Thursday, February 21, 2008

Opal - Australia's National Treasure

Whilst I was visiting the north coast last weekend, I came across a stall at one of the local markets selling opals from Yowah, a small remote opal mining town which is approximately 165 km's from Cunnamulla or just over 1000 km's from Brisbane on the east coast of Australia.

There isn't much at Yowah. It's a popular destination for opal fossickers, they come to fossick and then stay. It's no treechange or seachange, can reach 50 degrees C in the summer and go below zero in winter. They do hold an opal festival and jewellery design competition each year, only stipulation is that designers use Yowah opals in their creation.

If you go to Yowah, you need to bring your own beer, cause there's no pub and no beer, (well at least they warn you) as well, no church if that's were you like to go on Sundays and apparently no law enforcement officers in the town. There is however a caravan park and a nine hole golf course with sand greens and earth fairways, along with numerous opal cutters and retail outlets selling opals.... thought I'd save the best part till last!

Yowah is primarily famous for what are known as "Yowah Nuts".
These nuts are small ironstone boulders which are spherical to ellipsoidal (sort of like a squashed egg shape ) and up to five centimetres across. They might have hollowed centres, be filled with powdery clay or a kernel of opal. Those with a kernel of opal were what I had the opportunity to view. The nuts are found in layers of 150 to 600mm in thickness at depths up to 20m in a ferruginous sandstone.

The stall owner, a gentleman, went to great lengths to explain the attraction of his opals, along with colours, how they're cut and so on.

I had been planning to write a post for a while on Australian opals, but as I've never owned one myself and not being that attracted to them as most that I've seen have been white with hints of fire, ocean and forest and smaller than a shirt button, so they didn't really appeal to me colour wise or size wise. I've always thought of those stones as wishy washy and rather boring.

I was really taken with these Yowah opals though. Yes they appeared to be just polished stones with tiny effervescent spots of colour, that glistened and sparkled like tiny pieces of glitter set into milk chocolate.... but some of these stones where large, and really suited as pendants or an embellishment for a fancy wired cuff. Only problem was I was a little short at the time of the hundreds of dollars of cash I would have needed to purchase the one I really liked.

As you can see by this little specimen, not all Yowah Nut Kernels are actually solid opal. All the same I think this is a very nice specimen would indeed make a great feature as part of a piece of wired jewellery.

to be continued.....

Pic 1. Yowah Nut Kernel
Pic 2. A piece of Yowah Matrix
Pic 3. A Yowah Nut showing that all kernels are not always solid opal


The Beading Gem said...

Great series on opal. I look forward to more. Opal with some fire in it is really neat but as you say, the more common specimens are rather uninteresting.

Bernie said...

Thanks Pearl great to hear you're enjoying it. It's a fascinating subject and am certainly enjoying the armchair travel to some of these interesting Aussie outback locations myself.