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Catriona at White Cliffs.
Catriona at White Cliffs.
White Cliffs.
Checking out Opals.

White Cliffs

Thursday, September 13, 2001
White Cliffs was Australia's first commercial opal field. It is still a major producer, but tourism is almost as profitable these days.

White Cliffs was Australia's first commercial opal field. It is still a major producer, but tourism is almost as profitable these days.

Dugouts are not new in Australia. The first miners quickly discovered that if they put a roof over holes they had gouged in the earth, living was cool and comfortable, and living underground continues today.

At the digging area are thousands of holes and miners' camps, and plenty of old, abandoned cars. The surrounding countryside is harsh and the town centre is flat, with just a pub, post office and corner store selling provisions. There are a few opal showrooms and underground homes open for inspection. A few historic buildings remain — the police station, which was built in 1896, and the post office and school, which were built in 1900.

There are two bare hills close by — Turley's and Smith's — and if you visit Jock Goldsmith on Turley's, you can learn more about opals from him than anyone else you are ever likely to meet. He has a jumble of relics and his home is a combination of a museum and an old mine, complete with an opal seam down the wall.

PJ's Underground B&B is also on Turley's Hill. Peter and Joanne Pedler have worked miracles converting their old mine into a cool sanctuary with whitewashed walls, stone floors and comfortable furniture. They include breakfast in their rates, but you can pay to use the barbecue, or have a three-course meal served to you. There are only five rooms, and there is a spa set in a 100-year-old, open-cut mine.

In 1981, White Cliffs became the site for the world's first experimental solar station for powering small outback towns. It drives a steam turbine and is open at 2pm for tours. They now use a diesel generator, but if you meet Bill Finney, he will enthral you with his knowledge about the defunct solar station.

The local publican, Graham Wellings, is also a pilot, and takes visitors on joy flights over the lunar landscape.

Keep your eyes open for Gwen Rowe and Ivy Kenneady. Gwen is the town's official historian and Ivy is a local artist. On Thursdays, Ivy has a 1920s music shindig at her dugout. Gwen can tell you about one of our most famous cricketers, WJ (Tiger) O'Reilly, who was born in White Cliffs. Not only is there a stand named in his honour at the Sydney Cricket Ground, the White Cliffs oval proudly bears his name.

Location

255km from Broken Hill, NSW

Cost

PJs Underground B&B costs $99 a double, per night.
Please note prices are valid at time of transmission and to the best of our knowledge are inclusive of GST.

More information

White Cliffs Tourism: Ph: (08) 8091 5909
PJ's Underground B&B: Ph: (08) 8091 6626

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