| White Cliffs
2008 - By John Boom
This site page is all about the Whites Cliffs opal fields in New South Wales Australia. We arrived at the White Cliffs
Opal Field early morning around 10am and made our way straight to the Caravan Park in the town. We set up our
caravan and made ourselves comfortable as you do when visiting each new location for the first time.
White Cliffs has a population of around 200 people, some dogs a few wild goats, kangaroos, emus and a good
population of flies and ants at times. The stark landscape around the town reminded me a little of Coober Pedy as it
has some high hills which over look huge flat escapements.
The facilities in this town are basic but manageable for most people visiting from city areas. I think the whole concept
of visiting this area is to experience the vast difference in lifestyle from the normal day to day living of city life. We
visited here from the 15th of October 2008 and it was starting to get very hot during the days around 30 to 35
degrees and still cooling down late at night. We stayed a week to take in the whole experience.
Here at White Cliffs many people live underground to escape the heat of day. There homes vary from caravans, old
metal shed shacks, above ground living and below ground living. Each person living how they please or as too what
they can afford. Living standards in this town vary enormously and this is apparent as you travel around the field
The whole opal town is small and can be seen in a couple of days if you’re on a tight schedule. If you’re into looking
for opal like we are you need to stay as long as you feel like. It’s very similar to all the other opal fields around
Australia in that as a hand fossicker there’s very little to be found easily. You just can’t pick opal off the roadsides.
This field has few open cuts and most mining is done by vertical shafts at various levels. The surrounding rock is a
mix of quartzite rocks near the very top and a grey to white limestone below is usually removed and sieved through
by a blower system or hand sorting. Because most miners sieve the sort so carefully these days there’s little left
behind to find in the mullock heaps. And like many other fields the older mullock heaps have already been sieved
through pretty well reducing the odds of finding many pieces left behind. But like Tattslotto you still have a chance
and its just fun to go out there and dig and sieve a bit to try your luck.
You always need to watch your step because this area has many open shafts all around the fields and if you fall
down one you’ll most likely die in the process as they can be very deep. Keep a close eye on kids as this is no place
for playing around. Never step backwards on the mine fields without looking first.
|More About The Local Facilities
There’s a few choices of under ground and above ground accommodation throughout the town, one caravan park, a
general store, post office, small hospital, hotel, small school with around 4 students, and that’s about the commercial
area of the whole town.
No other shops! Like most other opal fields there are the many opal selling tourist places surrounding the town as
you’ll see as you drive or walk around the outskirts of the town.
You can hand your Centerlink forms in at the post office. There is also one small church and a national parks visitor
Like most outback areas food and petrol prices are higher so stock up well beforehand if you want to. There’s a big
Woolworths supermarket at Gilgandra where we stocked up well before going further. All the towns after this one
have only small store facilities at that time. (Year 2008) Wilcannia has become a ghost town and has next to no
facilities anymore and prices are higher so Gilgandra or Broken Hill is your best stock up point for as much as you
|Things To Do
Well it’s an outback opal field so don’t expect too much and you’ll need to make your own fun. There is a golf course
similar to that of the Coober Pedy terrain adventure course. There’s a sports field where you can play cricket. A
tennis court. A pool but is was closed when we were there and it’s also a very, very deep pool so take note of that as
there is no shallow section at all. This pool is for good swimmers only and it’s only small. I’m not sure why it’s so deep.
If you like walking and hiking the whole town can be viewed pretty well by walks in about three or four directions and
we did just that by hiking around each section of the town from the caravan park as our central point. In fact the
whole opal field can really be viewed by foot if you’re up to the challenge of the walks. You’ll most likely see some
kangaroos just jump out in front of you as many shelter from the hot sun under peppercorn trees near many of the
homes and in the fields as well. We even saw a few emus and wild goats poking about.
Wear good walking boots or shoes with good solid soles as the roads and tracks have many loose rocks on them. It
can be a bit like walking on marbles in some places. The road is sealed all the way to White Cliffs but all roads
around the town and opal fields area are rough and stoney.
Photos of the rocky areas - Click on any photo to enlarge!
|It took us around an hour and a half round trip to walk and explore in one direction and there’s around three or four
of these walks that you could do to see the whole town and fields pretty well. So you don’t even need a car to drive
around if you’re fit enough to take on the walks. We walked everyday because you’ll see and notice much more that
way. It’s good to keep the weight down too.
The whole town can basically be explored by dividing it into the following sections:
The Central town area:- Around 20 minutes to explore from caravan park.
The Blocks:- Around 1.5 hours return walk to caravan park.
Turley’s Hill:- Around 1.5 hours return walk to caravan park.
Smith’s Hill:- Around 1.5 hours return walk to caravan park.
Cemetery:- Around 1 hours return trip.
The Actual Opal Fields:- This up to you and if you wish to fossick or just look around. A few hours walk would cover
most of the main field area if walking from the caravan park. Most of the mines all look the same so it’s up to you how
much time you spend looking. It’s interesting to see how some of the miners work their claims on the actual fields.
There are some other fields well out of town as well but I’ve concentrated mainly on the central White Cliffs area for
The Blocks, Turley’s Hill and Smiths Hill all have Opal traders selling stores along the way so it’s up to yourself as to
how many of these you see. This will increase your trip time as well. There’s also a chance to visit and see inside
some of the homes as well.
In the central town area you may like to visit the Solar Power Station established in 1981 and is well worth a look and
few photos perhaps. The local cemetery reveals some history of the town and its early settler’s plight. There’s many
unmarked graves in this historic cemetery.
Photos:- Sports field, tennis court and golf course.
|How To Fossick In The Mullock Heaps
If you intend to fossick in the mines area make sure you don’t go into any of the active miners mineral lease areas.
These areas are clearly marked with mineral lease certificates displayed on a post.
Mineral Lease (Opal Claim) Photo
|I found that you only really need a long handled shovel to dig through most of the mullock heaps as the ground
doesn’t seem to compact so hard on this field. I initially started with a broad ended pick mattock but I soon gave that
away and just used the long handled shovel on its own. You can also use a sieve with quarter inch holes as well if you’
re keen. It can be very windy on days so watch your eyes for the dust. We had fairly heavy winds everyday of our
The best method of searching through the mullock heaps by hand I found was to divide each heap surrounding each
hole into four sections and then sample digging up to about one and a half foot deep until I see an actual sign of
some opal pieces. Check each shovel full as you go and look through it like a hawk or you’ll miss it.
If I couldn’t find a piece in any of the four quarters I’d then move on to the next hole. If I found a piece I’d then sieve
the mullock through the sieve in the hope the miner may have left some more pieces behind.
I tried to limit the actual search in areas where I thought the mines were older and not so disturbed perhaps
increasing my overall chances. I found one really good piece on this trip but I never found much in regards to actual
quantity. The piece I found is most likely worth a couple of hundred dollars so that’s still not bad for a bit of fossicking.
|About The Shafts
From the following photos you can see the initial level of rock you need to go through just to start a shaft. This can be
a hard job with large quartzite boulders and rocks in the way before you start getting to the grey opal dirt levels which
can be from 20 to 40 feet deep depending on the terrain of the field area.
The old miners from the past dug these mines by hand usually in a rectangular shape going straight down placing
foot holes down as they dug down from twenty to forty feet. They then cut across the base and tunneled like moles
trying to find the elusive opal seam. Some opened up vast rooms back filling rooms as they went. For many back
filling was the easiest option.
In fact many of the current opal field homes were actual mines in the hills surrounding the town of White Cliffs that
were back filled and then cleaned out by there current residents. Many miners did this from hole to hole never finding
a thing. Others may have struck it rich along the way.
Those miners finding opal color or perhaps an opal pineapple would have money in their pocket again. Today it’s no
different and miners from just about anywhere and all walks of life still try their luck to get that lucky strike. It’s a little
easier these days because many opal miners use mechanical tools which weren’t available in the early opal rush
days. But it’s still very hard work and there’s always a safety risk when undertaking any form of mining. You always
need to let others know what you’re doing in case there’s a problem.
I spoke with many residents on the field that had expanded rooms in their dug outs and if they had ever found much
opal in the process and most replied very little was ever found. Some had found a couple of thousand dollars worth
but for most not a piece.
Expectations of an opal find are always there though by the fools gold of the field being called opal potch. Opal potch
is opal without any or very little color and many miners have dug for great distances following these opal potch seams
in the hope they would turn into color along the way. Sometimes they do and other times they just keep fooling you all
the way with color coming and going along the way.
Now I’ve followed some of these seams myself on other fields like at Coober Pedy and I was lucky enough to get
enough color from an opal potch seam to still make it worth my while. But most opal potch seams lead to nothing.
Now if you think it’s easy think again because I followed that seam for well over twenty feet of solid digging 30 feet
down and ten feet across just to get what I did.
Actual Mine Profile Photos Showing Initial Rock Formations Before Getting To The Opal Bearing Level
|About The Equipment
What miners use can vary but basically a winch of type can be a standard windlass type, hand or motorized. Many
use a bucket winch as you’ll see from the photos. Generators are used to supply power for air blowers, jack hammers
and lighting. Electric and air tools are always preferred because petrol based equipment can pollute the air under
ground. Large air compressors are also used with jack hammers. Using explosives are subject to the laws of use.
Bulldozers, excavators, bobcats, tip trucks and blowers etc.
|Many miners adapt and make mining equipment to their needs from old scrap items found on the fields. The fields and
backyards of miner’s homes are littered with old trucks, cars, fridges, scrap iron, and you name it because they keep
all the junk in case they can use it to make something. Many signs around the town are made from car bonnets.
The opal fields are the ultimate junk recycling areas of Australia.
Typical Scrap Backyard Photos
|What To Eat?
It's time for a break so lets talk about food. Well if you’re on holiday it needs to be a holiday for mum as well so we
always eat as simply as possible. And let’s face when it’s in the high 30’s who wants big meals anyway?
So here are our, eat away from home tips while staying at White Cliffs or elsewhere.
For breakfast we just have our normal cereal choices with some long life milk.
For lunch we purchased the smallest tins of tuna you can get which is usually enough for two people for a lunch of
nice cold tuna sandwiches. Have half a tin each between two slices of bread. Stock your fridge up with a heap of
these little tins and keep them nice and cold. It’s a very refreshing lunchtime meal.
For dinner we have a large selection of tinned foods that can be simply heated and placed on top of a slice of bread
or toast. We also use things like macaroni, rice and where we can just add some pre made sauces from jars plus
some fresh diced chicken or meat when available. Just precook the meats first and then add them with the sauces
and macaroni or rice as you please. You can also incorporate some tinned vege’s if you like.
Some drink ideas we used were: Iced coffee drinks using long life skim milk, one tea spoon of coffee and a good
scoop of ice cream. The ice cream makes it sweet enough and this drink quenches your thirst for a while.
We also had orange juice, natural flavored mineral waters, tea and coffee to suit.
Deserts we had were some cold tinned fruits, some with and without ice cream.
Our small caravan fridge can hold a small tub of ice cream so we took advantage of this while in White Cliffs. They
sell ice cream at the general store.
And if you get sick of some of these you can eat out and eat whatever’s available in the area at the time to suit your
Like most of the Australian opal fields, miners usually undertake their mining activities during the winter months.
Some miners have homes in other areas of Australia where they escape too before the harsh summer period
arrives. Others have homes on the fields where they live all year round.
Many miners take on jobs in their off season and many are of retirement age. Opal miners come from all walks of life
some having been teachers, factory workers, lawyers you name it. But there’s always one thing in common with
them all and that is that once bitten by the opal mining bug it’s a hard thing to shake off and it becomes a part of
Some men come here to escape the city life or a past they’d like to forget but once the opal fever strikes you’re a
gonna and you’ll be stuck here most likely till you die. They’re a tough breed of men and their wives have to be just
as tough. It’s not the lifestyle for the dainty hearted by any means. Men in their 90’s are still climbing down shafts
picking for that elusive piece of opal color through the many tons of rock and dirt they have to dig through.
The men and women of the opal mining towns are truly a tough but rare breed of people in this modern world of
ours. If you could measure sweat in dollars all these people would be multi millionaires. But the sad fact is many will
end up broke and heart broken because opal mining is such a hard life and it can take its toll on family life. Opal
mining is a true adventurers addiction.
Our time at White Cliffs revealed only a few kids attending a local primary school and some being home taught as
well. It’s a tough and isolated area being some few hundred kilometers from Broken Hill with high schools. Some
parents can’t be here because of this or they're separated from their wives and kids for months on end while mining
for some elusive dream of finding opal.
The truth is that if measured in dollar terms most miners would make more money working for a boss in any city than
spending any time mining for those hidden opals.
So the opal fever is just like most other gambling addictions. But for most it’s not about making money at all and it’s
about the lifestyle of the outback adventure. Being an opal miner makes you feel like an adventurer.
If you’re lucky and make a big strike it’s all good and well but even if you find nothing you’ve achieved the fact that
you dug this mine. Your mine dug with hard sweat and real manual labor for something you personally like doing.
You don’t need a university degree or someone over your shoulder telling you what to do because it’s your own
I think too that for many of the old time miners it’s actually extended their lives because rather than thinking about
getting old and sick they have a passion that they can work for. Some have been outcast by society in only ways
they feel to themselves but here on the fields most people are equal. Not so much of the competition between the
haves and the have nots if you know what I mean.
White Cliffs is a place like no other set in the New South Wales Australian outback. You can wake up to a magpie
tap dancing on your caravan roof and the song of Gallah’s. You may even see a young magpie having a sooky fit
and rolling over in the sand. But even better you can experience a life that few others will ever see. The life of the
Australian opal miner.
I can recommend White Cliffs for a few days stay so you too can experience the difference in lifestyles compared to
what you have now. Some will no doubt leave bored and will continue to be intolerant while others may just think to
themselves I’d like to try that. But be warned if you do you may never be able to leave. The opal miner adventurer in
you will make you want to keep coming back. More and more people are becoming recreational miners and
|White Cliffs Opal Mining Businesses
Jocks Place Opal Mine
Jock is a character and local icon of White Cliffs and he will show you all around his mine and underground home
and tells you all about the history of White Cliffs through his eyes with great interest. Don’t miss this man’s tour
because Jock is one of the dieing breed of old local miners and can tell you many stories of the area and his many
years of experience and adventures he went through in the older mining days. There’s his private collection of
antiques to look through all scattered throughout the mine.
He most likely wont show you any opal because as he says only crazy people mine for opal. And he states himself
as being crazy. So there you go for a most interesting tour it only costs five dollars each and he’ll talk your ear for
that so it’s pretty good value.
|Opal Mines And Mullock Heaps Showing Opal Bearing Material
|General Store Photos
The local White Cliffs general store has most of basic foods if you run out of supplies and they have takeaway
foods. They also prepare meals for you so you can eat at tables inside as well. Fresh bread, meat, ice cream,
tinned foods etc.
|White Cliffs Hotel Photos - Accommodation
|Caravan Park Photos
The caravan park is fine and has all the basic requirements for your stay. Take some fly spray with you because
pesky ants have a habit of creeping up the caravan stabilizers and making their way into your van in search of
goodies to eat. You should boil the local water before using it for drinking as a precaution. I recommend you fill your
caravan tank up well before arriving at White Cliffs and using this for drinking use. We found the water to be fine
there after boiling. There’s a pay laundry with clothes lines outside as well. You’ll need dollar coins for hot showers
and laundry use as well. Take some extra blankets as the temperature can drop dramatically during the early
mornings even though it may be hot all day. Free barbeques are there to use as well.
|Under Ground Dug-Out Motel - Accommodation
|PJ's Underground — Australia’s Premier Underground B&B
|The Craft Gallery
|Otto Rogge Photography
|Southern Cross Opals
|Top Level Opals
|B. Moores Opal Showroom
|Ivy and Davids Dug-Out No-64 "The Blocks"
Underground dug-outs can be most beautifully made and designed. Unlike conventional homes if you need an extra
room you simply carve and tunnel another out. Shelves can be carved into walls and rendering walls provides plenty
of light and also takes away the claustrophobic effect. Ivy was kind enough to show us through their home and
showed us their display of fossils and 100 year old newspapers found in the mines.
|Ken's Mine - Ken mines opals in the winter season and gold in another mine near Mt Hotham in the summer.
|Opal Pineapples are much
sought after by collectors.
|Around White Cliffs
|Town Area Photos
|Heritage Signs Around The Town
|White Cliffs Children’s Cemetery Photos – Central town location near the Caravan Park
|White Cliffs Cemetery Photos – Located 1Km on the outskirts of town.