Opal Mining in the early days at Andamooka

21 February 2020 by Johno

Categories: Opal Fields History | Opal Fields Characters | Australian Opal

The following was published in the Daily Standard in Brisbane on Friday 21 st June, 1935, not that long after opal had been discovered at Andamooka. The article gives a bit more detail on conditions at Andamooka in those early years of opal mining.

"Two sheepherders of Andamooka Station, near the northernmost end of Lake Torrens, in South Australia, were walking over a stony hill looking for their horses which had strayed during the night. One of the men stooped, picked up a stone and showed it to his mate. "Pretty isn't it", he said.

That chance discovery, of a piece of white stone, flashing with pin points of colour, at the rise called "One Tree Hill" from the solitary mulga which surrounds it, marked the beginning of the newest Austalian white opal field of any importance.

The "pretty stone' found about three years ago was taken to the Station Manager Mr Bruce Foulis who immediately recognized it as opal. Mr Foulis supplied the men with picks and shovels and grub staked them to prospect further and sink shafts where they had found their surface floater of opal. His anticipations were realized. There was good white opal there and plenty of it.

That the opal find had been found there on the property was kept as quiet as possible but the news soon got out. Mr Foulis did his best to prevent a "rush" before the field had been properly tested.

Andamooka Station is a vast tract of sandy and stony country, on which sheep do well enough, because there is plenty of salt-bush. It is 450 square miles in extent with few tracks. From the front gate to the homestead is 40 miles.

Quartzite Ridges

Across the plains are dark quartzite ridges and shifting hills of vivid red sand. There are no running creeks. The only water is in dams and wells sunk into the sub-artesian soakage.

When Mr Foulis went out to see how his two prospectors were faring, about 25 miles from the homestead, he had to take a different route every time so that his car would leave no well worn tracks that men could follow.

He wrote to the South Australian Government asking that they send a geologist from Adelaide to inspect the field, find, that if it was opened up, a well be sunk to supply the gougers with water.

Men with sufficient resources to prevent them from starving, if they did not strike opal immediately, have been allowed on the station field but the water problem remains and it is a matter of acute concern to the pastoralist.

A station well is close to the diggings and from it the community of miners, now numbering about 50 , draws its supplies. Mr Foulis says he can't deny them the water but that does not alter the fact that he has to deny his sheep 40- 50 gallons of water a day.

Meat and other supplies are obtained from the station on which the miners are entirely dependent. Bruce Foulis is described as the "father of the field".

It sounds very reasonable when he asks " Won't the Government accept some responsibility particularly in regard to the water". The men on the field feel the same way about it. They are frankly frightened of a rush of "dole men" from Adelaide. They know that if many more of them come to the field the grave position will arise of there not being enough water to go around, unless of course, another well is sunk. And men will not spend weeks digging for water when they can be digging for rich opal.

We flew to Andamooka from Quorn, crossing the high Flinders Range at sunrise and flying diagonally across Lake Torrens, which presents a vast dry surface like a plain, partly covered with shining white expanses of salt. Only in a few spots are there water on the surface of the lake.

Landing at Andamooka station was no easy matter and sharp stones whipped up under the wheel of the plane as we came down on a clay pan patch puncturing holes in the tail-plane, but not doing serious damage. The pilot Mr O B Hall, flew the plane to a much larger clay pan which provided a natural perfect aerodrome and the take off with a full load was made from there.

On arrival, after being breakfasted by the station man and his wife, who with their four charming children, represented the finest type of hospitable Australian family you meet in the far inland, Mr Foulis drove us to the opal field.

No city taxi driver ever made more skilful twists and turns to dodging trade than did this pastoralist as he negotiated in his sturdy car stone ridge and sand hill, gibber country and salt-bush plain.

After 25 miles of this we topped a rise and there was the landmark of all opal fields - the dumps of white, yellow and reddish clay thrown up around the pot-holes and shafts.

In the depression between the rises a collection of huts had grown up. Some were but sheds of bushes with the dried foliage still on them. Others were of corrugated iron, bags and bark and one man had a canvas tent with a break-wind of bushes around.

Several of the dwellings were the neatest seen on the opal fields. One toy sized cottage having a chimney built of stone in a manner both skillful and picturesque.

There was not a sign of life as we came down the main street of the opal mining camp. Most of the mob were away at the diggings over the surrounding ridges and the women (both of them) were with them digging too. For there are two women at Andamooka. One of the was, until recently, the only white woman at Coober Pedy opal field.

These women say they don't feel lonely and they grow used to being so far from neighbours and the amenities of life . Work , they say, keeps them from worrying. If we strike it rich we will have plenty of movies and good clothes, and if we don't we still have the "wireless".

There no children at Andamooka. Of the "blessed" wireless sets there are two on the field.

The most interesting opal gouger on the field is a young man of 26 whose name will be familiar to interstate sports followers. He is A M Treloar. Not only was Mr Treloar a bank clerk, pen pushing and poring over letters in the Union Bank in Adelaide for 6 years but he was one of the most brilliant young tennis players South Australia has produced. He was the junior tennis champion of South Australia from 1922- 1924 and was mentioned as a possibility for Davis Cup selection. He has exchanged the pen and the tennis racquet for the pick and shovel and the spider spike the opal gougers use , the lawn courts of the southern city for a hut and a hole in the ground ........

Treloar was book keeper at Andamooka Station before the opal strike on the property lured him to the diggings where he has been for more than a year. He has no mate only a yellow dog which sits all day on the mound of earth heaped around the shaft where his master is digging.

There is good white opal at Andamooka."

I have left out a few paragraphs where the writer seened to be getting a bit verbose and to keep the story to a reasonable length.

Hoped you enjoyed it


To Top