By the end of the 1960s, the miners had formed a Miners’ Association and taken black opal to Japan. The first opal miner Shire Councillor was elected and the Tourist Association was grounded in the early 1970s, then later, the State Emergency Service. At last, an ambulance service opened and a permanent doctor took up residence in the 1980s. The flying ambulance reached Sydney, Dubbo and other major hospitals.
The 1980s and 1990s were boom years on the opal fields. The Japanese market couldn’t get enough black opal. Concurrently the Iron Curtain came down in 1989 and immigration changed. People were escaping the city to the open landscape, fresh air and therapeutic hot mineral baths at Lightning Ridge. The lifestyle attracted many seeking a new life where one could live cheaply camped on a claim and enjoy a bit of the ‘wild west’.
In 2000, as a result of population demands, a 24 hour medical centre with four acute beds, a 20-bed nursing home and the Flying Doctor were brought into service for the Ridge. The Central School was also completed and enrols years K to 12.
In 2008, the black opal, rarest of gemstones, was named the New South Wales state gem. The alternative lifestyle, hand-made houses and use of recycled materials on the opal fields continues to fascinate coastal dwellers and the rest of the world.
A Cultural Mosaic
Lightning Ridge boasts a cultural mosaic of more than 50 nationalities plus various Aboriginal groups and other Australians, all bound by the mining of opal. As Christina Johannson, Transcultural Community Council President, said in opening the 2009 Lightning Ridge Harmony Day:
Harmony Day at Lightning Ridge is about honouring our tradition of a fair go, appreciating the benefits of our cultural diversity and respecting each other.