Opal Mining Safety on the Opal Fields

Safety on the opal fields

Australia produces over 90 per cent of the world’s precious opal, and more than half comes from NSW opal fields. The major opal-producing areas in NSW are Lightning Ridge and White Cliffs. Visitors may fossick or “spec” for opal on a field provided they have first obtained permission of the landowner or leaseholder. If the area is subject to a registered mineral claim, a visitor must also seek permission from the claimholder. Please see section below on “The Mining Act 1992”.

A warning

A fifteen year old boy was helping in his father’s underground opal mine when he fell six metres down an internal vertical shaft and suffered a broken leg and bruised back. He was helping his uncle and father who were mining an exploration drive about 10 metres below the surface. They had deliberately holed into the small old workings of the adjacent mine so that they could evaluate the ground ahead of them. They had one porta flood light between them that was powered by a surface generator. The electric cable to their light only stretched two metres into the old workings, but they saw what they wanted to see and the two adults returned through the opening. Unknown to the adults, the son, who was at the rear, suddenly decided to explore one of the old drives, even though he had no light to see where he was going. In the darkness, he stepped into a small unprotected six metre deep vertical internal shaft in the drive floor and fell to the bottom. He was immobilised by his injury. The rescuers gained access to where he was through an adjoining shaft.

Please exercise extreme caution whilst mining or visiting a mining field;

  • Do not allow inexperienced people alone in underground mine workings
  • All persons who are taken underground must be instructed and/or supervised to an appropriate level of understanding.
  • Every person underground should carry a light.
  • Unfamiliar workings must be considered to be dangerous and must be secured against casual entry.
  • Never position a winze in the middle of a drive or cross-cut.
  • School children on holidays in a work situation need constant supervision.

Fossick in Safety

Established opal fields may be good places for fossicking, but there are many hidden dangers. Children are especially vulnerable, and need to be kept under close supervision at all times. Fossickers should first make their presence known to any miners in the area. Remember heavy mining and earthmoving equipment is used on opal fields, and can operate without warning. Self-tippers and blowers bring dirt to the surface of claims from underground , often working unattended.

Shafts, drill holes and open cuts may pose a serious danger to young children. Drill holes in particular – about the width of a child’s foot – are extremely dangerous. Shafts and drill holes may be full of water and may be camouflaged by vegetation growth. Old shafts or drill holes may be in a dangerous state, with collapsed collars or protected only by rotten timber or rusted sheets of iron.

Fossickers are warned against entering old underground workings without the benefit of experienced and competent miners to assist. Many dangers exist such as unstable ground, stale air and lack of oxygen, unprotected openings underneath and holes full of water. Seek help before entering old mines. Fossicking may only take place to a depth of one metre and all holes dug must be refilled. Fossickers are also warned against entering old open cuts or costains and especially warned against fossicking into the sides of excavations which may cave in unexpectedly. Large stockpiles of dirt may also collapse unexpectedly particularly if they are undercut.

When fossicking wear strong clothing, a hat and shoes. If you are fossicking alone tell someone where you are going in case you get into difficulties. In hot weather carry plenty of water. A first aid kit is always advisable. Avoid snakes; don’t try to handle or kill them. Please note too that transport can be a problem in these areas, not only because of the distances involved, but also because of the heat. A car will be needed to visit the main fields.

Equipment for Fossicking

You will need, as a minimum:

  • Pick;
  • Shovels;
  • Pans;
  • Sieves;
  • A pair of tweezers and a hand lens (x8 or x10) to help identify your find;
  • Hat;
  • Insect repellent;
  • Boots;
  • Small collecting jars.

The Mining Act 1992

Under section 12 of the Mining Act 1992, “A person must not fossick for minerals on any land that is the subject of an authority, a mineral claim or an opal prospecting licence except wih the consent of the holder of the authority, claim or licence.”

Fossickers must not use any explosives or power-operated equipment, drill or excavate to a depth of more than one metre, damage or remove any bushrock, or remove more than 20 grams of gemstones during any single period of 48 hours. A person who wishes to do more than fossicking, for example prospect and/or mine for opal, must have a licence under the Mining Act 1992. This can be an opal prospecting licence, an exploration licence, a mining lease or a mineral claim.

In traditional opal mining areas in NSW such as in Lightning Ridge and White Cliffs, prospecting for opal is mostly carried out under a mineral claim or an opal prospecting licence, if such is available. Other States may have different requirements. The maximum area allowed in NSW under a mineral claim is two hectares but within the Lightning Ridge Mineral Claims District and the White Cliffs Mineral Claims District, where special rules apply, a mineral claim is restricted to 1/4 of a hectare (i.e. 2,500 square metres).

A mineral claim authorises the holder to prospect as well as mine and a person is restricted to two claims in each District. Opal Prospecting Licences are granted over much larger areas than those granted under mineral claims but are purely for prospecting and do not authorise mining. An Opal Prospecting Licence can only be granted over lands defined as an “Opal Prospecting Block” within an area designated under the Mining Act as an “Opal Prospecting Area”. There are a number of Opal Prospecting Areas in the Lightning Ridge and White Cliffs Mineral Claims Districts.

For further information on the various titles available, the rights and duties of holders of titles and the policies that apply, contact the Department of Mineral Resources or the Mining Registrar at Lightning Ridge, or the Mining Registrar at Broken Hill.

Code of Conduct

The New South Wales opal fields are located on pastoral leases, which are still used for farming purposes. Please recognise that while visiting the fields you are a guest on a working cattle or sheep station, and respect the owner’s requirements. Do not take dogs to the fields, leave all gates as you find them, and take away your garbage. Visitors are requested to read a copy of the full code of conduct, which can be obtained from Department of Mineral Resources offices.

For more Information

Further reading:

  • Opals in New South Wales, Department of Mineral Resources.
  • The Mining Act 1992 (New South Wales)
  • Mine Health and Safety Act 2004 (New South Wales)
  • Code of conduct on the opal fields, Department of Mineral Resources.
  • Gemstones in Australia, Australian Gemstone Industry Council, 1993.
  • Australian precious opal: A guide book for professionals, Andrew Cody Pty Ltd, 1991.
  • Australian opals and gemstones, Australian Gem Industry Association, 1987.

Places to go for information

The Department of Mineral Resources
Information Counter
29-57 Christie Street
St Leonards 2065
(PO Box 536, St Leonards NSW 1590)

Telephone: (02) 9901 8269 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              (02) 9901 8269      end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Fax: (02) 9901 8247


Lot 60
Morilla Street
(PO Box 314)
Lightning Ridge 2834

Telephone: (02) 6829 0678 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              (02) 6829 0678      end_of_the_skype_highlighting / 0824
Fax: (02) 6829 0825


  • NSW Dept. of Primary Industries