Coober Pedy, South Australia – As the 40ft (12m) drill rattles down through the red dirt, miner Craig Stutley makes a statement that sounds a lot like what he said 30 minutes ago. “This is the hole,” says the 45-year-old. Mr Stutley’s mining partner, Richard Saunders, who seems eternally caked in dusty soil, mumbles in agreement.
The two men are standing in the middle of the sun-bleached South Australian outback, hunting for opals, the rare gemstones that can sparkle with a rainbow of different colours. They sift through the earth that the test drill pulls up, searching for signs of opals that could potentially make them a fortune.
With the largest, best-quality Australian opals worth more than £600,000 thanks to soaring demand from jewellers around the world, there is a vast amount of money to be – potentially – made. The trouble is that opals are so scarce. Even in designated opal fields, you need luck, and months, or even years, of patience to find them.
“Half of it is in your head,” says Mr Stutley. “You have to think positive, otherwise you wouldn’t come to work.” Mr Stutley and Mr Saunders are mining a patch of land 15 miles north of the South Australian town of Coober Pedy, which is known as “the opal capital of the world”.
South Australia supplies 80% of the world’s opals, and the industry is centred on Coober Pedy, a town of around 3,500 people located 850 miles (1,368km) north of Adelaide, and 430 miles south of Alice Springs.
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