Rhonda + Garry_website.jpg
“We love Lightning Ridge and think the new AOC will do marvellous things for the town, and the opal industry generally. The new Murcutt and Lewin building will be fantastic for tourism.”

Rhonda White and Garry Yeo, White's Pharmacy
$30,000 AOC Founders

Lightning Ridge business owners, Rhonda White and Garry Yeo of White’s Pharmacy, have been long-standing members of the local community for almost five decades. Here Rhonda tells their story of becoming AOC Founders as a path to investing in the future of  their much-loved town.

“We decided to become AOC Founders for three main reasons. Firstly, it’s an investment in the future of Lightning Ridge. Secondly, it’s a legacy piece for us; a way to have our names somewhere locally that will be seen when we’re long gone. And thirdly, as a thank you to the local community for contributing to the success of our business over all these years.  

I have a long history in the Lightning Ridge region. My parents were friends with a man named Sandy Randall who founded the Lightning Ridge Walk In Mine, and they used to holiday with him at Lightning Ridge and nearby Collarenebri before I was born.  This continued after I came along, until Sandy eventually convinced Dad to become his business partner, and my family permanently moved here on Australia Day in 1970. I still live in the house my father built next to the Walk In Mine.

I originally studied music at Sydney University but switched to pharmacy after the first year as I wanted a degree that had a job at the end of it and was science-oriented. Well, when two legendary Lightning Ridge characters, Harold Hodges and Ainslie Chum, found out what I was studying, they started working on convincing me to come back to Lightning Ridge and build a pharmacy. There was a lot of support in the early days for local girls to come home, and that helped get the business off the ground. We opened our doors in February 1983 and have operated from the same building ever since.

Garry has been integral to the success of the business, from the planning and building stage right through to today, helping with whatever needs doing. He was  born and raised in inland NSW, schooled at Farrer at Tamworth, was an apprentice fitter machinist in Dubbo, and was working in Walgett as a security guard when we met. Garry has been very supportive of the local community, especially in the early days when he would emcee at functions like the Lightning Ridge Opal Queen and debutante balls. He also designed and built the steps at the local Bore Baths.  

We love Lightning Ridge and think the Australian Opal Centre (AOC) will do marvellous things for the town, and the opal industry generally. The new Murcutt and Lewin AOC building will be fantastic for tourism, bringing even more visitors to the Lightning Ridge area and maybe those who have been here before will come back to see something new. This will benefit the whole town, including local businesses like mine because every one of those visitors spends money when they’re here, so it will be a big boost to the local economy.

A lot of people have earnt their livelihood off opal and I believe should join us in investing back into the community and the industry that have supported them. Our business certainly did well through the 1980s and 1990s in the boomtime of opal. And this is another chance for everyone to become part of something that will bring more money into the town and act as a path to progression for our community; with this project, we have a real chance to avoid dying off like so many mining towns do.

Another benefit the new AOC will give is the opportunity to preserve our National Gemstone, and to give both locals and visitors a chance to see some absolutely fantastic fossils and beautiful opals that otherwise could end up in private hands and overseas. Some of these national treasures absolutely blow my mind, they are so interesting and impressive. We don’t seem to see as much good opal around town as we used to back in the day when little guys who were miners or had bought from miners sold opal to tourists and locals out on the street. We do have our annual Opal Festival Exhibition, and I think the AOC might be like that, but year round and on steroids!

Being an AOC Founder has provided Garry and I with the opportunity to leave a lasting legacy in our home town after we’re long gone. And I would encourage other families and members of the community to think about this as a great way to commemorate your position and celebrate your connection to the community. We have many long-standing, multi-generational families in Lightning Ridge who I’m sure would love to be part of this amazing initiative, which will only do good things for the town and will help Lightning Ridge find a new identity as an exciting hub for opal and tourism.”

If you’d like to join Rhonda and Garry 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!