I don’t know if anyone ever struck it rich in the old days – or even the new days – by hitting a seam of opal while sinking a dugout dunny shaft.
But if it’s going to happen anywhere, the chances of it happening in Andamooka are better than average.
As long as the hole is at least 3 metres deep. That’s when it’ll hit the ancient and now opal-ridden seabed* lying beneath the surface of one of the driest parts of the driest state of the driest continent on earth.
But maybe that’s what makes Andamooka opal – a variety found only here – the most stable matrix opal in the world. The Queen’s Opal was found in Andamooka – a large piece cut and polished to over 200 carats, then made into several pieces of jewellery presented to Queen Elizabeth II, now part of the Crown Jewels.
Although there’s no record of whether or not the stone was found in a dunny shaft!
Every photo of Andamooka I’d ever seen before shows an arid outback landscape. But as the state’s resident rainmakers** en route to the warm and sunny northern winter, we’d arrived in Woomera the evening before in the middle of a rainstorm and steady rain that continued throughout the night.
So I’m still wondering what it’s like to be dry in one of the driest parts of the driest state of the driest continent on earth. The rain continued on and off through the uninspiring terrain along the 85+ km (53 miles) stretch of sealed road from Woomera to Roxby Downs, and then the 30 km (18.6 miles) to Andamooka where the one sealed road carried enough mud to turn it into a virtual dirt (read: mud) road!
But that’s where the exploration gene paid off. BIG time.
I noticed a familiar shape through the raindrops. Hang on – was that REALLY a dunny I saw before me?
Andamooka’s Historical Reserve preserves a number of early dwellings built – or more accurately, compiled – after discovery in 1930 of some of the finest Aussie Opal in the world. Which anyone who’s ever studied Australian history won’t need ME to tell them was also the time of the Great Depression.
Lack of money and an almost tree-free landscape made early opal miners inventive with building materials; and the summer heat – clocked at 46 degrees C (~115 degrees F) – forced many buildings – dugouts – partially underground.
But however rough and ready the structures and difficult the conditions in this remote Outback outpost nearly 600km (373 miles) north of Adelaide, Andamooka’s dunnies gave the opal fields a touch of civilisation. One dwelling built on three levels even had an outside dunny clearly visible through the window from the inside dunny! Luxury!!
Perhaps more important, however, position and placement meant the miner could keep an eye on the action while answering nature’s call.
Although Andamooka Opal was first discovered after a rare thunderstorm, tragically history didn’t repeat itself on our visit – leaving me without another precious piece of Australia’s national gem. And while I didn’t look very hard, nor did I find anything worth keeping down the dunny!
The muddy roads also nixed a visit either the opal fossicking area or the nearby (normally) dry salt lake Lake Torrens.
BUT … it’s probably appropriate that my only real tourist experience in Andamooka involved Scenic Aussie Loos!!
Yes, it’s unknown (to me, at least) whether anyone ever got rich from finding opal in a dunny shaft.
But I’d like to think that somewhere out there, never recorded in the Andamooka annals, is an opal miner who struck it lucky while digging out a dunny.
Because that’d make Andamooka’s classic Aussie Outback loo view one of the most valuable in the world!
* Much of the information in this post came from a tourist brochure about the Andamooka Opal Fields, compiled by Anne Louise Potter and Trevor Peek in November 2009
** It rains so often when we visit a new place that Pilchard & I are considering hiring ourselves out as drought-breakers! Call me!!
- More about Andamooka, South Australia
- Opal Hotspots in Australia
- More Australian Scenic Public Toilets
- MY BOOK: ‘Aussie Loos with Views!’
- More Andamooka and South Australian Outback Photos on Flickr
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