Friday, July 01, 2005

Bookzine Fire in a Plain Brown Wrapper

Whew. the bookzine proofs arrived yesterday and go back today. Looks like next week may print. Queensland, Australia's opals are ironstone based and come in many forms. This $8.00USD magazinelike 24 page, 8 1/2" x 11" publication answers the why and how of the many looks of boulder opal, Yowah nut opal, Koroit nut opal, opalized wood, pipe opal, seam opal, sandstone teat opal, and nodule opal. The photos make even more clear the concise text explaining why the stones look as they do... the magic. Hence the name Fire in a Plain Brown Wrapper the Gem Magic of Queensland's Opal by Barbara McCondra of Pay via Paypal account $2.00 shipping/handling within USA and $4.00 shipping/handling for overseas mailing.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

this site has heaps of info on opals and the opal life. My bookzine "Fire in a Plain Brown Wrapper the Gem Magic of Queensland Opal" will be available for sale inabout a week and a half. It has consumed my blog writing time. Clear writing and acommpanying photos of opals explains the types and variations of Queensland ironstone opals.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Several Types of Matrix with Opal

the Lightning Ridge NSW Australia variety is a highly silicified porcelin type that also comes kinda grungy meaning porous and the cutters get rid of it as it often pulls an opal into cracking with its porousness causing a drying out. The matrix from Andamooka is porous also and carries opal ( a leseer grade) the porosity allows the treatment with sugar and acid to make carbon molecules fill the pores creating "black matrix opal". The Queensland variety is an ironstone (ferrugenous sandstone) that acts as a host rock with speckles, veins, and pools and sheets of opal intermingling with the ironstone hence the name Ironstone Matrix Opal.Going on the road to sell some opal will not blog for a week.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Nuts about Nuts

the nuts are not really nuts but concretions that have a nutlike look. All the thousands of nuts that have no opal in them have been cracked with hatchets or sawn with diamond blades and strewn upon the ground for drive way or pot hole fill. Looks like thousands of nutshells. It is such a rush to pick one up one day and the sun hits it just right revealing a matrix opal bar twinkling in the light that was overlooked. I have done that and cut a $450.00 stone out of it. It was blue and green fire within a shiny pitch black matrix making it a genuine black matrix opal...they are rare and desireable and more expensive to purchase. In fact black opals with red are the prima donnas of the opal fields. Red fire you see is also hard to come by and the two rarities together are very special.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Sunflash Opals

Twenty years ago in Lightning Ridge, N>S>W> Australia, I saw miners tossing away what they called sunflash. They also called it rubbish. I saw these amazing walnut size nobbies of pitch black common opal (potch) that when wet and looked at in strong sunlight, had rolling, floating flashes of red and blue and green in them How magical it looked. The miner was complaing that he had no money for smokes and wished he had some rough opal to sell me. I said what's thatand pointed at a bucket in the corner? That's only sunflash. I'm getting ready to pitch it out back. I said how about I give you three dollars for each nobby and see if I can sell them in USA and create a market for sunflash? He was thrilled and I bought a hundred of them. They sold well as they hadnt bene seen before in the Quartzsite, AZ rock , gem, and mineral show. So next year I came back for more but found that they had all been snipped in half ( this doubles the price you see plus the guys could double check the inside to see if they were missing something the Yanks were getting). I stopped dealing in sunflash and stuck to the gemmier grades. I had to carry the stuff out and it all weighed the same but the profit ws waaay greater with gem grade. However, sunflash is still very poplular if you can get large enough pieces for carving. One of the local jewelrs was getting 100 dollars a carat for "sunflash' they say. Then I found out it was not for "sunflash" but for black opal that the miners called "distant". Well the so called distant was much strnoger than sunflash and could show up a bit without the sun too. Altho not quite as crisp and electric you see as the gem grade stuff it was gorgeous. Well at 100per carat it had to have something going for itself. Sunflash nobbies make excellent specimens. I keep mine in a small jar of water to display it . Some of the more grey forms tend to be cracky. The jet black glassy sunflash tends to be stable and still a pleasure to behold. I will never forget a sleek black seal an Australian carver had carved (sleek sculptures allows the color play to play) The big sheets or clouds of magic red floated about within it as you moved the seal in the sun.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

White Opal or Crystal Opal?

Lots of confusion about white opal I think. You'd think not as white is white! However the white opal base out of which the opal fire flashes and dances and winks and blinks at you is usually called milk opal. Then the milk gets muddier. Some opal is too milky to be a crystal opal but not milky enough for the milk classification. Also Crystal opal fetches a higher price per carat so many vendors muddy the thinking by calling what is no really crystal crystal. Of course there is semi crystal as a term. However, I have always liked what the miners of Lightning Ridge Australia call that which is not black opal...they call it light opal! A broader category eh? If you were befuddled by the subtle differences I doubt this cleared it up for you but at least you dont feel alone.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Rainbow Serpent Opal

The venomous serpent was in hybernation and only five feet away from our feet. We had jackhammered the floor of my mine and found that it was the roof or the old timers mine. and the snake was hybernating in the tunnel. We two sheilas tried to talk our selves into believeing that he was The Rainbow Serpent of Aboriginal legen and was there to guar all the opal we were going to mineout of this pocket. HAH! We filled in the hole leaving room for the snake to slither away down the maze of tunnels in that mine when the weather warmed up. But Lo and behold! We mined an opal with a gem center of pure opal (these are so desireable see blog on Gem centered Yowah nuts) and the center was framed by ironoxides that looked like a large serpent complete with head on top. His body wrapped around the gem opal center. Well that one had to go on the cover of my new bookzine (magazine like book) Fire in a Plain Brown Wrapper that will be for sale on my webiste in a few weeks. Some stone are so distinctively different that they get a name. Mine is Rainbow Serpent of course.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


The red sandy dirt of Australia suffers from both flood and drought. The drying of the mud leaves the earth looking parched with a distinctive pattern of cracking or crackling of the mud. Well some of the ironstone matrix opal mimics this pattern. The theory being that as the iron rich muddy silt of the inland sea bed began to dry it left these distinctive cracks and millions of years later the cracks infilled with silica gel that became opal OR the cracks filled with a kaolinlike clay that when exposed to the seepage of rising magmatic waters, the electrolytes changed the clay into opal. Whatever theories you subscribe to and there are a few, I am just pointing out that one can find ironstone matrix that has lovely lines of opal fire running throughout in that parched earth pattern. So that and my unquenchable thirst for water while mining in the hot desert sun, inspired me to call the website

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Gem Centered Yowah and Koroit Nuts

Tiffany's made high karat gold jewelry out of the Yowah nuts that were opal filled in the center in the early 1900s. Those centers then and now can contain gorgeous opal of all categories. The centers can be white opal, black opal or crystal opal. Highly sought after by collectors, the Germans and Swiss seem to desire them the most.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Lots of Dirt

Opals are bloody hard to find! Soooo much dirt all those levels of sandstone (an ancient inland sea) and when you hear the chink sound of a black opal nobbie damned if it isn't only potch. Potch is common opal meaning opal structure without any fire. The silica shperes must be lined up in an egg cartons stacked upon each other type of pattern to produce fire. Potch's silica spheres are irregular in size and no stacking just squashed together producing no fire. The regular stacking pattern creates a defraction grid and the assorted sizes of the sheres determine the color of the fire! So you toil thru tons of dirt to get to the opal bearign level or I should say the possible opal bearing level to find naught or to find only potch. So it is really a big deal when you hit real precious and semi precious opal in that level. It amazes me still that opal can be purchased so cheaply when I know the costs both finacial and blodd sweat and tears cost to find it. I can hear the opal screaming to me as I drive thru opal country but I also look out at the vast vistas of Australia's sunburnt country and think, "All that dirt that is mixed with it." So I drive on both excited and exhausted feeling knowing what it will take to pull my favorite gem from the earth.

Monday, May 09, 2005

October is Opal Birthstone

Just a reminder that your birthstone is opal if you were born in October. You could get an opal birthday gift each birthdayfor soooo many years and have each opal look entirely different. As an example: milk opal, black opal, crystal opal, fire opal, Yowah or Koroit nut opal, labgrown opal, opaalized wood, opal fossils, boulder opal, pipe opal, Adamooka matrix opal, jelly opal, Mexican opal, and sunflash opal to name a few. What a variety of looks and flash in the opal world.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Opals Natural and Labgrown

As with rubies, diamonds, and emeralds a process has been found in fact a number of processes have been found to create in a lab synthetic opal and opal simulants. Much of the inlaid opal you see in jewelry where it is combined with other stones and set in gold or silver flush with metal is lab grown these days. Gorgeous and popular and less expensive than say true natural black opal gems. Get the look without the price. Some say synthetick and labgrown creations are the gems of the future. The opal lover loves the look of both stones but those who are opal purists still seek the real, the genuine opal.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Eye Candy Opal

Milky opal with little fire still is nice but hot blazing electric fire that dances and skips about in a gorgeous mixtureof colors is the eye candy opal that brings the value up up and up. Crystal opal is sharp and crisp and fiery with the fire dancing across and emanating out of a clear crystal base opal. Hence, the crystal opal designation. Mind you there is also a classification of semi crystal opal where the base opal is not so clear but a bit foggy or darker than crystal. The different fields of Australia vie for the title "best crystal opal". I think the hottest contenders are White Cliffs crystal opal and Lightning Ridge crystal opal. Right, not all opal out of Lightning Ridge, New SouthWales is black opal. (Of course I could have the Mintabie mob of miners on my ass for saying that) Some magic crystal opal comes out of the Queensland, Australia boulder opal fields too in the form of pipe opal. Crystal opal is only one of the amazing types of opals found in the parched earth of Australia's outback. was named that for just that reason.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Just Convict Work:Break Big Rocks into Little Rocks

After a Yowah or Koroit Opal miner moves tons of dirt to find some ironstone nuts he/she must open them to see if they carry opal. some do this with mini hatchets, rock hammers, and saws. The hammers and hatchets do much damage if the opal is there so the saw is becoming the weapon of choice. However, this is time consuming and costly. Diamond edged blades that handle the job usually cost 50.00 US and you run thru them quickly due to the sheer numbers of ironstone concretions that must be sawed. Sooo one of the methods used by some is to break with hathcet, hammer, or if nuts are large, a sledge hammer. And there are alot of those big ones that require the sledge hammer. When opal is struck (sometimes resulting in the painful and expensive smashing of a gem) the hammer and hatchet are laid aside and all Yowah opal nuts are then sawed while mining in that pocket. The processing of Yowah and Koroit nuts is labor intensive and the payoff pf finding nuts with opal is lean. Consequently, truly beautiful gems have a price tag. Rarity and beauty and supply and demand run the opal game. The analogy to convicts' work rings true when I hear myself say, "Yes, I did ten years in the Lightning Ridge opal fields and twelve in Yowah."Sounds like prison sentences doesn't it?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Language and Lifestyle of Opal Miners

At my website I try to give opal information on Koroit opal, Yowah opal, and Lightning Ridge black opal. The opal lifestyle is featured under the links Art & Books, Lifestyles, Bush Projects. The Archives also give you a peek at the miner's life. There you can learn to speak "opal". Sure this is blatant advertisement but it is all in the spirit of "spreading the opal word" the also featured catalog section is secondary, mate!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Opal is my Drug of Choice

You either can't get enough of it or it leaves ya cold. Those who love it have a need to behold it, touch it, opaldive in the sunlight with it.... all the addiction symptoms seem to apply. You sell stuff so you can get more opals, you rearrange your life for it, you spend lots of your time talking about the last one you saw or acquired and speak of future plans to get more. The miners themselves on the opal fields of Lightning Ridge hold their black opal in tiny plastic baggies and hunch over their prize in hide away corners sharing a peek with only a select few friends. My two favorite addictions is the Yowah and Koroit opal of Queensland and the black opal of Lightning Ridge, New South Wales (both in Australia) I have traded my blood, sweat, and tears there and spent 22 years trying to spread the addiction as any opal dealer should.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Siren Song of Opal Rich Australian Outback

Australia is known for producing about 95% of the world's commercial opal. It can not do this without luring many diggers of the gem from every corner of the earth. Opal's siren song sang most sweetly to me first from Lightning Ridge N. S. W. black opal fields. What a magic gem. What an enticing song. I found myself in the opal field surrounded by many individual campfires burning in the blackness of the Australian night. The fires mimicked the burn in the hearts and eyes of the men who hunkered down by them. Foreign tongues carried on an evening breeze. We all shared the same dreams of the blackest opals with red fire dancing across its face, rolling yellow flashes, and magic patterns with names like Harlequin, Chinese Writing, Cat's Eye, and Mackerel Sky. Patterns in opal have some input into their value.The siren song sustains us when the sun scorches us, thieves cheat us, and Lady Luck deserts us. Doctors, lawyers, farmers, pensioners, derelicts, and fugitives are among those drawn to search for opal that can command many thousands of dollars per carat for the prime collectors grade. Lightning Ridge black opal has the reputation for being rare and a collector's prize. Much more of it is available in jewelry shops of the world. Search in "archives" and "opal info" for more information.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Fire in a Plain Brown Wrapper

The pen weighs so much less than the shovel. As I get older I still want to work within my opal passion and writing about my favorite subject may help me earn a quid or two. So before I head back to Australia and the shovel, I have been writing a bookzine that informs with colorful opals' photos and text. I teach the basics of the magic of Queensland ironstone opals. ( Yowah, Koroit, boulder opals) What a learning curve this self publishing is! My project is due to hit the printer's presses in a couple weeks. The mystery and confusion of creating a publication has not beat me. You CAN teach an old dog new tricks. If this flies, meaning makes me some money, then I can expect more time spent at the computer in future books. I used to cartoon life on The Slope for the Prudhoe Bay Journal. I saved those original Roustabout Rhonda cartoons and all the letters I wrote home to my family. There has to be a book there. But one project at a time. Fire in a Plain Brown Wrapper the Gem Magic of Queensland Opal will be available on my website soon.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Yowah Opal Festival 2004 & 2005

Yowah Opal Festival 2004The wind was cold…an Antarctic cold front! The Yowah opal was glorious…rare and intriguing Yowah nuts on display. The huge bonfire warmed all those brave enough to gather to celebrate the wondrous Yowah opal. The design contest provided beauteous opal jewelry to behold. I built a diorama in miniature of a miner's camp for a display complete with bottle of beer sitting next to the cracking heap, wild goat, and a dunny. The magnificent opals on display from the miners' private collections was a sight to make any opalholic drool. The Arts and Crafts tent featured their theme "Skin" and displayed paintings of custard with skin, a genuine snakeskin nude, nudes,and photography of glorious tree trunk bark to mention only a few. Artist Belle Starr, otherwise known as Naomi Lawlis of Santa Fe, painted the boot(trunk) door of a car. The scene depicted an opal buyer coming to town with his money wagon in tow too late for the skeletal remains of an miner with sign clutched in his hand reading,"Opal for Sale" They auctioned that door as one of the "Yowah Doors" a tradition to raise money to help cover costs of festival promotion. Internationatol travelers rubbed elbows with Aussies from the big cities come to have fun in the Outback Yowah style If you are in the vicinity of Australia…..

This year's Yowah Opal Festival 15th - 17th July 2005
The Opal Festival begins Friday at 6.30pm (Queensland time) with the Miners' BBQ and Official Opening, followed by two full days of activities on Saturday and Sunday.
Special Guests, Entertainment, Meals and Refreshments throughout the FestivalLicenced Bar Special Opal Display Walk in mine toursWindlass RaceTailgaters and Stalls
Breakfast: Saturday and Sunday morning from 7.30amSaturday night 3 course Meal, Singer and DiscoFinish Sunday NightEntertainment & Dancing
Stall bookings: Eddie Maguire Email: Thanks to for the current 2005 festival information.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Jackpot of Yowah Nuts and I Didn’t Get It!

The guy buys a $30.00 rough Yowah opal nut from me and sells it for $30,000.00!!
This is why we opalholics stay hooked. Whether you are a serious miner or a rockhound that does their treasure hunting at rock and gem shows that jackpot is just around the corner> I have lectured that a miner can not ever double and triple check all his Yowah nuts and not miss a thing. If you are in the opal mining game, you often have to sell opal in the rough to finance your mining. You can’t cut it all and sell it all in time to meet the mining season. Also your business may depend on the revenue made selling rough.The facination of the Queensland ironstone concretions is that you never know what is inside. There is always that jackpot waiting for you in one of them.Thousands of them have absolutely no opal. And then voilla! somewhere in the midst of the $30.00 specimens is a double Yowah nut and the lucky buyer bought it from me, rubbed it down further and evidently found a real beauty. I received an email from an opal enthusiast (opal was in his email address) He said that he had spoken to a man who told him that he had bought that Yowah nut from Barbara McCondra for $30.00 and when he bought it, he thought it was worth at least $50.00. So he also had no clue what lay within.Now I never was informed about it until a few days ago. And all I could say was good luck to him.
That’s the opal game. A miner toils for months in a mine and then leaves without finding a pocket. The next miner starts where he left off and finds a $100,000 pocket of opal one foot further in the face of the drive(tunnel). You play a slot machine for two hours and leave broke. The grey haired granny sits in the seat and hits the jackpot on the first go. Barbara McCondra sells the goodlooking specimen nut for a price she reckons is a bit cheaper that ohers would sell it for (I always try to beat the going rate) the opalholic who has been searching opal vendors tables for years, buying specimens for his collection, buying rough opal for a bit of lapidary fun, hits the JACKPOT!
Well, that is just more fuel for the fire. It came out of my mine. I never before mined and sold such an opal from that mine in 12 years, but that doesn’t mean there is not another one in there and this time for me (or you if you buy some of those lotto tickets that look like Yowah opal). So I go now to practice shrugging my shoulders and saying c'est la vie.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Australian Opal Matrix

When speaking the jargon of opal, the name “matrix” can cause some confusion for the novice.

Click here to learn more!

For great deals on Australian opals or to just learn more about them, go to

See you again soon.

Barbara McCondra

Saturday, February 05, 2005


These ironstone concretions in Queensland, Australia are a form of boulder opal with a nutlike look.

To read this article click here!