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Located in the arid desert plains of central northern New South Wales, Lightning Ridge is one of Australia's premier opal mining towns. It is supposed that opals were discovered in the Lightning Ridge area as early as 1880, yet mines were not established until 1902 when ex-goldminer Charlie Nettleton sunk a shaft on what is now the heritage listed McDonald's Six Mile Opal Field. It is said that the term Lightning Ridge was coined following a local sheep farmer, his dog and 600 sheep dying in an electrical storm.
Initially the black opals which would make Lightning Ridge famous were dismissed by the established opal mining community in nearby White Cliffs as worthless due to the fact only white opals were seen as having any real market value. Despite this early setback, miners persevered and later in the year opal buyers in Adelaide would purchase the first black opals from Lightning Ridge. By 1905 the opal rush to Lightning Ridge was in full swing and the following decade saw a small township form on the land which was considered to be without opal deposits.
The population of Lightning Ridge has always been fairly transient and with short term miners comprising the majority of the population it is estimated there are few permanent residents in the town. All attempts to clarify the total population of the town have been inconsistent, and the official population indicator sign on the highway outside the town reflects this with the population number replaced with a question mark. The formation of the land over time in what was once an inland sea enabled the opal deposits and is also responsible for the towns hot mineral springs with the Artesian Bore Baths popular with locals and visitors. With some sheep and cattle farming on the land surrounding Lightning Ridge, opal mining remains the primary industry of the town and today almost all of the highly sought after Black Opal in the world is mined in Lightning Ridge.
SSC17845: Lightning Ridge