This article page is a part of the article “World Mining Report 2005” for November – December and includes estimates from both official and unofficial sources of active mining deposits in Australia.
Related Article: World Mining Report 2005 – List of Countries
Even as new areas in Australia open up for opal mining — most is on government-controlled or aboriginal land — technical difficulties crop up to limit production. In Queensland, for example, where boulder opal is mined over a vast stretch of the Outback from Winton to Cunamulla, fuel costs have made life more difficult for miners, resulting in a slight decrease in production.
In South Australia, where the bulk of the production is in white opal, Lambina’s mining population has dropped from approximately 250 to 40 due to the added requirement to pay a reclamation bond. Those who remain, however, report that production is strong. In nearby Mintabie, a community of about 150 miners has seen reduced production due to mechanical problems, although prospecting continues. In Coober Pedy, the added expenses of mining are also taking their toll, particularly fuel costs. However, the area is also producing some very good-quality opal.
In New South Wales, production is estimated to be half of what it was a decade ago. There has not been a major find there since the late 1980s, although the area continues to produce some good material, and recently the government opened up another 620 square miles for prospecting and mining.
The same difficulties — operating expenses and government regulations — are affecting Australian sapphire mining. One notable exception is the Gloucester corundum deposit in New South Wales, which is producing large quantities of ruby and fancy-colored sapphire, although most are in sub-carat sizes. Reports indicate that 12.5 kilograms of gem-grade ruby and sapphire were recovered during a two-week period in August.
In central Queensland, new regulations have opened up more area for sapphire mining as well as opal mining; as a result, approximately 500 sapphire miners are working throughout the region. Large-scale mechanized mining has been hampered by a continuing drought, and a decrease in local buyers has made funds hard to come by. The future remains uncertain.