Mulga Lands - regional history
For information on the Aboriginal occupation of the Mulga Lands Bioregion, see an overview of the Aboriginal occupation of western NSW.
White Cliffs was the site of several pastoral stations in the 1880s. The discovery of the lucrative opal fields that it is most famous for was made quite by accident. Four kangaroo shooters hired to reduce kangaroo numbers on one of the stations found opals and sent them to Adelaide for valuation. The valuer, Tullie Cornthwaite Wollaston, was so impressed with the specimens that he became the main promoter of the town, selling the opals across the USA and Europe.
A small settlement based on mining appeared in the area in the 1890s. The town was known as White Cliffs in reference to the white shale which harboured the opals. The first store and pub appeared in 1892 and by 1897, once word had got around of the potential of opals in the area, the town supported a population of about 1,000.
Due to the lack of adequate building materials and the unbearable heat in summer, miners began in 1894 to live in their used mine shafts that were cut into the solid sandstone. These underground dwellings were popular at White Cliffs as they provided a constant temperature throughout the year.
In 1902 the growth and economy of the town reached a peak as opals worth around £140,000 were discovered. This discovery attracted a large number of miners until World War I broke out in 1914 and the population of the town declined to its current status.
The permanent population of White Cliffs stands at about 200, which rises in the winter months due to an influx of those seeking their fortune in gems. In 1987 the production of opals from the White Cliffs fields was estimated to be $150 million (Walkabout Australian Travel Guide: White Cliffs).
In contrast to White Cliffs, the town of Barringun on the Mitchell Highway at the Qld border has a population of four. Although this town once thrived, only a few abandoned buildings remain, but the pub is never deserted (Walkabout Australian Travel Guide: Barringun).
Page last updated: 27 February 2011