. The Lake is first mentioned in an August 1911 Walgett Spectator. The area was originally a small freehold block, as mentioned in a January 1930 Walgett Spectator news item.

The Lake filled in 1910 – first time in the 20th Century – then not again until 1950, then 1956. The late Bob Molyneux said that according to the posts he set to put the telephone line across the lake in the 1950s, he measured a depth of about 3 meters of water. He also recalled that the late Bob Becket measured 30 meters of black soil with his drill.

With the 1974, 1976, 1983 and 1990 and 1996 floods, an average of 1.5 meters of water was measured, enough to boat across in some cases. Once dried up, the depression was planted to crops that were sometimes lost with unexpected rains. The Lake last filled completely in 1990. Sorghum, sunflowers, and winter wheat have been harvested successfully over the years.

The Old Coocoran opal field on the Lake's western edge was prospected during the 1930s. About ten shafts were sunk from 3-15 meters deep with lots of fossil material resulting. German miners, Harry Zac and George Low, mined there in the 1950s. The ground was so hard that no one worked there! In the 1960s, four new Australians from Coober Pedy turned up and were directed to the Old Coocoran to slog it out – they struck it rich and the rest is history.

Barbara Moritz
29 March 2010 08:53pm
Snippets 17 March 2010
RIP Barbara McCondra
December 1941 – March 2010

“Eskimo Nell” came to Lightning Ridge at Easter 1983 from a job as a security guard on the Alaska oil fields. She was not a miner but rather an adventurer who loved opal – she was born in America of Czech parents. Through 2009, she fulfilled her dreams of living either in Arizona or on the opal fields. Her grown sons, Ray and Ron, came over from USA and mined with her on occasion.

As a larger-than-life sort of woman, she slotted into the excitement of opal mining with ease. Her first mining partner was her father who brought his other daughter, Marian, to Lightning Ridge to see what all the fuss was about and paid for her first shaft. Barb worked side-by-side with the best of the men. Her friends helped her build a camp at Pig Hill and the day the girls launched her Purple Dunny is well documented!

For the past 15 years, Barb focussed her digging at Yowah but she usually returned to catch up with friends at the Ridge Opal Festival in July. She brought other American “opalholics” for a hands-on experience of life on the opal fields, an imaginative and colourful tour guide as well as an author.

She was an ambassador for the Australian opal industry – she wrote articles for Rock & Gem magazine, the monthly Opal Express in USA and for Metal, Stone & Glass. The Yowah Nut annual newsletter was her creation in 1997 with the help of good friend, Gwen Burney. They started the Yowah Jewellery Design Awards that initiated the Lightning Ridge black opal counterpart. Barbara gave talks to the American Opal Society and was a regular at the Tucson and Quartzite Gem Shows. She is a Life Member of the shovel-ready Australian Opal Centre at Lightning Ridge.

Barb's writing style is jaunty and memorable; her sketches and caricatures are unique. Her Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, a Lightning Ridge Cookbook gives another dimension to cooking. Her book-a-zine, Fire in a Brown Paper Bag, about the Queensland opal fields is informative. And there are two more publications ready for the press and two still in her laptop, one a murder mystery.

Last August whilst mining at Yowah, she complained of tummy pains, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in Toowoomba Hospital and Ron flew over to take her back to Ray's in Dallas. She lost her battle at home in the care of her sons and in the company of her three grandchildren.

Barbara has shared a lot of herself with us – a legend in her own time. One thing is sure – Eskimo Nell's totem is at her former Pig Hill camp and part of her lurks on the opal fields. Anyone who knew her will agree that she was a one-off in our lives – we remember the vibrancy and generosity of this hard-working woman.
19 March 2010 08:37pm
10 March 2010
Where is Augustus 'Gus' the Ambulance Bus?????

If you have “any” information relating to the whereabouts (or the fate) of the Methodist Sisters’ 1945 Ford custom-built Ambulance which we believe went out of service in 1951, can you
please contact the Brewarrina Visitor Information Centre on or on 0268305152.

Last known location was in the Walgett district.

Barbara Moritz
19 March 2010 08:35pm