The island continent of Australia is mineral rich. The country is responsible for 95 percent of the world’s opal production. The fiery stone is also Australia’s national gemstone. Coober Pedy, a smallish town in South Australia has some of the richest veins of the silica based gem. The town’s other claim to fame is its underground residences. This part of Australia gets so hot that it made sense to live in a “cave home” complete with living area, bedrooms, kitchen and bathroom. The town even has its own underground church. Considered “the opal capital of the world” this town attracts visitors not only in search of gems, but to take in this unusual lifestyle.
Australia is also known for its diamonds and the largest mine is Argyle, located in the northern part of Western Australia. Though most of the diamonds produced are not gem quality, the area is the largest producer of industrial grade diamonds in the world. Argyle is also known for its pink diamonds, and produces more than 90 percent of the world’s stock of this rare coloured gem. The Merlin mine, in Australia’s northern territory, produces a large number of gem-quality stones, nearly 65 percent of the yield. The worldwide average for gem-quality at any specific site is 20 percent. All together, Australia is third in the world in the number of diamonds produced.
Taking second place in gold production, Australia has mined this precious mineral since 1851. That was the year of the gold rush in New South Wales, when a deposit was found in the town of Ophir. A few weeks later, more deposits were found to the south in the newly designated colony of Victoria, initiating another, bigger, gold rush. Victoria fast became the richest colony in Australia because by the end of that decade almost 40 percent of the world’s gold supply was coming from that area.
Today Australia is still the second largest producer of gold, with much of it coming from mines in Western Australia, such as the Super Pit open cut mine. Gold is mined from the surface using the drill and blast method. The Super Pit employs some 550 people and produces some 28 tons of gold each year. The dig is so large it can be seen from the International Space Station.