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White Cliffs Mining History


Explore a unique town that's an historic gem.

There's not much doubt that you are living in an unusual town when the aerial shot looks something like the surface of the moon.  That's the western town of White Cliffs though and if you talk to local people, they don't think it's odd at all, just unique.

White Cliffs is of course best known as an opal mining town and the moon like landscape is really thousands of hillocks that are the result of earth that has been dug out in the search for opals. Given the heat, many of the residents live underground. Locals Rex and Carol actually retired to White Cliffs and are still in the process of "building" their underground house.  Another resident Vicki has lived in the town since the 70's and reckons it's one of the best keep secrets in NSW. As does Bill who tries to let a few secrets out because he's a local tour guide. Not everybody in White Cliffs is either an opal miner or retired. Some are like Belinda, a nurse who runs the Health Clinic and has done so for over 30 years. Does that require a special type of person in a frontier town type environment with no resident doctor? You bet!

Of course, many visitors head to White Cliffs to try their hand at a bit of opal mining.  To learn about finding opals in the shortest time, the best place to head for is the Red Earth Cafe. Owner Graeme Dowton not only has the cafe but his own opal mine through which he runs afternoon tours (bookings essential).

Situated in the 1890's Historic Diggings, the Red Earth Opal Mine is tall enough to walk through with ease. Graeme supplies all visitors with hard hat and gives a demonstration of the mining equipment he uses, both above and below the surface. Along the way Graeme gives an excellent history of the White Cliffs area and there are a number of old time exhibits on display, some which demonstrate just how tough life was for the old time miners.  If you want to experience just a minor part, then Graeme will turn all the lights out and hand you a candle!

Like many in White Cliffs, Graeme is keen to encourage all visitors to have a go and has no hesitation in sharing his hard won knowledge. He likes to encourage "finds" even in his own mine and it's certainly a case of "finders keepers".  One of the very definite challenges about opal mining is to know what to look for and to recognise the sharp "click" of an opal strike - both eyes and ears are needed.  Another tip is not to be discouraged about going underground - Graeme reckons there are plenty of surface finds if you know what you are looking for.  There are plenty of samples to be seen in the Red Earth Cafe display cabinets.

For those caravan/motorhome travellers who'd like to spend a few days trying their luck, then there's a caravan park in the middle of town, handy for all the local sights including the nearby solar power station. Given there are no underground camping sites, out tip would be not to visit in high Summer!

The Red Earth Opal Mine is located at Dugout 100, White Cliffs, NSW.

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