Lightning Ridge

“Look how small that one is,” whispered Master12 to his sisters as he pointed into the display cabinets full of jewellery. They were gathered in a tight knit of gangly youthfulness, eagerly checking out prices of some of the beautiful stones set in pendants, rings and earrings. “And it’s $500.”

“We’re gonna be rich,” agreed Miss10.

We’d arrived in Lightning Ridge the previous afternoon and opal fever had well and truly hit our munchkins.

“We’ll book in somewhere and then Dad can take the car off the trailer so we can drive around town for a look,” Tracey explained to the kids as I reversed the bus and trailer (yes, reversed!) into our designated spot.

“No!” came a chorus of opposition from the seats behind me.

My immediate thought was this was fair enough. We’d been on the road most of the day from our last campsite at Kenilworth, and the last thing the kids would want is another drive, albeit in a different vehicle.

But my thoughts on their thoughts was a bit wide of the mark.

“I want to go mining!” yelled Miss5.

“Yeah, we need to get started,” chipped in Miss13.

I should have known.

The negotiations had started within minutes of us making the decision to take a detour to Lightning Ridge and explaining a bit of the town’s history.

“If I find an opal,” Miss10 asked, “do I get to sell it and keep the money?”

“I tell you what,” I said after a few moment’s thought. “Anything up to $700 in value you can keep for yourself. Anything between $700 and $7000 we divide amongst the seven of us, and anything more than that we divide the first $7000 and the rest goes in the kitty for the trip.”

I chose these figures for no other reason than the maths was easy.

“That’s $1000 each!” Miss10 told her two younger siblings.

“We could all buy our own Nintendo Switch,” said Master12, flogging his usual dead horse.

“I’ll just use yours,” Miss7 told him. She had bigger plans. “I’m buying a computer.”

That makes her sound almost advanced until you realise she just wants it for Minecraft because currently she has to fight for permission to use Miss13’s.

Despite strong protests we did manage to postpone sending our children into the mines until the following day by, ironically, promising to take them down into a mine first thing in the morning so they could see how it’s done.

“I’ve always felt sorry for the kids they used to send into the mines,” Tracey said to me, “but apparently kids love that sort of thing.”

“Yeah, I feel like history has been lying to us,” I agreed.

The first child woke at five, eager to catch black lung. Not entirely coincidentally, the other four were awake at 5:01.

“Let’s go!” Miss5 screamed, jumping from bed to bed to get things moving.

Kids have a very different idea of ‘first thing in the morning’ to adults, don’t they?

I crankily explained something I should have made known the night before.

“The tour bus won’t be picking us up until nearly ten o’clock.” Adding, “Go back to sleep or I’ll be forced to sell you as slave labour to a miner.”

“Yay!” yelled Miss5, jumping on my belly.

Five long, long, long hours later we were descending steps carved into the ground/road into a man-made cavern some eleven plus meters underground. Despite the well lit steps and the handrails on either side of the thin tunnel, it was a little eery and a lot steep going down, and I was advised to go first so if the kids fell I’d break their fall.

“It’d be a soft landing,” joked Master12.

“Like a bouncy castle,” chimed in Miss13.

“Me first!” demanded Miss5, trying to push her way forward.

A minute later, eleven meters of rock weighing heavily over our heads, we emerged into the bowels of the carved out, working…gift shop.

Not just any gift shop either. It was hell civilised.

“After you work your way through the tunnels you’ll arrive back here and there’s complimentary tea and coffee in that room there if you’d like it,” said the guide rather wonderfully.

We were in the Chamber of the Black Hand, one of Lightning Ridge’s main attractions. An array of caverns and tunnels dug out by Ron Canlin over a few decades lined with his beautiful carvings.

A truly surprisingly enjoyable hour or so later, we were back in town and the kids finally got their chance to earn their keep back at the local Information Centre, which has a truck load of hillside delivered regularly beside it for tourists to fossick through.

My kids were over that mound like ants on an ice cream.

For about five minutes.

“We’re never gonna get rich at this rate,” mumbled Miss10, tossing another handful of cream rocks and dust aside.

I think the stories the bloke in the mine told us about some of the local finds had the kids thinking they were just going to pick up a good to brilliant black opal and march off to Harvey Norman. They obviously missed the bit he said about Ron only finding $15,000 worth of opals in his mine the entire time he’s been there. The real money for him is in showing off his carvings.

It only took another five minutes for them to come up with a new plan.

“I know!” exclaimed Miss7, suddenly standing up, her legs and arms rigid with excitement. You could just about see the lightbulb erupt brightly – nay, blindingly – above her head. “Let’s go back to the shop and buy one of theirs to sell!”

The road sign which changed our plans.
Took me a while to figure out what this was. I suggested a bomb but when we circled around it for a closer look we discovered it’s a cement mixer. An odd sort of thing to put at the turn off to your town, we thought. Then we got to Lightning Ridge itself and discovered this is where old cement trucks come to die. There is a disproportionate number of them dotting the countryside.
Hard at work. Don’t look at me! Look at the rocks!
My kids are naturals and came away with some lovely rocks. On a related matter, if anyone needs some gravel I’ve got you covered.

A great thing about this place was the cost. $80 for our family because they don’t pile on the charges because we’ve got five kids. $35 an adult then $5 each for the first two minors (see what I did there?) and the rest are free. Thanks guys. Genuinely.

Horrified, I raced the kids past this until Tracey explained to me it wasn’t an orgy. I still don’t know if I believe her.

Daft Father nutting Darth Vader.
Digging for green gold in an opal mine. So proud.

With the Tibetan god of high fives

Lots of ‘It’s your family!’ in this area. I didn’t get an ape. I was assigned the elephant.

Miss5 was initially upset when we turned towards Lightning Ridge instead of going on to Bourke because on the How To Train Your Dragon series Burke is where all the dragons are. Fortunately, she found one here.
Was checking out Tracey’s bum as she took a photo of the kids and thought I’d take one myself – because I like looking at it. There are four ‘car door’ tours around the town to places of interest, including the old town centre and this ‘First Shaft’ lookout which is perfect for sunsets. We arrived ten minutes late because we were busy getting the church and truck shots, but you can see this would be stunning. They ‘car door’ tours are free except for the option of a $1 map so you know what’s where, and they’re genuinely fascinating and show how much there is to see in such a small town.

Two odd things about this site. One, it was unsuccessful. Two, this plaque and shaft (below) mark the ‘vicinity’ of the first shaft. It’s sort of the Participation Award of mining. 

Miss5 collecting all the ‘opals’.

Another ‘car door’ tour lead to this large scale open mine. 
One of the ‘car door’ tours took us through the old town centre. There’s lots of rust and comments of ‘I can’t believe people live like this’. Having said that, after one night in Lightning Ridge I was Googling mining rights and trying to find this place on the net.
If we’d stayed another night we’d have checked this place out. Amigo’s Castle. Looks fascinating. But as usual the real fascination is the story behind it which, like most things in this town, involves a rather eccentric miner.
Signs like this make Traceys very nervous.
Miss5 found actual gold in an opal town. A $2 coin on the footpath. It’s under $700 so she got to keep it for herself.
Like so much in this town the Artisan swimming pool/hole was free too, unlike the one we paid $23 to swim in a neighbouring town earlier that morning. Beautiful and warm an- OMG I’VE GOT MY BOOBIES OUT! LOOK AWAY!
Lots of homeschooling opportunities – thanks for the signage Lightning Ridge. That’s from me, not the kids.
Town is full of free exhibits if you want to do it on a tight budget.

The whole place is like a movie set or a theme park. In fact, if you saw this in either of those you’d think it was a bit contrived. But it’s not. It’s just exactly the way it is. Amazing.

Raising a family on little more than laughs

– this post is not sponsored or gifted –

Currently parked up in Forbes area for a week while we sort out some maintenance issues and catch up on homeschooling.

Tracey already has solid bookings for Mornington Peninsula, Gippsland, Bendigo, Albury, Mildura, Geelong and Frankston, so we’ll definitely be in those areas, but we’re planning on seeing much, much more.

If you’ve left your details with Tracey within the last year asking to be notified when we’re in your part of Victoria, she’ll be contacting you shortly to see if our timeframe fits with yours.

For everyone else, if you’re at all interested in having some lovely family photos done, just message Tracey for a chat. She charges a flat $400 for a family session which includes a minimum of 40 beautifully edited digital images on a bespoke wooden USB. And I know I’m a touch biased, but she’s very good.

Plus, because we know what it’s like fitting this sort of thing into the family budget, Tracey offers very flexible terms to suit. The main thing is to jump on board and take advantage of the opportunity while we’re there and work the rest out later. Contact Tracey at her Facebook page, Tracey Devereaux Photography or at [email protected]

Thank you to everyone who’s supporting our adventure by considering having photos done. We appreciate every enquiry 😀

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