Towards the end of my 2-month Down Under odyssey, I took a day trip to the fabulous gardens overlooking the city of Perth, Western Australia, and although it was only just the start of Spring, the flower beds and meadows were filled with colourful wildflowers and trees indigenous to Australia.Many years ago, as a child, we would often take family Sunday drives through the acres and acres of bushland in the heart of the city. This time, I got to go with my kid sister, Jenny, and traveling companion Suzi, reliving so many memories and realizing how much has changed over the past 50+ years. There used to be a massive fallen tree trunk, either a Jarrah or Kari tree (Australian hardwoods), where we would pose in front for photos but it had long disappeared from the park. There used to be a giant flower clock as well as a fancy-schmancy restaurant where my father would often host business dinners that I actually attended as a well-behaved (!) little kid. But my memories of school trips from up in the hills down to the park every ANZAC Day (April 25) to pay respects to all the fallen & wounded old Diggers (Aussie soldiers) from WWI and II came rushing back. I remember standing to attention as WWI veterans marched by, some on crutches some in wheelchairs and some a little bent over but marching proudly.
The trees were magnificent, especially the Queen Elizabeth II tree she planted as a sapling on her first visit back in the 50s. Look at it now…So many plants and blooms to view…and the fragrances were heady and exotic, too.We also visited at night to view the spectacular city lights and skies….wow!Just typing this brings back memories of the scents and sounds, as well as the views I saw a few months back. I really hope I can make it back to Perth again…such a beautiful city – clean streets, mostly graffiti-free, friendly and welcoming. Am buying more lottery tickets this week…I just got a feelin’. LOL
During the 2yrs of Covid lock-down here in Toronto when there were no film, tv or theatre productions for me to promote, I got hooked watching Outback Opal Hunters on TV’s Discovery Channel. Turns out, that was a good thing ‘coz when travel restrictions were lifted last year, I booked my ticket home to Australia and headed out to the opal fields in Queensland to buy a pair of opal earrings. I’m obsessed with the stunning ancient gems, as well as pearls (yes, I purchased a really big pearl in Broome, WA, too). For the uninitiated, opal is formed from a solution of silicon dioxide and water. As water runs down through the earth, it picks up silica from sandstone and carries this silica-rich solution into cracks and voids caused by natural faults or decomposing fossils. As the water evaporates, it leaves behind a silica deposit. This cycle repeats over very long periods of time, and eventually opal is formed. Below is the gorgeous pair of earrings I bought in Winton, Qld, direct from Opal Hunters miners Joe and Tash.Another team of miners from the international hit show is known as “The Young Guns” and they are comprised of 3 mates, young fellas who are not the usual grizzled, snaggle-toothed old miners like most of the other teams featured on the show. In fact they’re really cute and the show has taken viewers from their early days down their mine, learning as they go and discovering all sorts of amazing treasures. We have also witnessed their frustrating days of no finds or machine break-downs that have set them back thousands of dollars. I reached out over the Christmas holidays and spoke with team leader Jaymin Sullivan who kindly shared stories with me of great finds, hopes and dreams for the team…..
Jaymin, what first inspired you to head out to the opal fields with your mates to dig for treasures, fame and fortune? Honestly I was living a pretty average life working 9-5 at a local hardware store paying rent and mortgage and just felt I was getting nowhere and that there had to be more to life. I remember thinking about dream jobs and what I really wanted to do and that lead me to “treasure hunter”, a job that’s hard to do in Australia as we don’t exactly have Viking hoards of treasure or maps leading to ancient ruins. Luckily however my father was an opal miner and I decided to look at mining in a new light as treasure hunting. And it really is when you uncover something precious that’s been hidden for millions of years and you are the first human being to ever see it and on top of that it can be worth thousands even millions, it is treasure and it is definitely exciting to say the least. There is also something to be said for the fact you can, as an opal miner, be poor in the morning and rich in the afternoon that’s a strong motivator for wanting to do the job! As for the fame, I didn’t really go there for that hahaha that just sort of happened along the way.Did you recruit your mates Noah and JC once the idea took hold or were they in it with you from the beginning? And what special skills do you each bring to the team? Noah and JC where in a similar boat to me, JC was working as a lawn mower and Noah worked at a local fast food place. Not, I guess you could say, living life to its full potential. Initially, I invited all of my friend group to come out and give it a go, of the 8 guys only Noah and JC where willing to make the 14hr drive out to the opal fields and see what I was up to. I think JC brings to the team a lot of enthusiasm and hard work, Noah has a lot of perseverance and a willingness to learn new skills and me, well I’m obsessed which means I’m pretty full on with every aspect from the work itself to filming and editing for our YouTube channel to opal cutting and marketing. What was it like the first time you discovered opal? And what was the biggest haul you pulled in? There’s nothing like your first time, when you uncover opal that’s actually worth money…worth thousands…and that it’s there sitting in your hands; it’s incredible to know your hard work had won something so beautiful and precious is a really cool feeling and when it keeps on coming out of the wall and you’re onto a big find your hands can literally shake. I think our biggest find in one afternoon was around $80-90k in the rough; we didn’t end up selling rough, we mostly cut it and made it into jewellery which ends up going for around 5-8x the amount. It’s a long game, trying to sell the finished product and we have still got a lot of the material and jewellery, but with all the hard work to find it, it’s important to make as much money off the opal as possible and the best way is to sell direct to the customer and cut out all the middle men. It is always going to be cheaper purchasing opal direct from the miner whether it be jewellery or rough stones as oppose to buying it in a shop or from resellers.Selling your finds to local specialist buyers can be nerve-racking….do you, as young miners, feel you’re treated fairly or do you think buyers in the big city are a good option? How does it work? We do some deals of rough opal though that is quite rare, you never get a good price for rough opal so we tend to avoid it…. when we aren’t desperate for rent or food or fuel. We live in the age of technology and we have the ability to reach thousands of people online so we have a pretty good understanding of how to market our opal online and sell direct to the customer which allows us to get a fair price as well as the customer.Do you enjoy cutting/polishing the opals yourselves or do you only deal with rough or partially polished stones? I love cutting opal – I actually do a cutting demo in White Cliffs (in the state of New South Wales) every morning for tourists who come to town. I take a rough stone and walk them through the whole process until we have a finished polished stone. Cutting opal is super relaxing and it’s amazing to see it go from a rough state to a finished piece, you see it transform in your hands! On average, how much does it cost to run all the equipment, house, feed and water the team each season? The costs vary depending on the set-up, but we probably spend anywhere from $20-40k per season which is only 6-8months (in the cooler months) in order to run our mining business.How long have you all been working the opal fields now? Any goals for future explorations – any new claims you have your eyes on? We have been out here for the last 4 years now and loving every minute! Future goals would be to get an operation set up in Lightning Ridge in NSW, and in the Queensland opal fields. We love White Cliffs but want to do some more work on the other fields we have visited also. When did you join the cast of Outback Opal Hunters and has the fame brought you more secure income from sales and/or any sponsorships? Opal Hunters was definitely an experience and was actually a lot of work. We joined the show because we thought it would be fun and for the most part it was. We met some incredible camera men and we learnt a lot watching them film us. The show is great in that it’s helped the opal industry a lot internationally and definitely helped us initially get our name out there.
If you take a look at all the other teams on Opal Hunters none have the same sort of following we do and the simple reason is if you want to be a real presence you have to create your own content and promote yourself. Which is why we started our YouTube channel and why we use Instagram, Facebook and TikTok – these platforms allow us to better connect with our audience and grow a meaningful community. We are super reachable which we pride ourselves on; we reply to 90% of messages sent to us and are more then happy to help serious newcomers to the industry.
One of our biggest goals has always been to promote opal mining as an alternate lifestyle, not everyone is meant to fit into a standard 9-5 work life and we have seen the positive impact it has on your life first hand once you do follow your dreams and work for yourself. We hope more people find in life the thing that makes them happy and can turn it into a job that gets them paid enough to support themselves and family. As for sponsorships we weren’t really allowed to have them while working on Opal Hunters though we have been pursuing this more now with our YouTube channel, and if all goes well we may have something exciting to share in the future. As for the impact of Opal Hunters on our sales, the show definitely helped give us credibility and helped customers purchasing opal online feel secure in the fact they’re buying direct from miners and from a source they know.
Discovery Channel is very popular here in N. America, esp. the Outback Opal and Gold Hunters shows – do you have a good fan following home and away? Ever get asked by fans for a “ride along”? We love that so many people around the world have become so interested in opal and the process of mining it, I was actually a fan of the show before we joined, but since joining, however, I no longer watch it hahaha as it’s too weird seeing yourself on tv. The most common thing people will reach out and ask us for is a job. I would love to say yes but at this point we only really make enough to keep us in the game. One day if we can scale the operation or get really lucky, I hope to open up some more opportunities for those who are really interested. In the meantime, we’re actually working on setting up a mine where fans will be able to come out and do some mining for a day or so and give it a shot! We hope to have that up and running by 2024.
If you couldn’t mine any more, what profession would you choose to pursue (and JC and Noah)? I think opal mining is in our blood now forever haha we all do have a taste for adventure and if it wasn’t opal I know we’d love to go for gold and may very well some day. Outside of mining, I’d love to explore creating other YouTube content and we do have some of that in the works.
As for Noah, he’d love to continue exploring/adventuring for a living – I’m not sure what form that would take but there is always a way.
JC recently got himself a new dream job raising baby Ziah his son. He’ll still be mining with us but right now he’s loving every minute of being a dad!Thanks, Jaymin, now I can really appreciate all the hard work & long sweaty hours spent underground as well as the millions of pesky flies and the inherent danger of working in unstable conditions. I will happily spend the $s for a piece of their glory…and so can everyone else. If you love opals, you can purchase rings, pendants or earrings (and even vials of opal chips for your own jewellery making) directly from the Young Guns and they will ship around the world.