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Snippets 29 September 2010
My Own Boss PART 10:

In 2008, the black opal, rarest of gemstones, was named the New South Wales state gem. The alternative lifestyle, hand-made houses and use of recycled materials on the opal fields continues to fascinate coastal dwellers and the rest of the world.

Lightning Ridge boasts a cultural mosaic of more than 50 nationalities plus various Aboriginal groups and other Australians, all bound by the lure of opal.

As Christina Johansson, Transcultural Community Council President, said in opening the 2009 Lightning Ridge Harmony Day:

Harmony Day at Lightning Ridge is about honouring our tradition of a fair go, appreciating the benefits of our cultural diversity and respecting each other.

You can buy your own copy of My Own Boss at Heritage Cottage, Bluey Motel's Opal Books, Etc, Whiz Bang Bargains and the Visitors Centre. It is a compact, verifiable history of Lightning Ridge for the first time and costs $4.

Barbara Moritz

24 September 2010 07:44pm
Snippets 22 September 2010

By the end of the 1960s, the miners had formed a Miners’ Association and taken black opal to Japan. The first opal miner Shire Councillor was elected and the Tourist Association was grounded in the early 1970s, then later, the State Emergency Service. At last, an ambulance service opened and a permanent doctor took up residence in the 1980s. The flying ambulance reached Sydney, Dubbo and other major hospitals.

The 1980s and 1990s were boom years on the opal fields. The Japanese market couldn't get enough black opal. Concurrently the Iron Curtain came down in 1989 and immigration changed, people were escaping the city to the open landscape, fresh air and therapeutic hot mineral baths at Lightning Ridge. The lifestyle attracted many seeking a new life where one could live cheaply camped on a claim and enjoy a bit of the 'wild west'.

In 2000, as a result of population demands, a 24 hour medical centre with four acute beds, a 20-bed nursing home and the Flying Doctor were brought into service for the Ridge. The Central School was also completed and enrols grades through 12.

Barbara Moritz
24 September 2010 07:42pm
Snippets 15 Sept 2010

Permanent water became available at Lightning Ridge in 1961 when a syndicate of graziers tapped into the Great Artesian Basin that covers 22% of Australia. This not only brought dignity to the community but also changed the mining process. The miners were already dry-rumbling the opal dirt.

Water would allow 'washing' the dirt that was heaped on the surface that came up from underground. Basket puddlers lined the Government Tank, originally sunk in 1908 for the village water supply. The washing process was thorough and as the opal dirt was removed from the diggings, native vegetation regenerated. In 2009, there are concerns that well-intentioned mine site rehabilitation is destroying unique mining heritage landscapes

Electricity was laid on in the village in 1963 and women with families were happier to join the men. In Sweden a news item about Frank, King of the Swedes at Lightning Ridge, enticed a couple of families to try their luck. Others followed. European miners arrived from Coober Pedy, the light opal capital of Australia, and were sent as 'new chums' on a wild goose chase where they struck it rich.

The spirit of invention was ever present on the diggings. Machinery was eventually developed to make mining easier and more efficient.

Barbara Moritz
24 September 2010 07:41pm
Snippets 8 Sept 2010

Thousands of migrants worked on the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme that commenced in 1949 in southern NSW. Dams, power stations and tunnels were built so that the water from the Snowy River could be used to provide power and irrigation. Workers lived in camps and in newly built towns like Cabramurra, doing hard and dangerous work. Many were killed on the job.

The origins of ‘New Australians’ had changed by the 1960s when British migrants only made up half of the intake. This second wave of post-war immigration in the 1950s and 1960s consisted of those seeking employment and better living conditions from Italy, Greece, Malta and Croatia. A number of them spent their first months living in migrant hostels while they tried to find themselves a home. The chance to ‘be their own boss’ made opal mining appealing.

Migrants brought their traditions, viticulture, recipes, celebrations, clothing and fashion, farming and mining practices – which enriched and diversified Australia. However, traditions of patriarchal dominance were sometimes at odds with efforts to achieve equality for women, and Lightning Ridge is a microcosm of this conflict. Many migrant women rise to the challenges of hardship and deprivation and break through old northern hemisphere stereotypes. Their resilience and strength has been integral to the opal mining lifestyle, which is no longer a ‘man’s game’ only.

Barbara Moritz
24 September 2010 07:39pm
Snippets 1 September 2010
We will continue the local history series of My Own Boss that was printed in 2009 by the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. This is a chapter in the Migrant Heritage Centre's study – the waves of immigration to Australia relate directly to the influx of Lightning Ridge migrants.

You may already have your own copy (only $4) from Whiz Bang Bargains, Opal Books Etc, Heritage Cottage or the Visitors Centre.


After World War Two, Europe was devastated and in chaos. Germany was crushed and the map of Europe was being carved up by the United States and the Soviet Union. Western Europe was supported by the U.S. In the 1950s Eastern European States were invaded by the Soviet Union creating the stand off of the Cold War. The first major post-war wave of migration started with displaced persons, who had fled their countries devastated by war, dislocation and the re-drawing of national borders.

Between 1945 and 1965 more than two million migrants came to Australia. ‘Populate or Perish’ became the catch cry, as the Australian Government embarked on an intensive international promotional campaign to encourage migration to Australia.

Between 1947 and 1953, Government assisted over 170,000 displaced persons to migrate by paying a large percentage of the passage. Initially, Britons were targeted with schemes such as ‘Bring out a Briton’, and then expanded to provide assistance and reunion schemes to other Europeans.

Migrants began streaming out of Eastern Europe to places like Australia and the United States to get away from the Soviet oppression in their homelands. The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union meant that nuclear war was a real threat and some people saw Australia as a safer place to live.

In return, migrants had to stay in Australia for at least two years and work in whatever jobs the Government gave them. Skilled migrants found it hard to find work to suit their training and qualifications and had to accept what work was available. Some found work in factories; others did the hard and dirty jobs in heavy industry. All migrants, especially those who did not speak English fluently, experienced prejudice of one kind or another.

Barbara Moritz
30 August 2010 03:46pm