The Secret Landscape Underground
The Opal Fields of Cumborah and Glengarry, West of Lightning Ridge, were the ideal location to sit quietly in a bush studio and draw for days on end. I was there for over a week. An extended stay due to illness, I was however, very settled, comfortable and welcome. In this unique time forgotten place, I wasn’t required to drive anywhere. I didn’t have to think about where I was going to camp for the night or the night after that or mull over which road I should take. I was living there, right in the midst of out back opal country.
The miners shack I stayed in, was a cosy home away from home with a shaded outdoor area I used for a studio, surrounded by the type of landscape I have always dreamed of capturing. It continues to allure me, as it continues to remain a treasured secret. I won’t divulge information as to who owns it, nor will I advertise the exact location or tell you how to get there. Selfish pleasure I know, but I feel no guilt in keeping this place a secret.
Dust. There was a great deal of it, everywhere. White chalky dust and mountains of rubble surrounded this landscape, hung heavily in the atmosphere. Generations of digging, exploding, uncovering, dredging, more digging. This was a landscape disturbed. Everything about the opal fields was about unveiling buried treasure. The rough and dirty grunge on the surface. The tough facade being upheaved, creating endless tunnels underground to reach the gem that winks with sparkling promise at the end of a long, hard sweaty mining day.
There’s an unbridled wildness about this place and the people that occupy it. A wild rush to claim the prize at the centre of the earth. Something so precious, one sacrifices little luxuries and works tremendously hard for it. A process far more satisfying than the meagre gratification of daily life and work. The opal fields reek of freedom and the simplicity of toil for reward. Basic living. Hard slog. The joy of seeking to find what time, sandstone, water and silica have formed. The eternal search for internal beauty.
It’s an addiction. A way of living outside of the life we must conform to in this topside world of laws, rules, timetables, chores, housework, woes, worries, politics, wars, death and taxes (I think that just about covers the worst of it).
The opal fields are the epitome of hunger. If the world was coming to an end, it would look and feel like this. A bit of makeshift function and order amidst a great deal of wildness and this continual search to satisfy an endless hunger. Everyman for himself. Suspicious and cautious acquaintances. Staking claims. Hidden secret riches, bought, sold and traded behind closed doors. Beat up old vehicles littered throughout ramshackle camps, cranked up and brought back to life like prehistoric animals; just long enough to get a job done then abandoned again.
It’s a fantasy world, but also a real world. The way the world should be. I too lived out my own fantasy there. Drawing all day, everyday. Satisfying my insatiable hunger for inspiration.
To be accepted into the opal mining fold, is a privilege few are granted, unless you happen to know someone who knows someone. I was one of the fortunate somebodies who knew somebody.
Shh… it’s a secret.