Who did discover the Coober Pedy Opal Field

15 February 2020 by Johno

Categories: Opal Fields | Opal Fields History | Australian Opal

I guess there will always be disputes about who first discovered a lot of things and that apparently is what happened with the Coober Pedy Opal Field discovery.

In looking through old newspaper stories on "Trove" I came upon this story written in the Argus of 9th July 1932. Hope you find it interesting.

"Mr P J Winch, Chemist, Of Melbourne Road, Drumcondra claims that it was he and not the two bushmen "Bill" and "Dick" O'Neill who discovered the Coober Pedy Opal Field in the Stuart Ranges in South Australia. An article in "The Field" appeared in the camera supplement last Saturday.

Mr Winch had been a mining chemist for a number of years and he had been the owner of a station property in South Australia adjoining a holding owned by Mr J R Hutcheson. Mr Hutcheson and he had disposed of their properties and one day late in 1914 they met in Melbourne by accident. They decided to join forces to look for gold. They were supported by a syndicate in Adelaide.

When Mr Hutcheson had last been in the Lake Phillipson district , near the Stuart Ranges, the basin contained 10 feet of water, but when Winch and he arrived it was empty. The drift of sand had been so great that trees were almost covered. It was agreed that it was a waste of time to look for gold in such conditions. At about that time the South Australian Geological Department was giving some attention to the possibility of opal fields being discovered.

Mr Winch suggested they should travel north to the Stuart Range. They had been in the ranges several days and they were becoming somewhat discouraged when, on the morning of Sunday January 31, 1915 Mr Winch, rising at 5 am walked a distance of about 12 miles and came across the opal cliff. He returned to his camp with a number of samples and at once made out a report to be sent to Adelaide. Aboriginal runners had to be engaged to take the letter 90 miles to the nearest post office.

Mr Winch , in his report, referred to the nature of his discovery, and said that the samples he had obtained indicated that the field was very valuable. He did give the situation of his discovery lest the letter should go astray.

By February 26 he and Hutcheson had pegged out 5 miles for search licenses. In one of his reports Mr Winch referred to the possibilities of water conservation and said that there was a natural basin That could be turned into a reservoir at very little cost.

It was seven months after the field was discovered that the O'Neill brothers , who were old miners, heard of the opal field in Adelaide and appeared on the field.They took up blocks adjacent to those of Winch and Hutcheson."

Who was the discoverer of Coober Pedy Opal Field. I guess we will never really know and it probably doesn't really matter, but it is interesting to note that there is more than one claimant to the discovery.


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