Opal – Australia’s National Gemstone

Opal – Australia’s National Gemstone

Government Australian National Symbols Australian National Gemstone
Monday, 27 July 2020

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Opal - Australia's National Gemstone. On 23 July 1193 - the Governor General, the Hon Bill Hayden AC, proclaimed the Opal as Australia's national gemstone. Australia's Opal fields are larger than all the Opal fields in the rest of the world combined. Australia is the only place in the world where you can find Opalised animal fossils, there are also many examples of Opalised plant fossils.

The opal is a national symbol that represents our cultural life and history. 27 July 1993 marked the official day the opal was proclaimed Australia’s national gemstone.

Opals, are famous for their brilliant colours. The opal is also known as the fire of the desert. In Aboriginal dreamtime stories the opal was created when the colours of the rainbow touched the earth.

Australia produces 90-95% of the world’s precious opal from large deposits in New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland. Over the years, Australia has been home to many discoveries of valuable opals, including the Fire of Australia, the world’s finest uncut opal.

In 1965, Australian scientists at the CSIRO developed the first synthetic opal, which made opal ownership more affordable and accessible. Find out more about Australia’s National Symbols.

Thank you to the team at Geoscience Australia for their assistance in developing our infographic on opals.

Australian Government | Opal – Australia’s National Gemstone

  • Australia’s Opal fields are larger than all the Opal fields in the rest of the world combined.
  • Types of Opals found in Australia o Precious Opal displays play-of-colour o Common Opal does not exhibit a play-of-colour (aka Potch Opal by Australian Miners).
  • On 27 July 1993, the Governor-General, the Hon Bill Hayden AC, proclaimed the opal as Australia’s national gemstone.
  • In Aboriginal dreamtime stories, the Opal was created when the colours of the rainbow touched the earth.
  • Australia is the only place in the world where you can find Opalised animal fossils, there are also many examples of opalised plant fossils.
  • In 1994 the Australian Women’s basketball team adopted the nickname “The Opals”.

Australia’s Iconic Opals

  • 1915: Pride of Australia aka Red Emperor
    • Found 1915 at Lightning Ridge, NSW.
    • Shaped like Australia.
    • By 1954, it had toured at least five World Fairs as “the greatest opal of Australia”.
  • 1938: Aurora Australis
    • Found 1938 at Lightning Ridge, NSW.
    • Considered the world’s most valuable black opal.
  • 1946: Fire of Australia
    • Found 1946 in Coober Pedy, SA.
    • World’s finest uncut opal.
    • Weighs 998g – size of two cricket balls.
  • 1986: Halley’s Comet o Found 1986 at Lightning Ridge, NSW.
    • Found about the time Halley’s Comet appeared in Australian skies.
    • Recorded as the world’s largest uncut opal.
  • 1989: Galaxy Opal
    • Found 1989 in Jundah, QLD.
    • One of the largest and finest quality boulder opals ever mined. The Start of Opal Mining in Australia
  • 1890 Precious opal mining begins in NSW.
  • 1896 Precious opal mining begins in QLD.
  • 1913 Precious opal mining begins in SA.
  • 1926 Minnie Berrington was one of Australia’s first female opal miners.

Science Key Facts

  • Chemistry: SiO2nH2O
  • Hydrated Silica: Opal is a type of mineraloid
  • In 1965 CSIRO scientists discovered that the voids between opal silica spheres caused light to be diffracted to create the play-of-colour, as seen in a rainbow.
  • Opal has a play-of-colour due to millions of tiny silica spheres of different sizes. Image Source: M.Berrington – Emil Otto Hoppe Estate Collections, Opals – Geoscience Australia

Reference: Department of the Prime Minister & Cabinet, Geoscience Australia, Opals Down Under & SA Museum.