LIGHTNING RICH / by Ethan Astall

Rolling into lighting ridge I think we were both filled with a weird excitement to meet some outback yahoos with a few yarns to spin, experience some real Australian things, maybe learn a bit about opal and obviously fill up the bank account to keep the wheels turning... but nothing could have prepared us for just how good this crazy place is!

Driving into town we passed the long plains of red dirt and mine dumps - which represent that of a lunar landscape, machinery and car graveyards,  1930s corrugated tin cottages with dirt floors, inhabited but not movable busses and old train carriages, the local town bowlo with more kangaroos out front then characters and the giant emu made of an old kombi with various scrap metal put together,  the town has named “Stanley”, and on every corner of town - signs suggesting we BUY OPAL, SELL OPAL, or listen to OPAL FM radio (common theme here is opal), it goes without saying the first ten minutes of “the ridge”, had us in absolute awe of what we were about to experience. 

We checked into the local caravan park and on arrival found out the managers served free pizza Monday, Wednesday AND Friday of the week - a great opportunity to drink a tallie with some Grey nomads (we were the only people without a pensioners card) and score a free dinner three nights a week.

We pulled into site 52, a nice patch of red dirt and gravel to call our own for a few weeks -  and found the van wedged between two caravans of which no wheels will ever turn again due to the various selection of rusted out household items now surrounding the caravans themselves. It wasn’t long before our neighbor John (local rusty opal miner) introduced himself as he now does every morning - only to start every conversation with a reflection of how cold it is on ANY given day and conclude every conversation with “and that’s the way it is”...but hey, at least we don’t need to check the temperature.

And just when we thought it couldn’t get better....a short 84 year old Italian man, waddles up next to us wearing a white fluffy robe and in very broken English tells us he “live here for twenty year and mine opal, also COLD SHOWER IS BEST”, he then proceeds on daily to insist we buy his various merchandise guessed it, opal. 

It goes without saying really, that the best thing about this place is the people - and just as a local described it - no opal is the same, just like none of the characters around here are.