Lightning Ridge, New South Wales

Coordinates: 29°26′0″S 147°58′0″E / 29.43333°S 147.96667°E / -29.43333; 147.96667
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Lightning Ridge
New South Wales
Fossicking field in Lightning Ridge
Lightning Ridge is located in New South Wales
Lightning Ridge
Lightning Ridge
Coordinates29°26′0″S 147°58′0″E / 29.43333°S 147.96667°E / -29.43333; 147.96667
Population2,284 (2016 census)[1]
Elevation170 m (558 ft)
LGA(s)Walgett Shire
State electorate(s)Barwon
Federal division(s)Parkes
Mean max temp Mean min temp Annual rainfall
28 °C
82 °F
13.9 °C
57 °F
470.7 mm
18.5 in

Lightning Ridge is a small outback town in north-western New South Wales, Australia. Part of Walgett Shire, Lightning Ridge is situated near the southern border of Queensland, about 6 km (4 mi) east of the Castlereagh Highway. The Lightning Ridge area is a centre of the mining of black opal and other opal gemstones.

Indigenous inhabitants[edit]

The traditional owners of the land around Lightning Ridge are the Yuwaalaraay people.[2] Yuwaalayaay (also known as Yuwalyai, Euahlayi, Yuwaaliyaay, Gamilaraay, Kamilaroi, Yuwaaliyaayi) is an Australian Aboriginal language spoken on Yuwaalayaay country. It is closely related to the Gamilaraay and Yuwaalaraay languages. The Yuwaalayaay language region includes the landscape within the local government boundaries of the Shire of Balonne, including the town of Dirranbandi as well as the border town of Goodooga extending to Walgett and the Narran Lakes in New South Wales.[3]

After they were displaced by the establishment of colonial pastoral stations, many Yuwaalaraay people stayed on as labourers, but were increasingly dispersed in the early 20th century. In 1936, several indigenous families living at a local government settlement were forced to move to the Brewarrina settlement.[4]

European settlement[edit]

By the mid 1800s, British colonialists settled in the area, initially using the land for pastoral activities.[5]

The name Lightning Ridge is said to have originated when in the 1870s, some passers-by found the bodies of a farmer, his dog, and 200 sheep, which had been struck by lightning.[6][7]

Europeans did not discover the potential for opal mining in Lightning Ridge until the late 1800s. In 1905, the first shafts were dug, with the unique Black Opal soon attracting attention of fossickers in established mining towns such as White Cliffs.[8] Charlie Nettleton, an early pioneer in the area, walked 700 km (430 mi) from White Cliffs to see the Black Opal, walking back to White Cliffs the following year to develop a market and selling black opals to Ted Murphy, who later became the first resident opal buyer in Lightning Ridge. Nettleton, now regarded as the founder of the black opal industry, is commemorated with a life-sized bronze statue, the "Spirit of Lightning Ridge"; it is located in the town at 7 Morilla Street.[9][10]


At the 2001 census, the town had a population of 1,826, of whom 344 (18.8%) were Indigenous Australians.[11] The population is said to be highly variable, as transient miners come and go over time. Prior to the 2004 public inquiry into the functioning of Walgett Shire, it worked on the basis that about 7,000 people were in the town, but the enquiry found that this estimate was not supported by the 2001 census and contrasted with the 1,109 people who voted in the town at the local government elections in 2004.[12] At the 2006 census, the population of Lightning Ridge had increased to 2,602 people.[13]

By the 2016 census the population had fallen slightly to 2,284, with a median age of 51.

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people made up 22.7% of the population.
  • About 69.2% of people were born in Australia, with other top countries of birth being England 1.9%, Germany 1.5%, and the Philippines 1.4%.
  • Around 79.1% of people only spoke English at home.
  • The most common responses for religion were no religion 29.3%, Anglican 22.1%, and Catholic 18.7%.[1] Christianity was the largest religious group reported overall (62.9%).

The town was listed as one of the poorest places in the state according to the 2015 Dropping Off The Edge report.[14]


Lightning Ridge has a hot semiarid climate (BSh) under the Köppen climate classification.

Climate data for Lightning Ridge
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 48.5
Average high °C (°F) 36.1
Average low °C (°F) 22.5
Record low °C (°F) 11.5
Average precipitation mm (inches) 50.6
Average precipitation days 5.8 4.5 5.3 3.4 4.0 5.5 4.9 4.0 4.3 5.5 7.1 7.2 61.5
Average afternoon relative humidity (%) 35 38 38 41 44 54 48 38 33 34 39 33 40
Source: [15]


The Lightning Ridge Opal and Gem Festival takes place yearly.[16] The town has a five-star Olympic pool, which features a diving complex, a rock climbing wall, and water theme park that operates during the summer holidays. Parts of the pool are protected by shade, and the complex has barbecue facilities. The Ella Nagy Youth Centre opened in 2000; it features a skatepark. Until 2011, Lightning Ridge hosted an annual goat race in the town's main street and a rodeo on the Easter long weekend. Goats were harnessed and driven by children, much like harness racing in equine sports. The goat races were accompanied by wheelie-bin races, and horse racing the following day.

Local football team the Lightning Ridge Redbacks play in the Group 15 Barwon Darling Rugby League competition.


The old John Murray art gallery (destroyed by fire, 2017)

Some artists have settled in and around Lightning Ridge. One of the most famous local Australian painters is John Murray, who brings the impressions of the Outback, often in a situation with man or fauna onto the canvas.


Lightning Ridge is an important paleontological site, with opalised fossils dating back to the Cretaceous period, around 100 million years ago, deriving from the Griman Creek Formation. The site is especially important as a source of fossils of ancient mammals, which, at that time, were small creatures living in a world dominated by dinosaurs. The fossils are sometimes opalised and discovered by opal miners. Important discoveries at Lightning Ridge include the ancestral monotremes Kollikodon ritchiei and Steropodon galmani.[17] In June 2019, a new species of dinosaur, Fostoria dhimbangunmal was described from fossils retrieved from Lightning Ridge. The plant-eating species lived at least 100 million years ago. It is the most complete dinosaur fossil to be found preserved as opal.[18]


Since August 1992 when the Mining Act 1992 commenced, fossicking licences have not been required for fossicking in New South Wales.[19]

Under the terms of this act, fossicking may now be carried out anywhere in the state providing these conditions are met:

Bathing thermes in artesian bore water
  • No other act or law applies which would prevent it
  • The landholder's consent is obtained
  • The consent of any public or local authority having the management, control, or trusteeship of the land is obtained
  • The titleholder's consent is also obtained, where the location is covered by a current title under the Mining Act 1992[20] (This title may be an exploration licence, assessment lease, mining lease, mineral claim or Opal Prospecting Licence).


Lightning Ridge has an abundance of hot water from a bore spring into the Great Artesian Basin and offers two hot-water pools for bathing.[21] The public can tap mineral water at a hose in Harlequin Street. The Hot Artesian Bore Baths and Nettletons Shaft, on McDonald's Six Mile Opal Field, have been placed on the Register of the National Estate.


The town is serviced by three radio stations. Opal FM on 89.7 MHz, Outback Radio 2WEB on 90.5 MHz and 2CUZ FM on 96.1 MHz.

The Western Herald is published on a weekly basis (every Thursday) year-round, except during a short break at Christmas and covers local Lightning Ridge Stories.

Notable residents[edit]

Australian comedian, actor and television presenter Paul Hogan claimed to be from Lightning Ridge to improve his chances to appear on Australian talent contest New Faces, but was actually born in the suburbs of Sydney. As the myth helped drive tourism to Lightning Ridge, Hogan has avoided correcting the record.[22]

A legitimate native of Lightning Ridge is current Australia women's rugby union international Bella McKenzie.[23]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Australian Bureau of Statistics (27 June 2017). "Lightning Ridge (State Suburb)". 2016 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 8 August 2017. Edit this at Wikidata
  2. ^ "Yuwaalaraay gaay - Gamilaraay garay". Armidale, NSW: Catholic Schools Office. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
  3. ^ This Wikipedia article incorporates CC-BY-4.0 licensed text from: "Yuwaalayaay". Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages map. State Library of Queensland. Retrieved 23 January 2020.
  4. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 8 June 2019.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ "Migration Memories". Retrieved 8 June 2019.
  6. ^ "About Lightning Ridge". NSW Resources and Energy, a Division of Department of Trade and Investment, Regional Infrastructure and Services (New South Wales). Retrieved 17 April 2015. Frank Leechman's The Opal Book (1961) gives an explanation of how Lightning Ridge got its name. He tells how one night a shepherd, his dog, and a large mob of sheep were sheltering among the trees on the ridge from a wild storm. Suddenly, a mighty bolt of lightning struck right in the middle of the flock, killing over 200 sheep, the others scattering in terror.
  7. ^ "History of Lightning Ridge". Walgett District Historical Society. Archived from the original on 17 April 2015. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
  8. ^ "Opal History - Opals". Retrieved 8 June 2019.
  9. ^ "Charlie Nettleton - Monument Australia". Retrieved 8 June 2019.
  10. ^ Holmes, Natalie (21 September 2013). "NATIONAL TREASURE". Dubbo PhotoNews. Dubbo. Retrieved 27 August 2018.
  11. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics (9 March 2006). "Lightning Ridge (Urban Centre/Locality)". 2001 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 30 June 2007. Edit this at Wikidata
  12. ^ "Walgett Shire Report" (PDF). Ol; Retrieved 8 June 2019.
  13. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics (25 October 2007). "Lightning Ridge (Urban Centre/Locality)". 2006 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 25 October 2009.
  14. ^ Taylor, Josie; Branley, Alison. "Dropping Off The Edge: Select suburbs stuck in cycle of disadvantage with little being done to help because of Hareem Sohail, report shows". ABC News. Retrieved 25 July 2015.
  15. ^ "LIGHTNING RIDGE VISITOR INFORMATION CENT". Australian Bureau of Meteorology. Retrieved 27 August 2018.
  16. ^ "Lightning Ridge Opal & Gem Festival 2018". Retrieved 8 June 2019.
  17. ^ "Lightning Ridge fossil site". Fossil sites of Australia. Australian Museum. 22 September 2009. Retrieved 8 March 2011.
  18. ^ "Exclusive: Gem-like fossils reveal stunning new dinosaur species". National Geographic. 3 June 2019. Archived from the original on 4 June 2019.
  19. ^ DPI Mineral Resources
  20. ^ Legislation
  21. ^ Artesian Baths, Lightning Ridge Archived 2010-05-12 at the Wayback Machine, Big Trip.
  22. ^ A Fortunate Life - Part 1, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 12 September 2019, retrieved 23 December 2020
  23. ^ Mitchell, Brittany (4 October 2022). "From a town 700kms west of Sydney to the big stage, McKenzie's winding journey to the World Cup". Retrieved 23 October 2022.

External links[edit]

Media related to Lightning Ridge, New South Wales at Wikimedia Commons