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Kangaroos and Opals

One might wonder what opals have to do with kangaroos. Did you know opals have a rich and mythical history in the Aboriginal culture? It is believed the ancestors leave their presence behind in opals. To this day there are various stories told about how the opal came into being and one of those stories has to do with a kangaroo.

The story goes like this:

A boy hunted down a kangaroo with a wooden club and killed it. While he was eating the kangaroo meat he placed his club upright into the earth and it turned into a gem opal.

Australia lays claim to the opal as its National Gemstone. It has also been discovered in artefacts found in East Africa. History reveals the Roman Caesars obtained opals from Hungary to give as gifts to their wives.

The opal used to be considered more precious than a diamond. It was believed to hold powers of good luck and invisibility when wrapped in a fresh bay leaf and held in the hand. In 1829, Sir Walter Scott wrote the novel Anne of Geierstein, which helped fuel the myth that opals bring bad luck and death. The novel’s influence was so great that it caused the opal market to crash, bringing down the price of opals for the next fifty years. Fortunately, the opal market was revived with the discovery in the late 1880’s of the rare and valuable black opal in Lightning Ridge, New South Wales, Australia.

What Is An Opal?

Opal is not a mineral but a mineraloid, meaning that it has a non-crystal nature. It is formed by hydrated siliceous gel found in rocks like basalt, sandstone and marl. Opals have an assortment of colours that seem to change as the viewing angle changes. These colours include white, grey, black, brown, red, orange, blue, yellow, green, magenta, pink, olive, brown, slate and rose. They are opaque to semi-transparent and have 6%-10% water content.

There are three types of opals:

1. Precious Opal: These are very rare and highly valued opals like the black opal.
2. Common Opal: These are the milk opals, wood opals and resin opals that are used in jewellery design.
3. Girasols or Fire Opal: These are named for their brilliant orange to reddish colour and they do not usually show any play of colour.

What Are Opals Used For?

Opals are mostly used in jewellery designs like rings, pendants and bracelets. They can also be used as buttons, furniture inlays and can be sculptured into ornaments.

Where Are Opals Produced?

Australia mines over 97% of the world’s opal reserves but they are also mined in Nevada, Idaho and Virgin Valley in the United States. Other opal reserves are found in Ethiopia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Turkey, Indonesia, Brazil, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua. NASA has even found opals on Mars.


Opals were once considered more precious than diamonds as they encompassed all the colours of the other precious gemstones. For centuries they had a reputation for good luck and magical powers but that reputation changed to one of being unlucky and bearing death to the wearer.

Opals have a range of colours making it an attractive gemstone to use in jewellery designs and ornaments. Australia is the main producer of opals but they also occur in small quantities in other countries and have even been found on Mars.

If you would like to learn more about minerals and mining visit our Mining and Metals page.

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