Tucked away in northern New South Wales is the town of White Cliffs, the first commercial opal mining field in Australia. Between 1890-1899, men and women persevered in the harsh Outback climate, seeking opal. Despite illness and lack of medical services a community was eventually established. Today the permanent population is approximately 200 people, this rises to about 500 in the winter when miners come to look for opal in the cooler weather. The production of opal from White Cliffs was estimated to be about $150 million in 1987. Many dream of striking it rich by finding a large opal claim. For most, this dream is never achieved, but they continue to mine. For many, it’s a way of life; for some, it’s all they know.
Life in White Cliffs goes beyond opal mining. Cattle and sheep stations are scattered across the countryside, employing locals, even if only temporarily, through out the year. Although life on these stations is far from “modern”, technology has crept in. Cattle are now mustered using motorcycles and lightweight helicopters known as gyrocopters.
There is a strong sense of camaraderie throughout the community. As one person told me, “We might get in fights with each other, but as soon as an outsider comes in and starts messing with one of us, I can guarantee you there would be twenty blokes who wouldn’t let a thing happen to ‘em.” This closeness is one of the many things that makes White Cliffs so unique. It’s a place where front doors are never locked and keys are left in the ignition; a place where you can leave your wallet unattended come back, and it will be right where you left it.