If you go to Trip Advisor and check out “things to do in Lightning Ridge” there is a list of 19 attractions. This is worrying as I’ve already done numbers 1 (Chambers of the Black Hand), 2 (bore baths) and 3 (John Murray Gallery). Am I tearing through the attractions too quickly? What will I do once I’ve visited all 19 of the Ridge’s attractions? Disappointment and long, empty days loom ahead.
But life is short. I might be struck down by a comet tomorrow having held off from visiting the other attractions and so I might die having never visited Amigo’s Castle or Bevans Black Opal and Cactus Nursery. With this new-found carpe diem spirit I leapt up from the settee, turned off the telly before the sport section had even finished and headed out to the Green Car Door Tour (Trip Advisor’s #4 attraction).
Twenty past seven in the evening was a bit late to be starting such a significant journey. I’d heard that this car door tour was good for sunset views but the sun sets at around ten to eight at this time of year. A better organised person would have thought about the timing of the visit more closely and maybe not lay slumped in front of the telly thinking about carpe-ing the diem without actually carpe-ing it for a good half hour. Typical.
For those who don’t know, the car door tours are short self-guided tours of Lightning Ridge and surrounds. There’s a red one, a blue one, a black one, and this — the green one. You can see a little video about it.
Apart from the sunset views the main reason for heading out on the Green Car Door Tour is to see the Historic Monument that marks the site of the very first opal shaft, sunk in 1902 by Charlie Nettleton.
There are other significant monuments. I like the use of surplus objects for mail drops and signage that you get around here.
The nighttime trips in the courtesy buses from the pub and bowlo will often wheel and skirt around the camps that fringe town. In winter the bus’s lights pan across mulga and sandalwood scrub occasionally lighting up car bonnets with people’s names on them marking their homes. Sometimes it’s just a picture or caricature. When you’ve have a few (and why else would you be on the courtesy bus?) it can be weirdly stimulating, like watching some strange psychedelic documentary from the pre-regulation days of the LSD revolution.
Or maybe that’s just me.
Once you’re off the road you quickly hit the hard, white shincracker rock that overlays the opal-bearing dirt beneath. After the huge, industrial-scale opencast mining of the Grawin these wee domestic shafts and windlasses seem cute and homespun. Which, I’m guessing, are adjectives that the tough folk who actually operate the darned things have never used about them.
The sun was getting low and the white piles of waste and tailings were coloured a range of pinks and reds and oranges.
I was still nowhere near the sunset viewing place but, when I turned around, the sun was setting. Does it still count as a sunset viewing if there isn’t a sign nearby telling you that that’s what you’re looking at?
Hiding my bitter disappointment at having seen the sun set in the Wrong Place, I chose to carry on, following the green car doors and the variously coloured other bits of cars that littered the side of the road.
One of the things I’ve decided to do while I’m in the Ridge is learn to draw. There are loads of great things to draw here. This Aussie Bake van, operating a little windlass, is begging to be drawn. I hope I can do it justice.
But the thing about sunsets is that, afterwards, it gets dark. I had to get a wriggle on (or is it “wiggle on”?), not hang around taking pictures of stuff.
At any other time I’d have been seduced by this hectic array of signs and dropped in for some fossicking and healing or to see the big milkman or the sharkadile. The video had told me that there was an opal tree on this tour and a beer-can house and a gigantic milkman made out of milk crates! My laziness in front of the telly was coming back to haunt me.
I finally made it to the place where I was supposed to have looked at the sun. I think it would have been very impressive from here. There were other people wandering around, other people who’d set off at the right time and so had experienced the full sunset experience at the location of the first shaft. Fortunately they were distracted by their small children running towards open shafts and so I don’t think they noticed me sneaking in late.
I went over to the monument, the monument that marks the location of Charlie Nettleton’s first shaft.
But what’s this?! The plaque says that the monument is actually in the “vicinity of” the first shaft. So this might just be any old shaft! Pah! Not only had I watched the sun go down in the Wrong Place, and missed out on seeing the Big Milkman, I now found myself standing not at Charlie Nettleton’s first shaft but in its “vicinity”!!!!
There will be other days and other sunsets, I get that. And, unless Khan’s mounts a retrieval mission for its crates, the Big Milkman will be around for a while. And who cares about the exact location of Charlie’s first shaft.
I’ll be fine. Life is full of disappointment. But next time I carpe diem I shall carpe it a bit earlier.