Opal – Australia’s National Gemstone Infographic

GovernmentAustralian National SymbolsAustralian National Gemstone
Monday, 27 July 2020
Publication author(s):
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Australian Government | Opal – Australia’s National Gemstone

  • Australia’s Opal fields are larger than all the Opal fields in the rest of the world combined.
  • Types of Opals found in Australia o Precious Opal displays play-of-colour o Common Opal does not exhibit a play-of-colour (aka Potch Opal by Australian Miners).
  • On 27 July 1993, the Governor-General, the Hon Bill Hayden AC, proclaimed the opal as Australia’s national gemstone.
  • In Aboriginal dreamtime stories, the Opal was created when the colours of the rainbow touched the earth.
  • Australia is the only place in the world where you can find Opalised animal fossils, there are also many examples of opalised plant fossils.
  • In 1994 the Australian Women’s basketball team adopted the nickname “The Opals”.

Australia’s Iconic Opals

  • 1915: Pride of Australia aka Red Emperor
    • Found 1915 at Lightning Ridge, NSW.
    • Shaped like Australia.
    • By 1954, it had toured at least five World Fairs as “the greatest opal of Australia”.
  • 1938: Aurora Australis
    • Found 1938 at Lightning Ridge, NSW.
    • Considered the world’s most valuable black opal.
  • 1946: Fire of Australia
    • Found 1946 in Coober Pedy, SA.
    • World’s finest uncut opal.
    • Weighs 998g – size of two cricket balls.
  • 1986: Halley’s Comet o Found 1986 at Lightning Ridge, NSW.
    • Found about the time Halley’s Comet appeared in Australian skies.
    • Recorded as the world’s largest uncut opal.
  • 1989: Galaxy Opal
    • Found 1989 in Jundah, QLD.
    • One of the largest and finest quality boulder opals ever mined. The Start of Opal Mining in Australia
  • 1890 Precious opal mining begins in NSW.
  • 1896 Precious opal mining begins in QLD.
  • 1913 Precious opal mining begins in SA.
  • 1926 Minnie Berrington was one of Australia’s first female opal miners.

Science Key Facts

  • Chemistry: SiO2nH2O
  • Hydrated Silica: Opal is a type of mineraloid
  • In 1965 CSIRO scientists discovered that the voids between opal silica spheres caused light to be diffracted to create the play-of-colour, as seen in a rainbow.
  • Opal has a play-of-colour due to millions of tiny silica spheres of different sizes. Image Source: M.Berrington – Emil Otto Hoppe Estate Collections, Opals – Geoscience Australia

Reference: Department of the Prime Minister & Cabinet, Geoscience Australia, Opals Down Under & SA Museum.

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