To The Ridge and Back

Moorambilla Voices children come from across the northwest of NSW – including the communities of Lightning Ridge and Grawin, the outback mining towns famous for Australia’s rare black opals.

Camp friends: Kate Finlayson, Jade Widderson, Lucia Marquez, Summer Bullion, Lucy Dedman, Georgia Cliff, Josie Smith, Brooke Brown and Opal Trumper.

Camp friends: Kate Finlayson, Jade Widdison, Lucia Marquez, Summer Bullion, Lucy Dedman, Georgia Cluff, Josie Smith, Brooke Brown and Opal Trumper.

Brooke Brown from Lightning Ridge has been coming back to Moorambilla for two years for her love of music and singing. Opal Trumper from Grawin is excited to be back at Moorambilla this year.

Brooke Brown from Lightning Ridge

Brooke Brown goes opal mining with her uncle.

North of Walgett, and only 60 km from the Queensland border, the Ridge is also the site of the Australian Opal Centre, a national museum of the world’s greatest public collection of Australian opal and precious opalised fossils from the Age of Dinosaurs.

Photographer Bob Smith has lived in the Ridge for 25 years. When Bob started photographing the collection at the centre, he discovered precious and stunning material collected over eight years locked away in big safes.

Photographer Bob Smith

Photographer Bob Smith

“There was a major opal rush in the Coocoran Lake in the 1990s, when it was opened up for exploration. People were making a lot of money mining opals. I was involved in a small amount of mining and processing, and my wife Elizabeth was also looking for fossil material for her PhD.”

Born in Sydney and a trained science teacher, Bob left the coast and went opal mining with Elizabeth, now the resident paleontologist at the Australian Opal Centre. Together, Elizabeth and Bob produced The Black Opal Fossils of Lightning Ridge, published by Kangaroo Press in 1998.

Bob discovered a new photographic technique for showcasing opals when shooting opals for his own records.

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“Opals throw out their own internal magical shafts of light by a process called diffraction. I noticed in the studio that if I photograph them in magnification, and moved my light around, it looks like they are turning. It’s an effect I’ve developed over several years. “

RM60 sm

Bob is working with Moorambilla Artistic Director Michelle Leonard for the Gala Concert in September. “Moorambilla provides an opportunity for me to integrate these photographs with performance, and I have enough material now to choose from – over a million photographs! I’m excited to be projecting onto huge paper emu eggs, a challenge, as they are a curved surface!

SN111 sml


“It’s going to be a beautiful outcome for the concert, as the diffraction that causes the opal’s colours, is the same process that produces the colour in butterfly wings.”

See more of Bob’s images here: The Australian Opal Centre is raising funds for an amazing two-storey, energy-efficient underground building designed by Glenn Murcutt and Wendy Lewin.




The foundations of the Australian Opal Centre visited by Michelle Leonard and Moorambilla Mum Annie Berrell in March 2014.





One thought on “To The Ridge and Back

  1. Pingback: Composer on Tap! | Moorambilla Blog

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