The Lightning Ridge Miners’ Association Ltd (LRMA) has had an extremely busy year and all in all a pretty good year for the opal mining industry. A new broom has swept through the Division of Resources & Energy and the signs are positive that some long term issues may be resolved. Following are some of the highlights of 2016.
Merry Xmas to all our members and we hope you all have a happy and prosperous 2017. The LRMA office shall be closed from Friday 23 December 2016 and re-open on Monday 9 January 2017.
The following Board was elected by the LRMA members at the Annual General Meeting held on 19 November 2016: President – Sebastian Deisenberger (unopposed), Directors – Shannon Barrett, Frederick Mallouk, Darren McCarthy, Garth Middleton, Ormond Molyneux, Jason Stone, and Kelly Tishler.
BI-ANNUAL MEETING WITH DIVISION OF RESOURCES & ENERGY
The LRMA met with Group Director Claudia Huertas and her team in Lightning Ridge on 16 November 2016.
The LRMA has lobbied very hard to keep the doors of the local Division of Resources & Energy’s office open and to make sure the new regime understands the importance of issues such as over the counter titles.
It appears the Division has taken on a lot of the industry’s concerns and are happy to consider our input. We now have their assurance that the local titles office will stay open and the knowledgeable local staff are valued. That over the counter titles will remain and is recognised as important to the opal mining industry.
The meeting with C Huertas and her team was the most positive the LRMA has had in the last 15 years. After 18 months into the job of reorganising the Division of Resources & Energy they have come up with some results. The compliance unit stands alone and reports directly to the Secretary of the NSW Department of Industry. C Huertas manages seven divisions and reports to Kylie Hargreaves the Deputy Secretary of Mineral Resources & Energy.
A new drafting group under the management of Wayne McDonald is working on the maps for the opal industry and has funding to do so. The first step is to survey a number of control points (datum pegs) to make sure they are accurate and also to survey new points to create greater accuracy. This survey work has commenced.
Mining on the edge of the ridges is vital for the opal industry’s future as maybe 80% of production is occurring on these lower lying areas. The Division is looking at what processes may be necessary to enable mining on some of the black soil on the edge of the ridges, such as a Review of Environmental Factors. There may be different criteria for different areas and the Division are in the process of analysing their data. This issue has been ongoing for around five years so hopefully a resolution is closer.
ACCESS MANAGEMENT PLANS
Over the past year the majority of the LRMA’s time and effort has been concentrated on preparing for a number of actions in the Land & Environment Court in relation to Access Management Plans (AMP). Commissioner Dixon of the Land & Environment Court did hand down a determination for three AMPs in July 2015 for ‘Allawah’, ‘Sorrento’ and ‘Muttabun’. The LRMA was pleased with the determinations as they closely followed the AMP determined by the Chief Mining Warden for ‘Wyoming’ back in 2007. Over time a number of AMPs reached by agreement have been modelled on the ‘Wyoming’ AMP and it is preferred that AMPs are as uniform as possible so they are easier for miners to follow and the Division to enforce.
The Halls, leaseholders of ‘Allawah’ and ‘Sorrento’, with we believe the support of NSW Farmers, successfully appealed the Commissioner’s determination on four issues which are vital to the opal industry. Chief Justice Preston awarded costs against the Miners’ Representative, Maxine O’Brien appointed by the LRMA to represent opal minrs, and a retrial on four points and ruled the Commissioner gave insufficient reasons for her determination.
An agreement could not be reached on costs. At one point in time however close negotiations might have been, the Halls would not give the LRMA sufficient time to consider their offer. The costs were assessed by the Supreme Court at over $45,000 and the Miners’ Representative asked for a review of the assessed costs as she believed it was excessive. The Supreme Court has not as yet handed down the reviewed costs determination.
The re-trial heard by Commissioner Dixon in mid-August 2016 was on the following four points: registered vehicles and licensed drivers on private land, public liability insurance and hours of access. During the same week the Commissioner also held a hearing to determine an AMP for the property ‘Malabar’ which had been on foot since 2007. The Commissioner deemed that the evidence in the Halls re-trial for ‘Allawah’ and ‘Sorrento’ would also be evidence in the ‘Malabar’ AMP.
The Halls had signed an agreement to sell a major part of ‘Allawah’ about a month and a half prior to the Land & Environment Court re-trial and did not inform the Court. They sold the portion with opal mining on it, to the NSW Government as part of the Voluntary Surrender Scheme. Under the Mining Act an AMP does not run with the land. Once a property is sold the existing AMP is null and void.
It is not clear what happens when only a portion of the land is sold. The Miners’ Representative has requested the Commissioner to address in her judgement, if she has the jurisdiction to do so, as to what happens with the AMP and would it continue for the portion of ‘Allawah’ retained by the Halls.
‘Muttabun’ was sold following the determination of an AMP and fortunately the Miners’ Representative was able to negotiate a new AMP with the current owners, Brian and Christine Marshall, of ‘Muttabun’ in good faith and with very little fuss.
Commissioner Dixon has indicated she will hand down her determinations on the four re-trial points for ‘Allawah’ and ‘Sorrento’ on Friday 23 December 2016 along with possible further directions for the ‘Malabar’ AMP.
To read the Commissioner Dixon’s judgements go to https://www.caselaw.nsw.gov.au/browse-court/54a634063004de94513d827f or http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/nsw/NSWLEC/2016/ and search for O’Brien v Halls.
VOLUNTARY SURRENDER SCHEME
The NSW government has shown considerable support for the opal industry and contributed substantial funding to the Voluntary Surrender Scheme. The Scheme enabled the surrender of western lands leases to the NSW Government and is particularly useful for those leaseholders who have difficulty abiding by their lease conditions and co-existing with opal mining.
The major portion of ‘Allawah’ containing all the current mining fields and all of ‘Rexeen’, ‘Weetalibah Lane’ and ‘Wandella’ have been sold to the government. According to anecdotal evidence the government’s purchase price was generous. The ridge portion of these leases has been included in the Lightning Ridge and Surrounding Opal Fields Management Reserve Trust. The grey soil portion will be sub-divided, fenced off and offered for sale for agricultural production in the future.
Eventually the Reserve Trust, currently managed by Crown Lands, will be converted to a Community Trust. The LRMA, Glengarry Grawin Sheepyards Miners Association, Division of Resources & Energy, Walgett Shire Council, Lightning Ridge Tourist Association, the Lightning Ridge Heritage Society, the Australian Opal Centre and 3-4 community members will have a position on the Trust.
LIGHTNING RIDGE FUNERAL ADVISORY SERVICE
The LRMA is in the process of issuing a long term lease to the Lightning Ridge Funeral Service for land at the back of the LRMA office block where, in the near future, they will build a shed to house the hearses. This move has been thoroughly welcomed by LRMA members and the community.
The Funeral Service is run by volunteers under the leadership of Ian Woodcock and provides low cost funerals for Lightning Ridge locals. The Service was made homeless by the RSL when the club was sold despite the facilities being built and funded entirely by locals.
LRMA DOUBLE WICKET CRICKET DAY
A successful fundraiser was held on Saturday 15 October 2016 at the Lightning Ridge soccer oval. Everyone who attended and played double wicket cricket had an excellent day. The weather was beautiful, the food delicious, drinks cold and the entertainment was exceptional.
Commentated superbly by Petar Borkovic the game featured many non-cricketers who luckily were permitted to ‘chuck’! The winning pair was LRMA President Sebastian Deisenberger and Michael Matson. The Runners Up were LRMA Director Shannon Barrett and Mick Cooke. Both teams featured an experienced and a novice cricketer.
Thank you to our generous sponsors and the many donations received from opal wholesalers, miners and business houses. Your contribution is greatly appreciated. Approximately $30,000 was raised and will go part of the way to assist with the LRMA’s legal fees.
The LRMA over the past couple of years has incurred considerable legal fees fighting in the Land & Environment Court to have Access Management Plans determined for a number of properties. These Plans once determined should give miners more reasonable access to land, set a precedent for the future and in one case open up a property for prospecting and mining.
The LRMA believes the western lands leaseholders have been funded by NSW Farmers, however the LRMA is obligated under the Mining Act to represent all opal miners and thus pay the resulting costs.
Following are the sponsors of the LRMA Double Wicket Cricket.
NICK KING, LOMAX OPALS, NICOLA KOLIC, CODY OPALS, LOST SEA OPALS
LAHOUD OPALS, MADSEN OPALS, SHU MINODA, SHERMAN OPALS, MATTHEW THOMPSON, DOWN TO EARTH OPALS, TRUE BLUE OPALS
CARL BABIC, MARIO IKASOVIC, SEDA OPALS, SAM HOPKINS, BLACK OPAL DIRECT, NEIL SCHELLNEGGER
TIM JENNER, RON KRAUSE, THE OPAL CAVE, OPAL PLUS, PETER’S OPALS
Plus many more donors who prefer to remain anonymous.
MR CHEAP, BARRIEKNEAL SERVICE STATION, LIGHTNING RIDGE BOWLING CLUB, OUTBACK RESORT, COUNTRYWIDE TYRES & BATTERIES, NEXO ENGINEERING, BP SERVICE STATION, K & M AUTO, MINING & STEEL
The LRMA is extremely grateful to all the fantastic players, spectators and volunteers who made the day possible!
All photos are courtesy of Hanna Deisenberger.
8TH NATIONAL OPAL SYMPOSIUM
The 8th National Opal Symposium, hosted by the Queensland Boulder Opal Association (QBOA) was held in Winton, Queensland 5-7 July 2016. President Sebastian Deisenberger, his wife Hanna, Director Garth Middleton and Secretary Maxine O’Brien attended the Symposium on behalf of the LRMA. Vicki Bokros and Andrew Kemeny also attended from Lightning Ridge.
It was an excellent opportunity to bring together opal miners, wholesalers and government. There were some very interesting presentations from government representatives and Presidents of the LRMA, Coober Pedy Miners Association and Queensland Boulder Opal Association. The Australian Opal Centre’s presentation was also very well received.
Other presentations included Opalton miner Col Duff who talked about using free mapping, satellite imagery and free software as an opal prospecting tool; Dr Paul Thomas on the packing array structure in opal; Dr Alex Fink on what makes black opal black; A/Prof Patrice Rey on the formation of precious opal in central Australia; Tony Smallwood on the differences between Australian and Ethiopian opal; Matthew Morin on the relationship between opal miners, retailers and consumers; Peter Christianos on the history of mining in Queensland; and the Summerville family on the enduring generations.
Gem Marketing Consultant Ian Bone talked about marketing and future trends and challenged the industry to look more positively as there are great opportunities for the future as global wealth and gemstone and jewellery consumption is growing.
The Symposium was followed by the Winton opal trade show which was very successful.
Lightning Ridge black opal, once again is punching above its weight in the international coloured gemstone market! There have been numerous articles around the world on Australian opal including a couple in the International Colored Gemstone’s Association’s magazine InColor.
One of the standout programs on Lightning Ridge black opal was SBS2’s The Feed. This story titled ‘Chasing the Rainbow’, aired in August 2016. There were over 67,000 views on Facebook. The story was marred a little by misinformation from NSW Farmers who stated opal miners do not rehabilitate their titles, which is not true. Miners pay a security deposit to guarantee their rehabilitation obligations. Overall however the spirit and passion of miners for opal was depicted beautifully. A great job by LRMA Directors who volunteered to show the TV crew around. Interested people can go to the following link and watch it online.
Lightning Ridge black opal featured once again in the American Gem Trade Association’s 2016 Spectrum Awards which were announced in New York in July 2016. John Ford, a jeweller from Galveston, Texas and a huge fan of Lightning Ridge black opal, won Platinum Honours in both the evening wear division, and the day wear division.
Ford’s 2016 Spectrum Award winning designs were: a magnificent ‘electric blue’ black opal and diamond necklace, with 197 carats of Lightning Ridge black opals accented by 6.27 carats of fine white diamonds set in platinum; and a ladies black opal and diamond “mirror design ring”, featuring a 3.65 carat Lightning Ridge black opal accented by .69 carats of fine white diamonds set in platinum.
LRMA SCHOOL SPONSORSHIP
The LRMA donate money each year to the Lightning Ridge Central School to assist Year 8 students go forward with their education. Congratulations to Jack Loiterton who received the monetary prize for Academic Potential and to Opal Trumper who won the Artistic Potential prize.
LRMA OPAL ADVISORY SERVICE
The LRMA Opal Advisory Service is a valuable free service run by volunteers under the leadership of Joe Schellnegger. Miners can bring their hard won opal to the Service each Saturday morning for an opinion on its value. The Opal Advisory Service had handled $3,615,546 worth of opal over the past 12 months compared to $2,749,368 in 2015 and $1,983,044 in 2014.
The Advisory Service closed on Saturday 10 December and re-open Saturday 4 February 2017.