The finest opal ever unearthed will be publicly displayed for the first time as part of a multi-million dollar exhibition to be held in Adelaide.
Opals, which will be held at the South Australian Museum from 25 September, celebrates a century of opal mining in the outback. It’s an industry that continues to deliver jobs, money to the local economy and millionaire prospectors – 90% of the world’s opals come from South Australia.
The Museum has gathered some of the most unique and fascinating opals from around the world to complement its own significant collection. The exhibition’s centerpiece, the Virgin Rainbow, is itself worth in excess of $1 million.
And in a surprise last-minute announcement the exhibition will also include historic opal jewels lent by the Queen from the Royal Collection in London. The opals belonged to Queen Victoria and were designed by her husband, Prince Albert.
“From jewellery to fossils to specimens embedded in rock, visitors will be treated to a spectacle of unmatched colour and beauty,” said Museum Director Brian Oldman.
“This is an exhibition literally millions of years in the making because these opals were formed back when dinosaurs walked the earth and central Australia was an inland sea.
“Our north foyer will be transformed to represent this ancient sea and we will also recreate an underground opal mine within the Museum, with dirt brought down from Coober Pedy.
“We want to showcase the history and beauty of opal, as well as the hard work and dedication required of those who choose to mine it.”
A range of activities will be on offer throughout the exhibition to allow visitors to delve into the geology and history of opal and discover the science behind their signature play of colours.
Opal formation began when South Australia’s inland sea acted as a breeding ground for plesiosaurs, the marine reptile equivalent of dinosaurs. As plesiosaurs died their bodies sank to the bottom of the sea. Later, after climate change transformed the area into an arid moon landscape, some of these skeletons became opalised fossils.
This sequence of events produced the ideal environment for opal formation, but the gems weren’t discovered until 1914, when a boy named Willie Hutchison went on a gold mining expedition with his father.
“The story goes that Willie set out in search for water one day, rather than staying at camp as he’d been instructed to do by his father,” Mr Oldman said. “He came back to camp with water, but also with precious opal gemstones.
“In time this sparked the creation of opal mining communities in places like Coober Pedy, Andamooka and Mintabie, which have remained opal mining hubs to this day.
“It is ironic that in the most harsh of terrains the most beautiful of naturally occurring gems are now found.”
For further information visit www.samuseum.sa.gov.au/explore/exhibitions/opals