Combining homemade explosives with 20 meter deep shafts sounds is a crazy idea, but we are talking about some pretty tough men and women here. As tunnels are extended, miners further expose themselves to dangers from sudden cave-ins.


Opal seekers often work on their own, leaving them without a safety or communication fail-safe if a life-threatening accident does occur. The financial reward and thrill-seeking nature of opal mining is enough to bring people back down the holes, with poor and new miners often using a series of ladders or winches precariously attached to the front of their trucks to lower them down to the hunting grounds.

Searching for opal is not just carried out for profit, but it is also a recreational activity in some parts of the Outback. Vacationers often "fossick" through small holes or leftover mounds of extracted dirt already sifted through by experienced miners.


But what happens when the Outback runs out of opals, or is closed off to mining in the future? In that case, civilization could turn to Mars to feed all its opal gemstone needs.

Top image is a sunset over an opal mining shaft at Coober Pedy via David Webster/Flickr. Additional images from JJ Harrison/CC and Simon Brown/Flickr. Check out Stuart Bird's blog for a rambling, hilarious, and very detailed personal account of life as an opal miner.