We go down below with the miners of Lightning Ridge, NSW, on their never-ending search for the opal that could “change their lives.”
Australian opals have long been considered the best in the world. s still able to produce a gem that is rarer than the rarest of diamonds. re attracting record prices on the back of huge demand in Asia.
There’s just one problem, opals are proving harder to find than ever and there are fears that unless there’s another major opal discovery the industry could disappear.
"If an opal miner tells you it's not tough times, they've either been extremely fortunate or they're talking bullshit," says opal miner Kelly Tishler. "Because it's just the nature of the beast. It's either feast or famine."
Kelly lives in Lightning Ridge, New South Wales and is a third generation opal miner with the profession running in her family.
"Every day I go out with an opportunity to change my life and not only to change my life but my children's life," she says.
"My husband and I, we're just a team and we just go out and have that drive and opportunity because you never know, one day you might just put a good hole down and then you don't have to worry about anything else.
"There's no guarantee and that's the thing, you're chasing like a rainbow, hoping to find something and that whole time you're doing it, you might get absolutely stuff all and at the end of it.
"You've got to be willing to go that extra mile and listen and learn and hopefully, you'll come across it but if you said to somebody, you're going to come up here now and you're not going to have any income for the next eight years.
"People say oh well but you're going, putting all your money back down a hole but sometimes you think, god am I just crazy? Why are we doing this? Really? Like but we don't know any different.
"I don't know to be anywhere else. That's the thing. So basically, you're a tragic opal miner or you're not."
Lighting Ridge in Outback New South Wales is home to the black opal - the rarest and most valuable form of the gem.
For more than a century its been attracting miners from all over the world.
Sebastian Deisenberger is from Bavaria in Southern Germany and came to Australia in 1988, before opals entered his mind and "never left".
"It can be dangerous but that's another thing, you're in control of your life down here."
"The main attraction here was actually because I was not aware that things like that are still possible. It's like the old gold rush times, you think oh, a hundred years too late and then I came here and said hey, them things are still happening here, you know, it's still possible to do that, I said why don't you have a go?
"It can be dangerous but that's another thing, you're in control of your life down here.
"Once you find an opal in the wall when you dig a line say, oh there's an opal here, you know and you get it here and you see it in the wall, that's just a terrific feeling."
But after a hundred years of digging, Lightning Ridge opals are proving to be more elusive than ever. The fall in opal production has some in the industry concerned for its future.
“It does look to many people that it might be a finite resource that only has 20 to 30 years left," says opal seller Damien Cody from Cody Opals.
"The normal rules of supply and demand don't necessarily apply in the gem industry. So as a stone becomes very rare, people see less of it.
"There's less hype out there in the gem buying world and it can disappear off the gem buying map."