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The Gwen Rowe Collection


Located via Wilcannia almost 300km by road from Broken Hill, the town of White Cliffs became Australia’s first opal boomtown when the sought-after gem was discovered in 1889. 

The Gwen Rowe collection, housed in the Outback Archives tells the White Cliffs story, and shares another fascinating journey of discovery and survival, providing a rare window into early life in the outback.

White Cliffs

When opal was found at White Cliffs in 1889, the town developed a roaring opal trade with markets for opal in Britain, USA and Europe. In the decade following the discovery, White Cliffs grew from nothing to a population of 4,000.

White Cliffs entry sign

Whilst prices, supply, and demand has fluctuated over the years, Opal is still mined in White Cliffs today, but the opal town now has a new industry: tourism. Visitors are attracted to this outback community to experience the attractions on offer, and to try the underground living that has evolved to survive the summer heat.

Mining in White Cliffs

The Outback Archives are fortunate to hold a unique collection of material relating to the history of White Cliffs, which was gathered and meticulously documented by local historian Gwen Rowe. She was assisted by a group of residents who formed the White Cliffs History Group.

Aerial view of White Cliffs

Gwen was the driving force of the group and the work they undertook to collect and care for historical material. The collection was her personal property and in her will she left it to the White Cliffs History Group Inc. with the added clause that if the group ceased to exist the entire collection would go to the Broken Hill Outback Archives. The collection subsequently came to the Archives in 2011.

Satellite field at White Cliffs

The collection is housed and displayed in its own room at the Archives and it provides a wonderful resource for those interested in the history of this unique outback town.

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