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The Koala Life
11/21/2011, Lone Pine Koala Santuary, Brisbane

This is what Lori was waiting for the entire way across the hold a Koala.

The Koala is proof that if you are going to be a lazy bum, you better be cute and cuddly. These guys sleep 19 hours of the day. They wake at sunrise for 2 hours and sunset for 3 hours...whata gig!

The koala is a cute, round ball of fluff with sharp claws and a big nose. This popular marsupial is Australia's premier icon. Despite the misconception that they live all over Australia, they are only found in small fragmented habitats on the eastern coast of Australia. This habitat fragmentation is due to land clearing for cattle, crop production and housing.

This guy was so funny while he was sleeping he was dreaming and flinching his little paws and almost falling from his branch. He would do this flinch move every few minutes but not wake-up. Also notice that Koala's have three fingers and two thumbs...technically making them more advanced than humans.

Although there is only one species koala, koalas can look quite different depending on the climate they live in. Southern koalas (found in South Australia and Victoria) have are larger, fluffier and darker fur than Northern koalas (found in New South Wales and Queensland) due to the cooler climate they live in.

The word koala is aboriginal for "no drink" This name came about because koalas hardly ever climb down to the ground for water as they obtain most of it from the eucalypt leaves that they eat.

When European explorers first saw these strange hopping animals they asked a native Australian (aborigine) what they were called. He replied "kangaroo" meaning "I don't understand" your question. The explorers thought this was the animal's name. And that's how the kangaroo got its name.

Kangaroos and their relatives come from the family Macropodidae. This family is split into two subfamilies; Sthenurinae which is represented by a sole member, the Banded Hare-wallaby, and Macropodinae which is represented by five groups including kangaroos, wallabies, wallaroos, rock-wallabies, pademelons, quokkas, tree-kangroos, hare-wallabies and forest wallabies. The term 'macropod' (meaning 'large-footed') is often used to describe members of this family.

They all have powerful legs that act like springs, big feet to help them hop and a long tail to help them balance. The larger kangaroo species can jump up to 3m high (10 feet) and 9m (30 feet) long with one bounce and hop as fast as 70 km/hr (44 mph).

The emu is the world's second largest bird and can run up to 50km/hour. They feed on leaves, grasses, seeds, insects and fruit. The female lays 6 to12 dark green eggs. The male then incubates them and raises the chicks.

Emus are found in most habitats throughout mainland Australia. However, they are no longer found in closely settled areas.

The southern cassowary is an endangered species with an estimated population of 1,500. They are the third largest flightless bird and choose to live solitary lives. Cassowaries live in the rainforest and feed on fruits, insects and small reptiles. They create a powerful presence with their horny helmet and talon-like claws that can grow to up to 12cm long!

Spectacular Brisbane
11/21/2011, Brisbane, Australia

We have a new all time favorite city. Sydney was nice, but we believe Brisbane is better for many reasons.

The downtown is vibrant with shopping, pubs, parks, rivers, ferries, mass transit and ulta-modern sky scrapers. The weather is wonderful and you can take a fast ferry boat ride to anywhere. The mass transit bus system is the most efficient I have ever experienced anywhere in the world.

The public bikes are very interesting concept. For $3/day you can check-out a bike and ride it to anywhere in the city and check-it back in like a library book.

As a bonus, you can anchor your boat right in the middle of downtown!

Into the Outback
11/20/2011, Glengarry Opal Field

Yesterday we ventured into the outback looking for more opals. We were told that there was a new opal field being worked about 100 miles west of Lightning Ridge. We briefly pondered the concept of going west and then decided what the hell. In general, anything west of Lightning Ridge seems to be pure desolation and essentially uninhabited outback. We weren't wrong.

The washboard road to hell. We found that it required speeds of 70mph to smoothout the ride. Anything slower would beat the bolts right out of the suspension.

We went looking for a place known by the locals as the Glengarry Opal Field. We were told that the road to the opal field is flooded and has been for 6 months. This concept seemed odd since the place is a could the desert be flooded for extended periods especially since it is so hot and dry? After nearly 2 hours of driving, we came to the end of the road, and sure enough, the road was flooded. In fact the entire place was flooded almost as far as the eye could see.

Our hitchhiking tree frog that somehow jumped from an overhanging tree limb onto our hood while we were doing 60-70mph! Try timing that one.

Believe it or not, there were two pubs out here in the middle of nowhere.

We had a drawing of the detour route to the opal fields which took us down some of the roughest washboard road that I have ever driven. This road was rougher even than the back goad to Peppersauce Cave in Tucson. The road is red clay and it stretches straight to the horizon and the washboard gets worse the further you travel. Along the way we saw dozens of dead kangaroos and a couple live ones which is rare during the heat of the day. We also saw a few wild Emus running about. The strangest thing we encountered was a green tree frog which landed on our hood while we were driving 70 mph. He landed on the hood and just sat there looking at us...then he jumped on the windshield and stayed there till we stopped to remove him. We still are not quite sure how he was able to jump onto the hood of the truck while we were moving so fast.

They are looking for the pub too.

No fault insurance applies...I'm sure.

As we made our turn to the opal fields, the road narrowed to a small path with small signs pointing towards the pub. These signs were not at all helpful. It seems the miners have a strange sense of humor out here in the heat. When we first arrived, there were about 6 miners sitting around at 12 noon drinking Jack Daniels and Coke. Needless to say, they were all stupid drunk...but extremely friendly...we think. I say we think, because we couldn't hardly understand a thing they were saying because of their thick intoxicated Australian accent. They were all intrigued as to why a couple of Seppos would wonder out into the bush on a such a hot summers day. When we said we were looking to buy opals, everyone became real chatty. We were told they keep all their good opals under their beds ;-)

The WORLD FAMOUS Glengarry Hilton.

Black Opals
11/18/2011, Lighting Ridge, NSW

Lightning Ridge New South Wales, Australia got it's name from a lightning strike event that killed 300 sheep, the sheep herder and a poor border collie. In fact, when we arrived here in Lightning Ridge, it was during a mean lightning storm. It seemed like the appropriate welcoming after all these years of wanting to visit this place.

Looking up from one of the millions of mine shafts scattered across the ridge.

Lightning Ridge is a strange place filled with strange people from all walks of life and from every corner of the world. It is a well known hide-out for criminals and illegal aliens.

Lori showing where the Opals are typically found in the layer between the sandstone and the clay. The miners will dig a shaft down through the snadstone and start hollowing out the region just below. The silica laiden water fills the gap between the sandstone and clay and over millions of years produces a layer of Opal.

Although some confusion exists, the sinking of the first shaft at Lightning Ridge is attributed to boundary rider Jack Murray in 1901 or 1902, while the sale of the first parcel of opal from the field was made by Charlie Nettleton in 1903. Nettleton's first attempt to sell opal from Lightning Ridge met with failure when he sent a parcel to a firm of Sydney jewellers, who assessed the stones as practically worthless, offering ten shillings for the lot. Nettleton and his mate then took their opal parcel of about 3.5 kg to the already established While Cliffs field, where they sold it for £15. It was a lot better than ten shillings, but still a fraction of what the opal would be worth a few years later.

An example of the black opal.

Another view from the bottom of a 70 foot shaft in 3 Mile Field.

At first the strange dark opal from the new field of Lightning Ridge was not readily accepted in the jewellery trade, and it was some years before its true value and potential was appreciated. But once established, Lightning Ridge black opal became the most desirable of all opal. Many famous big stones were won at Lightning Ridge over the years, including the Flame Queen, the Pride of Australia, the Red Admiral or Butterfly Stone, and many more.

Lightning Ridge is a desolate place with miles and miles of abandoned mine shafts and piles of tailings everywhere you look.

The black opal mined at Lightning Ridge is a unique and highly valued gemstone. It is generally found at 6 to 18 m below ground level in the deeply weathered claystone layer of the Griman Creek Formation of Early Cretaceous age. This forms a distinct layer below the overlying sandstone and conglomerate of Tertiary age.

Opals at Lightning Ridge are found in two forms: rounded nodules, termed 'nobbies'; or in seams. The opal bearing material is a soft greyish claystone often referred to as 'opal dirt'. Opal is generally extracted by underground mining and a typical mining operation involves sinking a vertical shaft and driving horizontal shafts, or 'levels', to obtain opal dirt. Some open cut mining is also undertaken in the area.

Example of the mining technique where the roof of the mine is all sandstone and the region being mined is soft clay.

In areas where opals are found as 'nobbies', opal dirt is brought to the surface where it is transported by truck to a puddling site for processing. Methods for processing the opal dirt typically include wet (or sometimes dry) puddling techniques usually by mechanical means. This puddling breaks up the claystone, the finer portion of which is then discarded, leaving rock materials which are further examined and hand sorted to identify individual nobbies.

Unfortunately it seems that the hay day of the opal mining has come and gone. Back in the late 80's, the Japanese drove the price of black opal through the roof. There were over 2500 opal miners in Lightning Ridge being attracted to the hig price per carrat...often higher than diamond. Today, there are only 50 or so miners left in the area and the town has all but dried-up due to the poor international economy. It is also estimated that the supply of Black Opal will be exhausted in the next 50 years.

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