StrikingPosted: August 4, 2012
Lightning Ridge is quite different from Coober Pedy. I wrongly assumed the singular pursuit of opal would render them similar, and indeed the fever is the same, but Lightning Ridge feels different. As in any small town, locals are entirely up to date on each others movements and motivations, yet if you were to ask where one would find so-and-so, nobody has seen or heard of them.
Many people live in ‘camps’, on pieces of land they pay an annual lease for, are entitled to mine, but not erect permanent buildings upon. This results in the creation of living quarters gaining sophistication with the years that pass under the leasees habitation. The resulting structures, made of local stone and second-hand materials, are stripped of the superfluous and sparely beautiful. Every wall, cup, and mat has been made, gained or bartered for with purpose, earnt its place, and speaks to the spirit of those that live there.
There are, of course, a myriad of tours and attractions for the visitor and I was lucky enough to be superbly hosted by generous long-term residents I & S, who ferried me from one to the next and rounded out the experience with a gastronomic tour of the eateries. I cannot imagine ever finding a better affogato or lemon meringue pie or a bar filled with as interesting faces and stories.
The attractions have a character all their own. Ranging subjects and hosts from the early 20th century to current day, you cannot leave without an indelible impression. The bottle house, of german design, is crammed to the rafters with nostalgia for anyone born in the last century, and manned by the gentleman who built, and once upon a time, resided there.
The ‘Chamber of Hands’ is a curiosity of carvings by one man, using the walls of an old mine, that inexplicably weaves from the Simpsons and Spiderman, through various animala, to the egyptian tombs.
In stark contrast to most of the lodgings I have endured on my trip, the accommodation was not only cheaper than Bourke and Broken Hill, it felt like you were staying at someone’s house – safe, comfortable, thoughtfully put together, and super clean. Survival tip: make sure you park like the locals – angle parked and reversed in. A lovely octogenarian parked next to me alerted me to the fact I was both flouting street rules, AND positioned too close to him. I enquired as to why everyone had to park reverse angled and he replied sagely “because that’s how we’ve always done it”.
Love it or hate it, if Lightning Ridge doesn’t strikes a chord with you, you are surely made of stone.