Visiting my first opal field May 1986

This will be my first chapter in the series of travelling tales relating to my discoveries of the wonderful world of rocks –  just one way of exploring the mineral/crystal kingdom. 

It was 1986  and so much was already  happening early in the year:  I had a part time naturopathic practice and at the same time was busy with house extensions, creating a beautiful open living space overlooking the wild old garden below and needed for both social gatherings and healing circles.

I had begun attending Life Drawing classes, added an Astrology course and  also took the opportunity to add both Reiki 1 and Reiki 2 healing to my healing repertoire.

By April  there was also much family activity with three major events threatening to happen simultaneously.  My eldest daughter Liz was about to give birth to my first grandson David in Bellingen Hospital – And what  a welcoming entrance into the world that proved to be!!  There were two each of four generations of family present at the birth –  my mother and her sister Josie, my sister Lee who happened to be in town and me, then my youngest daughter Meg supporting her sister, and finally David’s four year old sister Ellie who was dashing between the TV and the delivery rooms, waiting for her new brother to arrive!

All went very well and I then rushed to Sydney and arrived just in time to be at my favourite Aunt Bet’s bedside – she only had a few days to live,- and at the same time helped celebrate my second daughter Chissy’s 21st birthday!.

The week after returning home I was at  Bellingen’s Saturday monthly markets and stopped at Norma’s apple stall to buy a supply of her delicious Stanthorpe apples which she brings to town every month .

We were chatting and the subject of crystals came up, and out of the blue she invited me to accompany her to spend two weeks visiting her daughter way out back in south west Queensland – said she holidayed there every year and thought I might enjoy it too as it was a great place to find gem-stones.

I was surprised at the invitation as I didn’t know Norma well, but the timing was perfect – a chance for a complete change of scene and a rest as well a chance to discover more about quartz crystals first hand. I already loved working with them.

The endless sunburnt plains of N.West NSW and Queensland

The endless sunburnt plains going west in southern Queensland – mostly rich red soil, dry grasses and a scattering of mulga bushes, eucalypts , some wattles and occasional wildlife.

I agreed with little hesitation and we set off together after the next market, driving up through spectacular granite country in Norma’s sturdy white ute to Stanthorpe, then setting out across the border into Quensland  through Goondawindie  and St. George, then directly west for the next 1000 kms. right across the state to within a few hundred kms. of  the borders where the three states – N.S.W.,  Queensland and South Australia meet up!

It was a marathon Journey taking 12 hours through flat dry fairly treeless countryside but it was quite uneventful, so there was plenty of time to exchange life stories.  The first surprise came when I learnt that the ‘family farm’ –  our home for the next two weeks – was to be one of two huge pastoral  properties, Molya  and Ungamillia, belonging to Norma’s daughter Rene and her husband Tom –  another 200 kms. west of Cunnamulla.

chatting with Big Ears

Chatting with Big Ears the family donkey while the draft horses wait their turn.

The next bit of unexpected news was that the ‘crystals’ I had come to find were in fact the famous Boulder opals. –  some of the mining area of the Yowah opal fields just happened to be within the boundaries of the Molya grazing property.

It was such a relief to finally reach the homestead and we were made very welcome, especially by their two little sons Shaun and Sam aged about 4 and 6 as I remember.

After a great night’s sleep. we spent a quiet day getting to know the family and talking about opals and stones in general. The kids wasted no time showing us around. I was introduced  to their governess, then the dogs, the chooks and their favourite – Big Ears the donkey.  I was happy to see that there were draft horses as well –  I have always liked them –  big shaggy gentle creatures – all of this taking me back unexpectedly to memories of farming holidays in the Riverina in my childhood.

Later I was shown around the out-buildings, and learnt more about the day to day routines on the property, and by way of initiation, watched calves being marked.  I suspect that was to help toughen me up a bit.  As were the generous servings of fresh home-slaughtered meat I was encouraged to eat  – Quite a challenge for a vegetarian!

They were a friendly no nonsense family who helped me feel very much at home!

the main bore-head

Norma explaining to me the workings of the main bore-head on the property

Next I was to learn more about the opal mines nearby and the nature of Boulder opals about which I knew very little.

On Friday, we had a great day out together at the Cunnamulla annual Agricultural Show. As kids, we all loved going to ‘the show’ at Henty where I lived as a child.

After the show we went on to the other property  “Ungamillia”.- such a musical name -it means Evening Star! and stayed the night there.

While the family went off to the show for a second day, Norma and I had a quiet day together there – lots of talking, I did a bit of sketching, and in the evening we drove up to Pine Ridge to watch my first desert sunset and moonrise, and that was something I wont forget in a hurry!

On Sunday Rene drove us round to have a good look at the property and inspect the livestock and also collect some sandalwood trees before returning to Molya.

One day, soon after my arrival, Rene brought out a tray full of brilliantly coloured stones, some cut and polished, some not, They were sliding about on the tray like a collection of marbles – can you imagine!. They were so beautiful!   She explained  that the collection was the result of having some of the miners paying for their water rates with opal.  (They had access to the water that flowed up to the surface from the bore-head on the property).

The next evening Reginald, one of the miners and long-time family friend, came to dinner.  He had his own mine and came over from the coast for a few months every winter to add to his already extensive opal collection, much of which I was to see first-hand a couple of months later when I visited him and his wife Pixie in their home on the coast at Terranorra.    .

I was excited when he invited me to come to the mine-fields the next day.  As I remember it, the shaft he was working was at least 6 meters long, a couple of metres wide and seemed very deep though it was probably only about twenty feet.  Entering it meant climbing straight down a thin ladder and this scared me a bit, but once down there I didn’t want to leave.

It wasn’t just learning how to read the layers of rock and mudstone  and sandstone that might indicate the presence of opal and how to chip away at it. Reg surprised me by being able to risk doing it with a jackhammer!)  –   It was the unexpected feeling of being very much at home within the earth.  So cool and safe,  and such  a feeling of stillness and peace – and not a hint of claustrophobia!

I was able to go off and try some noodling of my own in the afternoon, and we ate delicious damper at Reg and Wanda’s in the evening.

boulder Opal

Boulder Opal. This one is an exceptional stone. The back face is virtually identical to the front, no ironstone backing, just a night sky of rainbow coloured stars!

Reginald explained to me that Boulder opal was a unique stone found particularly in the western area of central Queensland, as far north as Blackall where they were first discovered in the 19th century down through the area around Quilpie and south to where we were in the Yowah opal fields near the N.S.W. border.

They occur in ironstone boulders, often in a network of veins in the rock, and in the case of the Yowah opals were often found hiding in the centre of spherical layers of ironstone nodules, hence their name ‘Yowah nuts’ !

I also met a couple of other regular miners, Bruiser and Roy and enjoyed listening to their stories as well as their advise,  though I later recorded that I found a lot of the out-back  humour  had a bit of a dark ring to it –  Tales of accidents and other misadventures told with a wry twist, no doubt born of a way of seeing the funny side of life when living in a tough environment.

They encouraged me to try a bit more fossicking too, scratching close to the surface  or noodling  among the spoil heaps from the shafts of older mining activities. Sometimes just a tiny flash of colour egged me on. It was fun to try and I did find just a few bits of colour.

Time was passing quickly. I was free to wander around the property, usually with Norma and the boys, and soon came to feel at  home in this tough country with its own particular beauty – miles of flat open paddocks covered with dry grasses and red soil – bull dust, they call it  –  cattle or sheep grazing in the distance, the occasional splendid wedge-tail eagle soaring around looking out for lunch or just riding the currents, plenty of chattering parrots.  I loved sitting out watching the slow fiery sunsets. though what I wasn’t too fond of were the swarms of flies!

A couple of times we called in at Eulo, the tiny local village nearby to get supplies from the large rambling general store and petrol station, and also check for mail at the post office. It had served the miners needs for many years as the well as the scattered farming community.  At the heart of the town was the renowned Eulo Queen Hotel – lots of stories there .

The family was interested from the start to know what my line of work was. I explained about practising natural healing therapies and talked with the boys about making medicine from plants. Luckily I had brought my stock of Bach flower essences and that helped me explain about vibrational healing too.  Sam and Shaun and I had fun making up a little bottle of drops for each of them using a pendulum to help me select the remedies they needed.  We called them ‘happy drops’!

The word got around about this rather odd visitor and next thing, Rene’s friend Janine who lived 40 km away phoned up looking for help to ease the pain caused by a polocrosse injury. I told her this could be a bit out of my league but she turned up anyhow and I was happy to try.

After I had given Janine some massage where it felt needed I had an internal prompting to ask Rene if I could use some of the loose opals though I wasn’t too clear how I was going to use them.   It was a big ask but she promptly brought them in and I found myself placing them in a healing energy pattern on Janine’s body.   That done, I let her lie quietly for a short while.

What happened next surprised us both –  When she sat up she told me she had experienced a feeling of lightness as she lay there, with streams of light energy pouring  through her and coming out through her fingers and toes!   She asked me shyly if that was ‘alright’!    I did my best to sound cool, assuring her that that was a very promising result, though inwardly I too was experiencing a sense of something changing that I didn’t have words for!  One thing, however I was left in no doubt about and that was the healing power of Opals!

That evening I went out to sit alone on my favourite log in the middle of the paddock.   I really needed to reflect on what had happened earlier in the day. I sat and watched a beautiful fiery sunset while waiting for the Full moon to rise, my bare feet sinking into the warm red earth, feeling as if I was somehow on the edge of something new that I couldn’t quite grasp.

Then, In the magic of the desert stillness, I heard a voice out of the blue speak to me as clearly as if someone was sitting beside me – it was almost audible. I was instructed in a simple solemn way that it was time to embrace the healing power of the full range of all the stones of the mineral kingdom and incorporate them into my future therapy work.

I was to trust that I would be given help to work in two ways, the first externally, using the stones in lay-outs on the body in much the same way as I had done that afternoon, and secondly, to administer elixirs made from the gem-stones, creating them by using the same method of preparation as the flower essences.

For the last couple of years I had become accustomed to receiving inner guidance that came as a flow of thoughts that I could transcribe as they flowed,  This was very different!

Answering my unspoken question, the one who had spoken identified himself as the Archangel Uriel, – one of the four of gospel fame – and I understood that he spoke from a position of  particular responsibility for the mineral kingdom on this planet!

That was it!   and then everything went quiet again – almost as if I had just imagined it.  But I hadn’t! – every word spoken was still clear in my mind – certainly no need for note-taking.    I sat there for a long time marvelling at the mystery of what was unfolding for me though at the same time feeling quite calm and at peace and ready for whatever would turn up next.

That happened to be a call to come inside for tea!.  Life was back to normal again!

The next day I was able to have a quiet reflective day doing more noodling at Reginald’s camp.

Lake Bindegolly

The spring colours of Lake Bindegolly.      (Source: planbooktravel.com.au)

The next day was Saturday and the last weekend of our holiday.

We all went on a family excursion to Thargominda, about another 100 kms further west on the edge of the desert. The highlight of the trip was seeing beautiful Lake Bindegolly, about 40 kms further on. surrounded by ginger bush and seagrass.

It is the finest of a series of lakes fed by the Great Artesian Basin – a mix of salt and fresh water wetlands – lots of wildlife, low growing shrubs, mulga bushes and one very rare wattle species.  The area has since been named the Lake Bindegolly National Park.

What a joy It was to see so much water again, and such a fascinating variety of waterbirds, and even a magnificent black eagle seemed to be following us on the way back to Thargominda.

There were only about 200  people living in the little township which was first settled in the late 1800s.   Four very old mud-brick houses in the main street had stood the test of time. One had been the Post office  and another the district hospital.  It probably wasn’t that much older than the old weatherboard hospital I was born in at Henty, (since burnt down together with all its records, including my birth records!)

The Thargominda town bore, once used to create hydro-electricity

The Thargominda town bore, once used to pressure a generator to create hydro-electricity. (Source: touring carboose.com)

We stopped to see It’s one very rare attraction – a hydro-power plant which had a generator driven using the pressure from the town’s artesian bore. and capable of producing electricity underground.  The claimed it to be Australia’s first hydro-electric scheme and was in operation up until 1951 when a diesel generator took over.  The bore is still Thargomindah’s main source of water.

On Sunday we went driving again, first some sight-seeing, driving up through the back country   up along the Bluff line and stopping where Tepee Knob juts out to appreciate the views in every direction and settle down for a picnic together..

 A clay capped mud spring near Eulo. Jump on it and you hear a hollow response from below!

A clay capped mud spring near Eulo. Jump on it and you hear a hollow response from below!

We next  went on to see the curious mud springs near Eulo.  These are rare spirals of mud created who knows how long ago caused  the pressure from artesian springs pushing mud up through fissures in the surface.  Apparently the sinking of so many bores over time has reduced some of the upward pressure causing some of the mud springs to dry up.       .

We then went on to spend  an hour or so at an ‘opal showing’ by the miners at Yowah. What a treat that was!  it was like a mini festival – so many magnificent opals and also an opportunity to become acquainted with a great variety of  beautiful gem-stones other than opals as well.

A precious little collection of unpolished opal that I brought back home - some ideal for making gem elixers

A precious little collection of unpolished opal that I brought back home – some were ideal for making gem elixers

The stall holders were very friendly and patient about answering all my questions.   I selected a few small specimens to start my gem collection, ready for the next phase of my work, and also bought  a few small opals as gifts for my daughters. The day had been a perfect way of winding up my first real outback adventure!

Three days later Norma and I set out on the long drive back to Stanthorpe. Two of my daughters, Elizabeth and Julie, drove across from Byron Bay to meet me there and on our way back east we stopped at Lismore at an alternative book store called Noah’s Ark.

art o laying on stones

‘The art of laying on stones’  from “Crystal Enlightenment-the transforming properties of Crystals and Healing Stones vol.1” written  by Katrina Raphael

I was in a hurry  to find out if there were books that would help guide me in my new quest. The staff there had none to recommend but as we were leaving the shop I noticed a book lying face down near the door and on the back cover was a picture entitled “The Ancient Art of Laying on Stones”!!  –  it had just been unpacked hot off the press and just into its 2nd printing!

So one out of the two treasures had now turned up – just like that!!

Before leaving the bookshop, someone suggested contacting Helen, a local natural therapist who worked  with flower essences.   I caught her just leaving her clinic – it was just on closing time. She listened while I told my story and then to my astonishment pulled an impressive looking book from her briefcase, commenting that it was a wonderful coincidence that I had arrived just when I did!  Said the book had just been released – this was its first printing, 1985 –  entitled “Gem Elixirs and Vibrational Healing Vol.1”.

It was the work of an American called Gurudas who had channelled the information through Kevin Ryerson.  a psychic who, together with his guide John was already well-known to the alternative community through Shirley MacLaine’s best-seller “Out on a Limb.”

Helen said she was so impressed by its contents that she had immediately ordered  another copy, and if I wished, would sell me her original one as the 2nd one was due to arrive any day!.  This was surely the second book that I was looking for and would set me on the road to making up the gem elixirs.  It seemed like a miracle!

A couple of days with my daughters and grandchildren in Byron Bay and I was ready to return to Bellingen, rested, recharged and full of anticipation, sleeved rolled up and ready for work.  A new phase had begun and I was already looking forward to sharing with others what I would learn as I went along, and introducing it into my healing practice.

I had so much to be grateful for! – Norma and her family’s friendship and hospitality in particular, and the whole adventure that had followed on from that.

It proved to be quite a turning point for me, and it wasn’t long before I was given a chance to set off again on the next chapter of my quest – this time to the magnificent Flinders Ranges!


Postscript. Easter Saturday, April 2017.

One of the features on ABC RN ‘s ” Country  Breakfast” this morning was all about Eulo. Although it still only has a population of about a hundred it has become a very popular tourist destination attracting travellers from far and wide because of its mud spring baths. They have been developed by a local farmer and his wife.

 

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