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The Avondale Poets
Opal - Here I Come

This article was written before 1972 --- so many changes have taken place - good road from Walgett NSW to Lightning Ridge NSW - no train to Walgett. 

You get off at Dubbo  (central New South Wales)  & catch bus  (railway bus)   through --- a pleasant trip --- seeing more country.

Quite a few people mentioned may not be living.

Accommodation can now be procured at Grawin @ Rosa's; --- motels at Lightning Ridge; but of course not the   "free"   run of the fields as in the old days  "scratching"  for opal. 

-  by Poppy Day -  written after the events in 1972 @ Guyra near Armidale NSW AUSTRALIA

Opal - Here I Come
From Sydney to Grawin

You can take a train from Sydney to Walgett, if you happen to be like me with no transport of your own.  On arriving at Walgett, if it be daytime, & you may make enquiries, especially if arriving on a Friday or a Monday, you will most likely get a lift.  

Now where do you make enquiries?  If a man do a pub crawl; if a woman, you will have to do the same, or maybe ask a taximan, or inquire at some shop. It may look a big place, but the business people know where most people came from.  A bakery, too, is a good place.

Grawin is between thirty & forty miles from Walgett, & not the best of roads,  but still the school bus from Camborah, weather permitting, comes in every day.  Comborah is eight miles from Grawin. Grawin people come in for supplies, business & an outing, mostly on the two days mentioned above.


The weather there is fantastic for winter.  No doubt there are cold days,  but it does not penetrate like the cold elsewhere. Also due to the fact that I was living in  a tent, I had to keep moving for there was no warm corner to nestle into, & the cooking was done in the open so it was up & out to activity.

The activity was so engrossing too, one forgets the defects. Apart from the specking & sifting, I worked down in the mine. First thing in the morning, on descending the forty foot ladder, the warmth off the earth seemed to come up to meet you & wrap itself around you. It's a lovely embracing feeling.  But then at midday when it is so hot on top, it is lovely & cool below - until the perspiration commences to run, because of the pick flying on to & off that hard wall, or round those  "white horses".  If  Cobb & Co. had still been running, I would have made a fortune selling to them. 

People have asked me,  "What are  'white horses'?"  I could tell you but not in ladylike terms. They are like great big pieces of coral.  Someone told me (I hope they weren't kidding)  that they can weigh up to twenty eight pounds.  Myself I dug out many. One was large, & shaped like a fan, but very thick & much heavier!  Another was shaped just like a mushroom.

We worked in an old deserted mine. I can truthfully say  "worked", for even if I never struck a blow, I did work to crawl up a twenty five foot drive with a candle, pick, shovel & all requirements. Crawl! --- the only job I ever did crawl for. No height high enough to even kneel in,  & there I chased & wished I could have roped & saddled those  "horses".  I can agree willingly & with knowledge, & with those who say there is opal where  "white horses" are,  & I can disagree with knowledge with those who say that's where opal is.  All I found behind them was another  "white horse".

Then that glorious sight of potch. Potch is opal that is too young. We were a million years too early. I did suggest to my partner that we put it back & call later - much later!  It is really a beautiful sight,  starting like a thread of cotton to --- at times,  one & a half inches, in colours of either white, grey, green-grey, blue & black. The black is very beautiful,  sometimes having on its face  (that is the edge facing out)  little white patterns which make pictures.  I saw a beautiful piece containing in white, a large bird perfectly formed, with some animal in its claws,  tearing it to pieces,  whilst on the other side,  where it was broken,  was a perfect octopus.  There was  "Caspar, the Ghost",  even to the big eye & the tentacles.

Flynny used to say, "Follow the potch."   I asked  " -- to left or right?"   But don't talk to me about the grey!  I worked in a gentle & hard way, with my heart hammering & my  hands trembling,  on what appeared to be a lovely green. A beauty in candle light.  Up that forty foot ladder I flew. No professional thief could have shaken more than I.  Out of my pocket I brought the stone to the glorious light of day -  a piece of orangey grey potch!  But you'll always try again.

That opal is the most flirtatious lady that ever played. She leads you on & on. In fact down the mine I'll swear I've heard a feminine voice saying  "This is the way! This is the way!"  so softly & persuasively.  I followed - & went through a wall into nothing.  Again I followed into a wall & nothing. That made two holes in the wall.  Many years ago there was a cafe called  "The Hole in the Wall" but you did get something from that hole.

I vowed once, if when I pulled out this  "white horse"  (fifteen days of it)  I'd quit the tunnel if there was another behind it. There was!  So I decided to go into the    next tunnel & work into the back of them, so out I crawled & up the back tunnel I went. I drove the pick in, but that damnable  "horse"  moved faster than I,  & there he was, sitting waiting for me, as proud as a  "wellbred stallion".  I gave up.

At night, throbbing & sore, elbows aching with the continual hammering onto hard sandstone, that you don't know whether to stretch them out , bend them up, or leave them on top of the sleeping bag to cool off, which finishes up being too cool, so you put them under, & so you lie, & then your legs start to ache. Gosh & on top of this, the darned night owl commences its usual cry  "More potch! More potch! More potch!"  You listen for a while with a grin, then you turn over with a groan, & your stretcher groans in unison. You think,  "He could be right! He could be!"

Next day, you set off early, with hope in your heart & the pick in your hands. The birds start saying, "Be quick!  Be quick!" so you think maybe they are right too, so you  hasten a little. On reaching, you commence to descend when suddenly another bird pipes up with "This way! This way!"  Gosh I think of what Flynny says - we are  "opal hollicks"  & therefore I have the  "dry horrors". So what does one do in a chase like this?  This is the second time that I have quoted Flynny. So maybe I should enlighten you somewhat. His correct name is Mr Flynn & he resides @ Combara, but has a mine at Grawin, adjoining the one that we worked in. Being good chums, we turned to him for advice & received it,  seriously or humourously.  Well known to many people for many years & sought out by many. 

Flirting with Lady Opal @ Grawin was worth all one felt & suffered  for it was a  wonderful experience.  The glory of seeing that potch running through those walls,  gleaming & sparkling in the candlelight, would be hard to explain to anyone who has not had the experience of mining.  Also when you spiked large lumps out, to see the yellow sandstone running into pink into all sorts of designs & patterns that it seems sacrilege to break it. The natural beauty of pattern is made by years of pressure & water soakage. No hand could print nor mind imagine.

As mentioned previously, Grawin is thirty eight miles from Lightning Ridge. You travel towards & through Combara from Walgett to Grawin & from Grawin to Lightning Ridge. You must pass through Combara which is really the name of a large station or ranch owned by the Newtons in the past,  & still is,  as far as I know.

Grawin is isolated & the fields are small, but after rain there is good specking but take food & water.  There is a dam there but windmills pump up the eater into tanks. From the tanks you take your water, & you can also have a good shower under some.  If no wind - no water.  The water is far from the best, although people living there get used to it, & most permanent dwellers have their own tanks. There is good water on the bore @ Rotten Plains,  some miles away, from which a few of the inhabitants get their supply.

There are the usual tourist attractions, opals good, opals shattered, opals not, opals polished for fifty cents, which you find on the fields.  It's surprising how beautiful some of your simple little stones come out of the polisher's hands. There are puddlers going fast & furiously over the old ground & some getting opal,  too.  As a tourist attraction,  & a day's pleasure,  it is fun, but make it your daily chore & be anxious for something to come up, representing your  "bread & butter", then the job is hard, especially out in that dust. For it is dry puddling - meaning no water & under that sun. No shade as I said. Even in early winter that sun can be hot.

There are also quite a few mines. One we call the  "Rocket"  up on Hammond Hill,  because it is so high to the top of the mullock heap.  This mine is all electric even the tipper. I'm not including the men. They may be, but up to the present, they haven't given me a shock - not to say they couldn't & after reading this article they possibly might.

If you happen to see a miner up on top of his shaft with a mirror on his hand, now don't go misjudging him by asking him what powder  (or rouge)  he uses or telling him that he really DOES need a shave. He has already before coming up, filled his drums with dirt down below, stood the handles of the drums up, & now, up on top, he gets the sun in the mirror & by knowing how to use it, he can see his bucket as he manoeuvres the ropes with several hooks on it. He hooks his drum & hauls it up & tips it & so on;  for it's a long way down to load each one. Two people should really work a mine for this reason.

The gravel there has been leased by  "Crush Tiles"  of Castle Hill  (suburb of Sydney NSW)  for it is termed as unusual in such manner that it sets well,  looks attractive in driveways, & can be graded in equal sizes,  also polishes with use.  I saw old fireplaces that were made by biscuit tins being filled with it, & although the tins had rusted away, that gravel was quite firm. One old resident had built most of his hut with small tins filled & although the hut was down,  most of the tins still contained the gravel. The colours of these pebbles are mostly rusty.

Lapidaries can find some very attractive stones  if they care to go  "look see"  also at the quarries @ Combara, eight miles from Grawin towards Lightning Ridge. Petrified wood, chalcedony & agate with many beautiful clear quartz pieces can be found there. The quarries themselves are very beautiful.

I have drifted somewhat from the necessities of living. 

There is a couple there,  Bill & Marge,  who have what is known as the pink house on the right,  going in.  They have started a shop of souvenirs & unperishable goods which means tinned foods, biscuits, soap powders, but later intend getting a  "deep freeze".  But like the rest of us they can be cut off from all the necessities according to the weather. 

Although they have one advantage, a four wheel drive.  Around their area is rather a nice camping  ground, providing you have your own water.  I understand they have an idea of putting up a few cabins, which should be very good for people camped @ the Ridge, & who may want one or two nights there & not want to drag a caravan over that road or pull up tents.

There are a couple of old identities there that could give one the grand old story of the old days. Then there is the beautiful stone house, built by Alex for his bride not many years ago. Now Rosa his wife, has made it beautiful & dignified by her own hands both inside & out. 

I don't think she or her husband would resent me mentioning the unusual long baking oven he has built running back along the big stone fireplace, nor Rosa having in her possession a double bed sheet which is much more  "double" than ours,  given her by her grandmother in Germany. Nothing unusual in that, says you, but if you were as fortunate as I was seeing that glorious  "spider web" hand embroidery from one side to the other,  you would understand. 

Also the lovely garden she is making.  Cacti being hard Rosa has a little collection.  The open cut well also, to keep all this going,  & a lot of hard work as well.  I tasted a melon in June, grown by Rosa.

I could drift on writing of Grawin,  but must cease before I go too deep,  but my closing lines will be these.  Although I left you (Grawin)  for Lightning Ridge on which I hope to follow my next story,  lightly I'll speak those famous words by that famous general  (what's his name?)  -  "I shall return".    - Poppy Day

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