Lightning Ridge opal industry in trouble: miners

Miners in the outback town of Lightening Ridge say the industry and town is in trouble as operating costs skyrocket.

The town on the border of NSW and QLD has the largest known deposits of black opals in the world.

But the local miners association has warned the industry could collapse as a series of regulatory changes drive up the costs of mining, and are holding a public meeting to discuss the town’s future. 

Maxine O'Brien from the Lightning Ridge Miners Association says mining operations in the town are receding.
“Over time we have definitely noticed a shrinking of the industry”, she told the ABC.

“I mean, 10 years ago there was probably something like 5,000 or 6,000 mining titles – now it's down to about three.”

Opal miner Sebastian Deisenberger has lived in Lightning Ridge for two decades and says the changes are affecting the town.

“When I came here 20 years ago, it was pretty simple, straight forward. Everybody had a chance to go. For $50 you could peg a claim,” he recalled.

“Even people who had no money had a really good chance.They could give somebody a hand for half a day, then get that money peg a claim and start mining the next day.”

“So the whole excitement and adrenalin that runs is all very, very low.”

“…people are not prospecting, they're not going out mining then because there are uncertainties around what's going on, what is government doing and we don't really know.”

Miners have to pay a fee to Lighting Ridge landholders for the use of the land.

The NSW government recently abolished collecting that compensation from miners in the town, forcing them to enter into private agreements with landholders.

O’Brian also argues that with the abolition of other levies to help with the upkeep of roads and rehabilitation of mining sites, along with an increase in government security deposits that miners pay, doing business in the town is becoming too expensive.

“$700 per claim – that's for mining; and it was $350, I think, for prospecting,” she said.

“Both of those have gone up to $1,000. So that's quite a massive increase.”

O’Brien wants all local residents to attend the meeting.

“Lightning Ridge was not even in existence before opal was discovered here.”

“Everyone will be affected if the opal industry collapses.”

“There's a lot of people involved in the tourism industry, but you know without opal mining not many tourists I don't think will come and visit.

There are around 12 retail outlets in town that exclusively sell opal. So if you don't have opal to sell, that's a lot of businesses gone from the community.”

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