Episode 2: White Cliffs NSW - The Alternative Dairy Co.

Episode 2: White Cliffs NSW

Dick Wagner has gone years without a good opal.

He’s dug day after day, week after week, and come up with nothing but scraps. Rocks. Shards of quartz. Dirt. But the belief is still there that some day, sooner or later, he will find his fortune.

It won’t surprise you to find out that Dick also plays golf – he’s a member at the local White Cliffs Sporting Club out here in far western NSW. Because when you think about it, golf and opal mining have plenty in common.

Golfers always remember that one good shot. If I could just do that every time, they think, I could make a living out of this. Maybe I will. Opal miners are the same. If I could just find a decent opal every day, they think, I could be rich. Maybe I will.

A triumph of optimism. In both cases.

And so every morning you’ll see Dick jump in his car outside his home – a shelter dug into the rock on the side of a hill, the same sort of dwelling everything in White Cliffs lives in – and head on down to his 50-metre-by-50-metre plot on a rocky plain nearby.

He’ll jump into the pit, start the jackhammer and get to work. “If you don’t shift dirt,” Dick likes to say, “you don’t find opals.”

And so he shifts dirt, day after day, week after week. Plenty of days he won’t find anything. Others he’ll prize out a few scraps, some bits and pieces that could be turned into earrings or a pendant. But then, some days the stars will align, the gods will smile, and Dick will strike it lucky. An opal. Big as your thumbnail.

He still carries around the largest one he’s ever found. “Couldn’t sell it,” he smiles. It’s a beautiful rock, teardrop-shaped, white but shot through with a million colours, colours that sparkle and wave like a kaleidoscope when you hold it up to the light. A thing of rare beauty.

You can see what Dick’s thinking: if only I could find a rock like that again. And maybe I will.

Maybe today.

Ben Groundwater
Travel & Food Writer