The Cocooran Fields – Australia
We continue our journey to the 2nd mining area. The Cocooran Fields. After our arrival, we discovered many mining shafts which are not secured. We had to be careful to not make a wrong step and fall into one. These shafts are the result of test drillings and are roughly 15m (~50ft.) deep.
We met our friend in this mining area. It would be fair to say that he is a legend among miners. Not just for his character, but also for his extraordinary findings. He is an adventurer and risktaker. Thus, it didn’t take much time until he showed us how to climb up and down a test-drilling shaft without any safety precautions or ladder.
Here, too, we were going into the mine to look for opals. He uses a hydraulic excavator arm to remove parts of the stonewall. During this activity, he lightens the wall to spot any reflexion that might come from an opal, in order to excavate it by hand cautiously. Subsequently, any chalk stones falling to the ground will be transported to the surface by using a so-called “blower”. The stones, of which some can be as big as a shoe, will then be placed in a truck to transport them to the washing plant.
To strive for freedom
But before we went to the washing plant, we decided to go back to his camp. He showed us the gems he collected throughout the decades. One of these gems was a crystal-opal with fantastic colors. Another piece was a uniquely shaped mineral. It had an opal grown on top of a piece of sandstone.
In a relaxed atmosphere, we asked him about his motivation, where does his drive come from after all these decades? “With 21 years of age, I helped out a friend at his mining claim. It was there I fell in love with opal. So, shortly after this, I bought my own claim and started to look for gemstones. I always believed that I was only one week, one scoop away of the big find. Today, I’m 72 years old. I have found many beautiful opals and experienced fantastic adventures. So far, I haven’t made the big find of my life. But, to this very day, I firmly believe to be one scoop away.”
This sentiment is symbolic for all miners we encountered throughout our travels. Bravery and a strong sense of community are hallmarks of their character. They live in a hostile environment. An area in which water is extremely valuable and the heat during the day can force the machinery to come to a stop. It is the passion for the beauty of the opals that lets them ignore all this. It is a desire and feeling of absolute freedom which every miner carries with him. It is a way of life.
How gemstones connect people
The next day we continue our journey to the washing plant. The stones from the stonewall are washed in a modified cement truck. This procedure takes roughly 7 days and doesn’t constitute any danger for the opals. After that, the material within the cement truck will be placed on a table in order to sort through it. A trained eye is very important. It takes some time and experience to find all the opals with their glistening colors.
A new day starts and it is time for us to start an exploratory cutting exercise of some of the rough opals we bought, to see what is hidden inside. The opalized layers within the rough stone need to be carefully laid bare. A lot of care is required to know how far you can cut into the rough stone. Too far, and the opal will loose its glistening beauty.
The result of all these efforts is a piece of art. It will be one of a kind in the world. It connects people and creates value. It is the excitement of the miner then he first discovered a glimmer in the stonewall underground. It is our excitement when we first hold the rough opal in our hand and through our creativity turn it into a wearable piece of art. It is a journey that creates friendships and lasting impressions, influenced by the people we met and the fauna and flora we encountered. All these events become a vivid part of the gem’s history. A history of which their owners become a part of as well.
[A miner going into a mine without safety precautions – Picture by KREIS]
[Hydraulic excavator arm – Picture by KREIS]
[Stefan Kreis in the mining area – Picture by KREIS]
[Opal on sandstone – Picture by KREIS]