Two out of three ain’t bad. There’s another opal field about 60kms from The Ridge and it is home to 3 iconic pubs. We set off in a convoy of 3 cars down a good bitumen road to the tiny town of Cumborah. A little further on we turn onto an appalling dirt road that our mate Vee rates as worse than the Birdsville Track. Outback Jack is in the back seat thanking God that Vee has offered to take us in her car!
We bump along swearing and cursing the road and the dust and reading car door signs hanging from trees that extol the virtues of the three pubs. First is the Grawin Club in the Scrub and another car door reminds us that we are driving on a golf course and should watch for balls. Mulga scrub and bare dirt don’t usually conjure up visions of a golf club, but now I know better. With eyes peeled we find a flag and a rough wooden shelter. Upon entering the ramshackle (this is the only word that describes the whole district) pub we are greeted by a cheery barmaid and the place is cosy and inviting. There’s even a library room. An old miner with hair and whiskers that could house a family of birds sells us raffle tickets for the local Men’s Shed. We thank him even though we know that we’ll never win yet alone want to trek out here to collect the prize. The barmaid generously gives us a third mud map of the area which helps to make sense of the others that we’ve already gathered.
Bouncing off down the road we find the Noodling Dumps. Noodling Dumps? Well this is where the miners dump their unwanted rock and unlicensed prospectors like us can fossick for opal that the experts have missed. We later learn that this rock is cast off until they find a seam of potch usually forty or so feet down. Thus we’d be pretty lucky to find anything! But trudge off up the mountain of blinding white clay and rock we did, and fossicked about and found some pretty rocks and fossils. We’re easily pleased.
Next stop Glengarry and a charming couple. He is a miner and she runs a craft ‘cottage’. They’re from Canberra and spend the winter up here. I’m sure most Australians would say that they too would prefer living in a mullock heap to the Nation’s Capital any day. The Glengarry Hilton is a collection of sheds with a shipping container for a kitchen. This isn’t a building, just a collection of mismatched structures that have settled into several inches of talcum like white dust. It rises as you walk through it making you feel as though you are Neil Armstrong on the moon. The open air ‘dining’ area has a piece of carpet laid across the bare ground. Naturally it is permeated with dust. To be kind, the barmaid is a surly lass. The food though is plentiful and delicious.The smallest of our group Tillie is not allowed onto the ‘premises’ though we find out later that there are tight restrictions on dogs on the opal fields but I’m sure that applies to guard dogs not toy poodles. In any case Tillie probably would have suffocated in the thick white dust.
On again past corrugated iron masquerading as houses, hulks that were once cars and hundreds more mine shafts with little plastic pipes sticking out of the ground for air circulation. The Sheepyard Inn jumps out at us beside the sign that says ‘cars with brakes give way’. A friendly lot this mob are. It is part pub, general store and war memorial and this barmaid shows the boys how to don a male chastity belt. What a nice lass. A bunch of miners sit watching TV and cracking one liners. Now this is a pub.
It is hard to describe Lightning Ridge and the Grawin Opal Fields are nigh on impossible to explain. Quirky, crazy, rusting machinery in a sea of white dust. It has to be seen to be believed and definitely not to be missed. Each and every pub is quite different and there is something for everyone.
The return drive sees golfers and even a golf cart belting through the scrub at the Club in the Scrub and sheep, cattle, goats and kangaroos have taken ownership of the bitumen road.