Life ain’t easy in Lightning Ridge

The following article, Scant comfort at heartache Ridge by DEBRA JOPSON, on October 11, 2009, was source from the Brisbane Times website (

AT THE age of 76, Mijo Matanovic lives by kerosene and battery light because he can no longer hand-crank his electricity generator.

His house in the dusty mining claim Old Nobby’s Camp has no running water. He bathes in a public artesian bore pool and takes his laundry to a caravan park or to friends. He cooks when he can in a wood oven.

That is how it is to be old in Lightning Ridge, where there is no public housing or public transport, not even a taxi.

The town, which was expected to shrink after the opal rushes of the 1960s, is now home to more than 7000 people because the boom never went bust, community workers say.

But government planners have left it without adequate services because the census takers have been unable to find many people living in remote, dusty, hole-pocked mining grounds, leading to serious population underestimates, they say.

The 2006 census recorded 2832 residents. Based on indicators like local council files, mining registrations and the number of people using post office boxes in a town with no postie, the population is at least double that, the Yawarra Meamei Women’s Group has calculated.

Every level of government has failed the Ridge. There the freedom from bureaucratic intervention that miners sought in their robust younger years became their burden in old age and sickness, says Joan Treweeke, the group’s president.

”People drive into this town and think of the opals, but the wealth is really for a very few,” Ms Treweeke says. ”There are two streams; the tourist town and the opal industry and then you have this very dark river of disadvantage which flows underneath and is unaddressed.”

Two in every five residents do not speak English as a native language, and one in five is Aboriginal. While the lure of the opal gives it verve, the Ridge is home to many poor people.

For just over $500 a year, they can pay the State Government a fee to live on a 50 by 50 metre mining claim where ”flexible” building regulations mean home can be a bus, a tin or fibro shed, a garage or even a shipping container on stilts amid dusty opal field camps. Governments could start to redress the neglect by helping local groups create a community centre and providing accommodation for old people like Mr Matanovic to live independently, says his supporter Ana Cjejic-Vastag, co-ordinator of the Transcultural Community Council. There are many like Mr Matanovic, a carpenter from Serbia who helped build the Sydney Opera House and now has a disability pension, she says. They find the ”rough life” too tough following injury.

Friends recently helped Mr Matanovic to build a small tin house with windows as his recovery room where friends will care for him after a hernia operation next month because the town has no respite centre. His home of 30 years, made of sandstone, corrugated iron, steel mesh, tarpaulins and even cardboard, is unsuitable for convalescence. ”No electricity,” he says. ”No water. Very hard. Very hard.”

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald