“The new AOC will be one of the best ways for Australians and international visitors to see Australian opal right where it’s found.”

Owen Clapham
$50,000 AOC Founder
AOC Life Member

A Queensland grain farmer and former part-time opal miner, Owen Clapham is one of the leading AOC Founders, committing $50,000 to the building project. He believes the new facility will be a game changer for the Australian opal and tourism industries, and an effective way to keep high quality opals and fossilised specimens in their country of origin.

“I’m a grain farmer from the north plains near Dalby in Queensland. I originally got into opal to finance my trips overseas. The first time I went to the USA in 1996, I was there for nine months and it cost a lot. But I learnt Americans liked opal and I thought it would be a good thing to take back on my next trip. So I went out to Lightning Ridge, spent a couple of thousand dollars on opal, cut it and took it over. I only needed to sell one day a week to pay my way as I travelled and also for what the rough opal cost me in the first place.

When I first visited Lightning Ridge, I didn’t really know a lot about opal but I’d been collecting rocks and minerals ever since I was around four years old. I went out there with another fella who’d been there before, and we saw on the local noticeboard that there was a claim and camp for sale. I thought, well I’ll go and check this out just for fun, as I wasn’t intending to buy anything like that.

The fella who owned it was very keen to sell, so he took us underground and even though I didn’t know what it was really meant to look like, it didn’t look great and I didn’t see any opals sticking out of the walls. I didn’t really want to buy it so only offered him half of what he wanted but he took it. So there I was with a claim and a camp, which I used to stay in for up to five weeks at a time to learn about opal.

Starting out I didn’t have a lot of knowledge about opal, so I was buying $50 parcels off kids who were selling it for a bit of pocket money. Back then you would buy and sell out on the street in front of the Black Opal Motel; that’s where all the wheeling and dealing would happen. I’d buy a bit of rough stuff, rub it down and cut it, and sell it on. That’s how I learnt the game, swimming with the sharks so to speak. Lightning Ridge was a fascinating place to be at that time.

When I was going to Lightning Ridge quite often, I got to know many people associated with the Australian Opal Centre (AOC), including my mate Shovel who persuaded me to become a Life Member. I’d never taken a great interest in fossils, but displaying fossil collections in the local area they are from and keeping them in Australia is very important, as is showcasing top collections of all types of opal. My favourite type of opal is Queensland Yowah matrix as well as opalised wood, which is very rare.

I don’t like that a lot of the good stuff goes straight overseas, never to be seen again. Opal is Australia’s national treasure and it shouldn’t disappear off shore because eventually there won’t be any left here. The AOC will be one of the best ways for Australians and international visitors to see decent Lightning Ridge black opal and other types of Australian opal right where it’s found.

The AOC is also something Lightning Ridge needs because opal is getting scarcer so, like a lot of country towns, it will need more tourism as time goes on. A good collection of opals and fossils will be a major drawcard with international appeal. There are some great tourist attractions in the area already but there has to be something extra special for visitors, which the AOC will be.

I decided to increase my support for the AOC and become a Founder because unless people start getting serious and putting decent amounts of money forward, it’s never going to happen. Being a Life Member and Founder is something I can afford to do without putting myself out too much, and I’m sure there are a lot of other people who could too. I believe in the project and the importance of supporting it. So I encourage everyone to put their hand up and do something too.”

If you’d like to join Owen as an AOC Founder, please click here for a Founders Brochure and Application Form. For more information contact Olivia Ward by calling 0400 225 751 or emailing founders@australianopalcentre.com. We look forward to hearing from you!