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November 2002 Newsletter

Jacky and Elizabeth Delarue came to visit for a couple days, bringing with them a few bags full of the opal they’ve mined, cut, and polished this year. They mine in the Winton area of north Queensland, famous for its boulder opal. The claim has been worked for years by hand, and although they always seem to come up with something, this year brought a hit onto a pretty good patch that not only carried some top bright-flash boulder opal but also some interesting opalised wood with great color! In December we’ll be featuring their hard-won opals on a second page of the Over $100 Gallery.

Elizabeth’s a slight little thing that you’d have to blink twice at to see once, but that doesn’t stop her from grabbing a pick or jackhammer to extend a tunnel that runs at a depth of 40+ feet under the earth. Although heavily outnumbered by men on the mining fields, the women certainly contribute more than their fair share to the industry. Out on the fields if you’re lucky enough to have a woman in the camp the difference between yours and the surrounding bachelor dwellings is immediately obvious. It’s amazing what a woman’s touch can do to a couple sheets of tin roofing, a blue plastic tarp, and a dirt floor.

Here’s a little known fact regarding women and jewelry: Sri Lanka has been famous forever as the isle of gems. Pliny the Elder wrote “Beware the gem merchants of Gaul”. Some time after the death of Buddha a sapling of the Sacred Bo Tree was brought to Sri Lanka by Theri Sangamitta, who also brought an entourage of craftsmen . . . including goldsmiths. For centuries these men and their descendants made all of the thrones, crowns, and regalia for the high caste royalty. Eventually all of the male line of these smiths died out. When Mahalu Parakramabahu was made king his regalia was made by Abo Panditiya, the last of that line. The king offered a reward to anyone who could find a descendant of these smiths, and a woman and her seven year old daughter came forward. She was granted the right to practice this previously only-male craft, and thus she and her daughter saved that uniquely Sri Lankan style of gold and stone work from being lost. She had a son and trained him in the art. Upon completion of his education he was given by the king the name of Abo Panditiya, the last male of the original goldsmiths’ line. He and his descendants made the regalia for the Polonnaruwa kings, and his mother lit the way for the women of her caste by making the king’s throne which earlier had always been made by a man.

It’s been the driest year on record for Queensland, with drought baking the rest of Australia. Most of the creeks have dried up in the Kuranda area, a rarity in a rainforest, but a small bonus in disguise. In the old days we’d use a sheep skin, but nowadays a good sized strip of shag carpeting will do. We lay the carpet nap side up in a good spot of a dry creek bed and peg it to the bottom with steel re-enforcing bar (rebar). The upstream edge has a wedge-shaped length of wood (a diagonally cut piece of 2x4” works well) laid along that edge, pegged through it and the carpet into the creek bed. Now we’re waiting for rain. With any luck we’ll have a good wet season starting next month. When those waters recede (sometime after Easter) we’ll retrieve the carpets, invert them over a tarp, and beat the gold out of the weave with a good sized stick. We’ll be richer than our wildest dreams . . . well, maybe not that rich.

For those of you born in November, one of your power stones is topaz. In olden times it was worn as a talisman to drive away sadness and bad dreams by instilling cheerfulness and courage. If mounted in gold and worn around the neck it was said to remove any spell or enchantment cast upon the wearer. The word comes from the sanskrit tapas , meaning “to glow”. This is probably related to the cheerfulness aspect of the stone, and also to what happens if you rub (or heat) topaz. This electrifies it, causing it to attract fine little bits of stuff (hair, paper, good vibes, etc.) like a magnet.


Past Newsletters: [Jun 2002] [Aug 2002] [Oct 2002]

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