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Australia

Although a recently new country in terms of inhabitants, some of the oldest rocks on the planet have been discovered in Australia.

 


This includes a Zircon discovered at Jackson Hills in Western Australia, which has been scientifically dated to have formed 4.4 billion years ago, right near the time the Earth itself was being formed.

In July 1994, the Opal was declared Australia’s National Gemstone. Not surprising when you realise that the country supplies more than 90% of the world’s gem-quality Opals. Mining for Opals isn’t restricted to one area either, but takes place virtually all over the country.

It is believed that Opals were first discovered in Australia in the 1840s by a German gemmologist named Professor Johannes Menge, approximately 50 miles north of the then capital of South Australia, Adelaide. In the 1870s, while samples of the gem had been sent to the UK for evaluation, the first registered mining leases were being signed in the town of Quilpie (later famous for the ‘Pride of the Hills’ Opal mine).

 Around 1900 Black Opals were discovered by children playing outdoors at Lightning Ridge (thank goodness they didn’t have computer games in those days, or we may never have found this fantastic gemstone). Mining in the region at the famous “Shallow Nobby’s Mine” started in 1903 after a miner by the name of Charlie Nettleton walked 400 miles to set up his operation. The mine is still in operation today.

In 1915, teenager Willie Hutchinson discovered an Opal in South Australia, while panning for gold with his father, Jim Hutchison. This crucial find led to the establishment of the world’s largest Opal mine named “Coober Pedy” - which, believe it or not, originates from aboriginal dialect meaning “white man in a hole”.

 Today it’s a lot more than just a ‘white man in a hole’, as the town, with over 3,500 people and 45 different nationalities, is based both above and below ground. In its underground Opal mines one can find: a museum, houses, churches, gift shops and even a hotel. As far as mines go, Coober Pedy really is a rare place!

Today, for the first time in its history, Australia has now got some serious competition for its national treasure, as a recent discovery of opal in Ethiopia has uncovered a quality of gemstone that is very similar in look and appearance and one gem expert has claimed it to be “equal to if not better than Australian Opal” .

Australia is the only country where Mookite is found, in Mooka Creek in Western Australia. Emerald, Agate, Jade, Zircon and Chrysoprase are also discovered in smaller quantities.  

Whilst Opal mining always used to be the main gem topic in any Australian bar, today talk of the Argyle Diamond Mine in north-west Australia is rife.

This Diamond mine in the region of Kimberley is said to now be the biggest single producer of Diamonds in the world.

As well as being the world’s largest Diamond mine, according to the website owned by the mining company Rio Tintoretto, “the Argyle Diamond Mine produces virtually the entire supply of the world’s Pink Diamonds”. They also claim to extract approximately 20 million carats of Diamonds per year.

When the mine first opened in 1985, most of the workforce was flown to the mine on a weekly basis from Perth. Over time, as the mine became established, the local towns have become more populated and now most workers have relocated. What is also quite unusual about Argyle is that it is one of the few Diamond deposits that is not hosted in kimberlite.

Australia is also one of the largest blue Sapphire suppliers in the world. Unfortunately as supply of the gem has started to dry up in Burma and Thailand, many cutting houses in Thailand have incorrectly labelled their gems as originating from their own country,  in an attempt to play down the rising success of the Australian Sapphire. The gem was first discovered in the Cudgegong River in New South Wales in 1851 when miners stumbled across the gem whilst panning for gold. There are now three main deposits: two in Queensland and one in New South Wales.

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Mookite can only be found in one place in Australia.

 

 

In 1994 Opal was declared the National gemstone of Australia.