I bumped into Steven and asked him if he would like to talk about the opal fields near his home. He submitted this article and pictures.
Here is the brief history and present day story about Grawin, Glengarry, and Sheepyard Opal Fields.
The Sheepyard opal field is located approximately 75km west of Lightning Ridge, NSW and forms part of a triangle of opal fields consisting of Grawin, Glengarry and Sheepyard
Opal was first discovered at Glengarry in 1905 by Mr Charles Phipp who was working on Morendah Station at the time, but little mining was done there. The Grawin was established in 1908 with the discovery of the opal at “Hammond Hill”. Further discoveries in 1920 at “Richards Hill” put the unofficial village on the map. Since the first discovery of opal in the region, people have come and gone in tides with each new strike, seeking their fortune in search of the rainbow in the rock. At the time mining was done by candle light with a hand pick and the waste was removed by shovel and bucket and wound up by hand with a wooden windlass. In 1928 an opal weighing almost 450g, and the size of a man’s fist was found at Richards Hill and caused a rush of men to this field. The opal was named “The Light of the Worlds” and is still the best known opal from this area. After the Second World War things began to get more mechanical with the electric generator for light and motorised hoisting gear to make the removal of waste quicker and a bit less like slave labour. Then came the electric jackhammer and the amount of dirt that could be removed increased and the bucket was replaced by wheelbarrows and all sort of inventions to make the job better for the miner and in turn caused an increase in the number of people who came to have a go. The next major rush was started on Melbourne Cup Day in 1985 when the Sheepyard Rush was found. The Sheepyard area was named after a stumble on of opal near the fence of the old Sheepyard. By now the piles of dirt were starting to fill the landscape and this lead to the Short Throw self tipping hoist and tip trucks to remove waste. This led to the invention of the rickshaw to wheel waste to the hoist bucket. By the time the 90′s came along a new rush called Carters Rush had started and Blowers (Giant Vacuum Cleaners) were in use as well as underground hydraulic diggers and mini loaders and as many different inventions as there are miners are now being used in search of the thing that all miners, young and old lust after, “The Rainbow in a Rock”
Although mining at Glengarry was also going on for some time it was not until about 1970 when a find of some very good opal was made that Glengarry became the new “Hot Spot.” The Mulga Rush, which began in 2000, is the biggest opal rush since the Coocoran was discovered in the early 1900′s.
The opal fields of Glengarry, Sheepyard, and Grawin. These towns are accessed via the small village of Cumborah. The roadway between Lightning Ridge and Cumborah is now fully bitumen and is bitumen to the Grawin turnoff. This makes it easier to tow the caravan out to the field. (This section is flooded now; you have to take a 30km dirt road detour!) Mining area roads are gravel in reasonable condition and driven at the right speed, are suitable for caravans and the like.
You can also fossick in the gravel pits nearby Comborah. Another 17 km along in a north westerly direction will bring you to the Grawin field. You can fuel up here and also get basic provisions. From here it is another 7 km to the Glengarry field where there is a pub and a golf club. Sheepyard is accessed from Glengarry and is the youngest of the fields.
Glengarry Hilton is the oldest pub on the Opal Fields and can be a great place to grab some lunch or a cold drink after your hard work driving and fossicking. You can grab lunch there from 12to 2pm daily and dinner is from 6 to 8pm every day. There are showers, toilets, and even backpacker accommodation if you are too tired to drive any further. If you manage to catch any yabbies in their dam they will even cook them up for you. There are locally produced arts and crafts for sale opposite. You can go fossicking at the famous Mulga Rush heaps for a day in another world…Noodling on the dumps is an interesting experience and can be rewarding. It’s fair to say that it can be hard work if you make it so, but there’s a lot of dirt between the good stones. The temps in summer can rise to 40 to 50 degrees Celsius. The opal fields of Glengarry, Sheepyard, and Grawin said to be like Lightning Ridge of 70-80 years ago, great opportunities to see opal mining operations and miners’ camps. Meets the locals on the final frontier of high hopes, tall tales and long beards, see the frontier-style opal field life.
The area is adjacent to the Sheepyard Pub available to campers and as tourists/fossickers in the area.
Showers and toilets outside the pub give ready access for those camping. While the toilets are typical of those in the outback areas, the male and female showers are very functional. You need to gather your own wood, which is abundant in the area, and light the chip heater which heats the water very quickly. After the dusty dumps, the shower is much appreciated. The cost for the shower is $2 as the water has to be purchased by the pub owners and transported in, this is a fair price. There is no charge for camping. Of course, being near the pub had other benefits. Mobil phone coverage, satellite TV in the pub and a cold drink if you needed one. You need to supply your own power and gather firewood for a campfire as you would in any other free camp.
The Sheepyard Pub has an active role in the mining community and is a meeting place for the community. A theme that runs within the pub and the community is respect for our ex service men and women. Visited ex service people are invited to sign their names on whiteboards, which are displayed throughout the pub along with armed service and Australian flags. The Memorial Committee along with the Walgett RSL has constructed a War Memorial honouring those serving in all wars.
Grawin General Store, next to the “Club in the Scrub”. The Store has a very good range of groceries and supplies suitable for the mining area and fuel is also available there. The “Club in the Scrub” is an outback pub and is the Golf Club headquarters. The golf course looks quite challenging with its sands crape greens. A toilet is available for camper’s use but for all other items you need to be self sufficient. Mobil telephone contact can made, otherwise a public telephone is available near the store.