Coober Pedy News No. 41

3  October 2003

Archived copy

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Coober Pedy Races On Again

After missing out last year because of insurance problems the Coober Pedy races are back this year.


Daisian Taylor on Saddle Boy,  practising  for the children's Novelty  Events.


The track is ready


The Mobile  starting  enclosure


Looking back on the home straight 

From the Billings Gazette (Montana, USA )

"If you want to do business with the government, go to Washington, D.C. If you want to do business with bankers, go to Wall Street.

If you want to do business in opals, go to Coober Pedy, Australia. More than 95 percent of the world's opals come from Australian opal mines, and Coober Pedy is the epicenter of the business.

Opal lovers call themselves "opal-holics," and Billings is home to two who have frequently bellied up to the Coober Pedy opal bar.

Steve and Darlene Newstrom have made three trips during the past four years to Australia to buy rough opals, which they transport back to Billings and sell on their Web site - Steve also finishes some opals and sells those on the site as well.

"It's kind of like gold fever," Steve said.

Steve became a rock hound after receiving a book on rock and gem collecting when he was eight years old. He was intrigued by a picture of an opal.

"But photos don't show what an opal really looks like," Steve said, so he and his father, also a rock hound, went to Hudson's Jewelers in downtown Minneapolis to see a real opal.

"That's when I fell in love with opals," he said.

When he was 13, his father bought him a small gem cutting machine. A few years later, Steve used his earnings as a busboy to buy his first parcel of opals.

Over the years, Steve has turned opals into jewelry and sold them on consignment. In the meantime, he got a "real" job as a hospital imaging engineer. He currently works at Deaconess Billings Clinic, where he services and maintains X-ray, ultrasound, nuclear medicine, and CT machines. Darlene is a special education teacher at Burlington Elementary.

While opals can be found in Mexico, Brazil and even Idaho, the vast majority of quality opals are found in several spots in Australia. Of these spots, the most productive is Coober Pedy, found on the edge of the Australian outback north of Adelaide. Steve and Darlene made their first trip to the town in 2000.

"It really is a dirty little town, but the food is great," Darlene said.

"They have 40 different nationalities in a town of, what, 2,500? And they each have their own restaurant," Steve said. "Greek, Serbian, you name it. And the seafood is incredible. Once a week a truck comes up from Adelaide with fresh seafood right out of the ocean. Oysters on the half-shell, huge ones. Calamari in huge rings. And dozens of fish you've never heard of before."

But after having something to eat, it's down to business.

Steve said the Australian government has kept corporations from monopolizing the opal mines, and the opal veins are neither long or deep. Resting along cretaceous bulldog shale, the opal veins and pockets can be reached with a one or two-man mining crew.

Therefore, to buy opals, you have to haggle with the miners themselves. "It's all done on a cash-only basis," Steve said.

All prices are subject to negotiation, an art Darlene leaves to Steve. "I have a hard time with it. Just tell me the price and either I can buy it or I can't. Luckily, Steve's pretty good at it," she said.

Once mined, the rough opals are gathered into parcels depending on their size and quality. Parcels can cost up to $1 million.

"We might see five parcels in a day," Steve said. "Some are high quality and high priced, some are not. Sometimes you can get a screaming deal because the guy's wife is leaving tomorrow for Greece and he needs the cash."

Opals are judged on three criteria: size; color or "fire;" and brightness. The fire is the amount of glitter, shine or character the opal shows. Brightness is the amount of light reflected by the opal and is graded on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being very rare, Steve said.

Once back in Billings, Steve and Darlene will sort the rough opals, putting them in piles to be sold for $10 an ounce all the way up to $5,000 an ounce. Opals are a light stone, so an ounce goes a long way, Steve said.

They will also take thin opals and make them into triplets or doublets. A triplet has a black glass bottom, a thin layer of opal and then a quartz cap on top. A doublet is the same without the quartz. Doublets and triplets are cheaper than a solid opal.

Then they advertise the opals in Rock and Gem Magazine, the Lapidary Journal and through the American Opal Society. They also have about 500 subscribers to their newsletter, and they maintain their Web site.

And, if he sees a particularly beautiful opal, Steve may finish it himself and make it into jewelry. Darlene has several opal necklaces that Steve has made for her.

Working nights and weekends, Steve and Darlene have done well with their opal business even if they put all the money made back into the business.

"We'd like to do this for a retirement business," Steve said. "I don't want to sit around when I retire. There are six major gem shows in the U.S. Maybe we'll get a fifth-wheel and travel around."

After spending years travelling in the Australian outback, seeing the United States might be a nice change of pace."


The recently erected Optus tower (the one in the middle). 

This is Coober Pedy's fourth communication tower. 

The fifth is coming soon, as a relay for a Christian radio station based in Queensland.

From (See Letters to Editor)

"Drivel du Jour Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Coober Pedy.....
Actually, I had heard of
Coober Pedy , Australia in the past, but barely. The town is synonomous with opals, those milky gems that adorn so many rings, pendants and brooches. It took my online friend, journalist Bernard Slattery in Geelong Australia to bring the town to my attention in a more intimate way. Slatts, being the professional journalist that he is, has been intriqued by the towns newspaper which has an online addition, The Coober Pedy News. Directed there by Slatts, I too now enjoy the news from Coober Pedy and have become enthralled myself. This is life, news the way it's supposed to be, information by and for the people.

To tell you the truth, perhaps I was attracted to Coober Pedy because it seems to me to be a lot like many smaller towns in West Texas. Honest, hard working, hard living folks who keep going in a tough business because they are optimists. Down in the mines they think themselves one shovel load away from wealth and eternal ease, which is the mentality at heart with those of us in the oil and gas business."

SENIOR MOMENTS  (Sent in by a reader)

DRIVING:  As a senior citizen was driving down the freeway, his car phone rang.  Answering, he heard his wife's voice urgently warning him, "Herman, I just  heard on the news that there's a car going the wrong way on Interstate 77. Please be careful!"

 "Hell," said Herman, "It's not just one car. It's hundreds of them!"

I CAN HEAR JUST FINE:  Three retirees, each with a hearing loss, were playing golf one fine March day.  One remarked to the other, "Windy, isn't it?"

 "No," the second man replied, "it's Thursday." 

And the third man chimed in, "So am I. Let's have a beer."