02 August 2015
The finest opal ever unearthed will be publicly displayed for the first time as part of a multi-million dollar exhibition specially created to celebrate this year’s centenary of opal mining in Australia.
The South Australian Museum has gathered some of the most unique and fascinating opals from around the world to complement its own significant collection and showcase the beauty and diversity of Australia’s national gemstone.
The exhibition’s centerpiece, the Virgin Rainbow, is itself worth in excess of a million dollars and its refracting colours defy description.
“From jewellery to fossils to specimens embedded in rock, visitors will be treated to a spectacle of unmatched colour and beauty,” said Museum Director Brian Oldman.
“This is an exhibition literally millions of years in the making because these opals were formed back when dinosaurs walked the earth and central Australia was an inland sea.
“Our north foyer will be transformed to represent this ancient sea and we will also recreate an underground opal mine within the Museum, with dirt brought down from Coober Pedy.
“We want to showcase the history and beauty of opal, as well as the hard work and dedication required of those who choose to mine it.”
A range of activities will be on offer throughout the exhibition to allow visitors to delve into the geology and history of opal and discover the science behind their signature play of colours.
Simply titled Opals, the exhibition will open on 25 September 2015.
"It will have a rich South Australian flavour, which is unsurprising given that 90% of the world's opals come from this State,” Mr Oldman said. “However, Opals will also play to the strength of our global networks; it will feature a collection of a quality never before seen in one place.”
Opal formation began when South Australia’s inland sea acted as a breeding ground for plesiosaurs, the marine reptile equivalent of dinosaurs. As plesiosaurs died their bodies sank to the bottom of the sea. Later, after climate change transformed the area into an arid moon landscape, some of these skeletons became opalised fossils
This sequence of events produced the ideal environment for opal formation, but the gems weren’t discovered until 1915, when a boy named Willie Hutchison went on a gold mining expedition with his father.
“The story goes that Willie set out in search for water one day, rather than staying at camp as he’d been instructed to do by his father,” Mr Oldman said. “He came back to camp with water, but also with precious opal gemstones.
“In time this sparked the creation of opal mining communities in places like Coober Pedy, Andamooka and Mintabie, which have remained opal mining hubs to this day.
“It is ironic that in the most harsh of terrains the most beautiful of naturally occurring gems are now found.”
For further information visit www.samuseum.sa.gov.au/explore/exhibitions/opals
About the South Australian Museum
The Museum cares for a wealth of treasures with national and international significance – it is one of Australia’s most admired and trusted scientific and cultural institutions. The Museum’s world class collections have been amassed over more than 150 years and encompass everything from fossils of the first known life on Earth to pieces of Martian meteorites. The Museum’s collections are still growing and used each day in scientific and cultural research.
The South Australian Museum is Australia’s most successful museum in terms of both competitive research funding and peer-reviewed publications. The Museum’s scientists were awarded over $11 million in research grants in 2013–14 and its four research groups maintained a strong track record in biological sciences, mineral sciences, humanities and palaeontology.