Record-breaking exhibition brings in $1M in opal donations

26 February 2016

`Candle of Life' photo Tony Lewis_a.jpg

The `Candle of Life' belemnite `pipe' opal donated to the South Australian Museum.

The South Australian Museum’s Opals exhibition, which closed on Sunday 14 February after a four month run, has broken Museum records for exhibition attendance, revenue generation and donations to the Museum’s collection.

The multi-million dollar, home-grown exhibition celebrated the 100th anniversary of Australia’s national gemstone being found at Coober Pedy. It explored the 100 million year history of opal formation that has allowed our state to become the producer of 80% of the world’s precious opal.

Key successes of the exhibition are that it:

•          attracted a record 27,000 visitors - 78% more than the average number of visitors to temporary exhibitions at the Museum

•          generated a record $323,000 in revenue and $277,000 in cash and in-kind support, representing the most successful philanthropic performance directly associated with an exhibition at the Museum

•          resulted in the donation of more than $1 million worth of opal specimens to the South Australian Museum’s collection, including the Candle of Life, an opalised belemnite `pipe’ (the tip of a 100 million year old version cuttlefish) valued at $345,000.


Museum director Brian Oldman said the generous donation of eleven significant opal specimens was a reflection of the importance of the Museum’s collections and research.

 “Few people realise that the Museum employs internationally-regarded researchers working on world-class collections. The Museum’s researchers are annually awarded more competitive Australian Research Council grant money than those of all other Australian museums put together,” Mr Oldman said.

“With Opals, the Museum has taken its research beyond the scientific community, and shown the public that the Museum’s own knowledge base produces great exhibitions that bring South Australian stories to life.

“These exhibitions provide local, national and international communities with the chance to learn and engage with Australian science and culture.”

 Arts Minister Jack Snelling said the Opals exhibition marked an ambitious new beginning for the Museum.

“The South Australian Museum is being revived under Director Brian Oldman, and Opals represents his vision for the Museum,” Minister Snelling said.

“As well as inspiring awe and wonder among visitors, the Opals exhibition marks a significant turning point for the South Australian Museum and its contribution to our state’s reputation as a world leader in science, culture and innovation.”

Opals gave visitors the chance to see the finest collection of opals ever assembled in one place, and featured many pieces from private collections never shown before to the public. The world’s most valuable single piece of opal, the Virgin Rainbow, a new part of the Museum’s collection, was displayed for the first time, along with the world’s first known opalised pearls.

The exhibition also included pieces dating from the 19th century, kindly lent to the Museum by Her Majesty the Queen from the Royal Collection.

The Museum produced its largest-ever suite of exhibition-based programs, which were delivered to children, youth and adults alike, thanks to the generous support of the Thyne-Reid Foundation. Highlights ranged from teenagers using Minecraft to explore the Coober Pedy landscape, to children fossicking for opals and learning how to identify gemstones, to a night with fashion designer Jenny Kee, where she talked about how opals provided the inspiration for her fabric designs used in Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel designs.

Opals dealers also reported a marked increase in public interest, knowledge and sales during the exhibition.


For more information contact: Thea Williams, Communications Officer, 0466 389 019




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.