How to MINE OPAL gems in the OUTBACK – Smarter Every Day 164

Hey, it’s me Destin. Welcome back to Smarter Every Day. When you think about gemstones, people typically have their favorites. I happen to think that opal is one of the most fascinating stones there is. Think about it. If you think about a diamond or a sapphire, or even a ruby, it’s just a colored rock. Opals are different. Opals are created by specifically stacked hydrated silica spheres that will diffract light as it enters the rock and it’ll exit as blue green or even red. This is fascinating! In order to create something so specific it requires a very precise geologic condition in order for that to form. So today on Smarter Every Day, the question is simple: How do we find an opal, if it has to be created under very specific conditions? The answer, quite literally, is we’re gonna have to travel to the other side of the world to one of these specific places that opals are created, and find an opal prospecting expert. To find the guy, I flew to Coober Pedy, Australia which is the opal capital of the world. It looks like Mars, like straight out of Mad Max. In fact, it’s where they filmed Mad Max. It’s such a harsh environment that people live underground, and this sounds like a joke, but you’re not supposed to walk backwards at all in the town. Seriously, someone died by falling in a mineshaft the week before I got there. I had no plan when I arrived, so I walked straight into the visitor center, and asked for an opal mining expert. I am with George. George–
“Gardashi, Gardashi.” Gardashi?
“Gardashi, brother.” Gardashi, I’m sorry. So–so he came to Coober Pedy in 1969– “Yes.” and he’s been mining his entire life. So today, he has agreed to take us out. We’re gonna go to a working mine? “Eh, we’ll go to the–to a drill for opal. With a drill.” “A coal oil drill, the America drill.” Okay, we’re gonna go use an American drill to drill a hole– “That’s a boy.” A shaft down into an opal mine. *George says something* *laughing* Right. This should be awesome, let’s go give it a shot. What does that sign say? Hold on–back up, let me look at that sign. “That sign says shaft, it’s danger.” Danger…
“Don’t walk backwards.” Don’t walk backwards? So everywhere there is a– Everywhere there’s a pile of dirt there’s a shaft into the ground. How deep will the shaft be? “Uh. This–this area will be 20 meters”. So everywhere I see a pile of dirt, there’s a 20 meter shaft? “Yes, definitely.”
Oh my goodness. But there’s also horizontal shafts at the bottom of the vertical shafts, right? “Sorry?”
Aren’t there also shafts that go side to side– “No, that’s tunnels, not shafts.” Ok. Tunnels? “Yes, of course.” “Where do you live? Alabama?” Alabama. “Ah, that’s why you don’t know.” *Destin laughs* So, if somebody hears that you’ve struck opal, they will come at midnight and try to steal your opal. “No, no, no, no that’s a another thing.” “But they try to peg the claim, see, the night time they–” Wait, what’s that word you’re using? Peck? “To peg, to peg, to peg.” “To put the peg–put the pegs down.” *Destin realising* Peg. “Peg.” So they’re pegging the claims. “I am from Greece, my accent’s a bit funny”. *Destin laughs* I’m from Alabama, my accent’s a bit funny too, I get it.
“Yeah that makes two of us.” *Excitedly* Yes. *Destin laughs*
“Tough guy.” Two tough guys in Coober Pedy.
“There’s the drill.” “We’re approaching the drill now”. Oh, this is the drill. “Uh-huh” Oh wow.
“It’s an old one, American.” “It’s a bit old, but nice. Does the job”. Georgie is 77 years old and he’s nimble as a cat. This is crazy. “Ok!” “Good luck.”
Good luck! “Maybe you’ll like it.” “Look.”
Oh. Wow. I think I get it! So, he only– The butterfly only moves down the length of one bucket every time?
“Yes.” Oh! It’s hydraulically driven! I get it! So, this wheel is called the what? This drive wheel. “This one is the ring gear.” So the ring gear drives the butterfly, and these pistons on the side support the weight of the butterfly which holds the bucket.
“Yeah. And it goes lifts up the mound,” “That gives you the length.” That’s genius! “American.” Americans came up with that? That’s awesome! *voice over* The neat thing about how this drill works is that it’s very hands-on. As the bucket comes up to the top, George taught me how to connect one cable so a winch pull the shaft to the side, and a second rope so you can release a trip mechanism at the bottom of the bucket to dump the material out. You’ve gotta love people like George, he’s mastered this art for himself and even though there’s money in it, he still not stingy with the knowledge that he’s gained. For example. In this field, he said that there’s two known depths that contain opal and the locals know exactly how far down it can be found. They remove the material one bucket at a time and constantly measure the hole to see how far from the opal they are. Once the dirt pile changes from brown to white, the depth is confirmed and then they swarm the pile looking for evidence of opal. Then, you actually go down in the hole and you start looking for opal. That’s the interesting part. Let’s go do that. We’re in the middle of nowhere. Must admit I’m a little bit scared that we’ll fall in a hole. “Nah, nah, nah.” “If you talk too much, I’ll get upset.” *Destin laughs* You’ll get upset? *George laughs* I don’t believe that.
“Not you, my friend.” *Destin laughs again* “I don’t get upset with my friends.” No way. “Opa!” (Greek exclamation) “Alright.” “That’ll do. Alright!” *Destin in the background* That good?
“Yeah, very good.” Okay, I understand the purpose of the safety rope. It’s if your uh– if your winch doesn’t work. “I’ll grab it and then I’ll come up.” Yeah, you climb up. Wow. Have you ever had to do that? “Oh, many times man.” You can still do it? “Yeah. Why I put the rope for?” *Destin laughs* “You’re joking.” *Destin laughs harder* Oh man. “I mean, if you’re not here I’ll be by myself.” No, no, no! Let’s go, let’s go. “If I don’t come up, that means I stay here all night!” I get it buddy, let’s roll. Let’s roll man, I get this. “Pull it with you, please.” “That’s a boy.” “Thank you.” “Fold your body.” “Control your body with your toes.” Okay. Got it. *Destin giggles* Wow. Holy cow. *voice over* Okay, to review. I met a guy yesterday, who took me to a secret hole in the middle of the desert and now he’s lowering me into it, on the premise of finding buried treasure. This was approximately the time I realized I should have told any one of these details to my wife. Holy cow, look at this. It’s opening up. Oh my gosh. And of course, there’s a beer bottle down here. Ok, so he said unhook this, and wave the light. That’s what he said. So I’m gonna wave the light. “You out?” I’m out! “Ok, I go!” Okay! *voice over* Once George got to the bottom of the shaft with me, he explained that the drillers ream out the bottom to increase the surface area of the shaft. He then started to, legit, pick his way through material in different spots based on the color of the dirt. After about 20 minutes of me being really eager to help but very confused, this happened: Do you want me to uh– Do you want me to pick for awhile? “Yes, you want to?’ I don’t know what i’m doing, but–
“Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, HA, HA!” “HA!”
What? “HA!” “Come have a look. If you see the color there.” Where?
“Tell me.” “If you see some color.” Right here? No, I don’t see what you’re talking about. “Ok. Alright.”
Right here? “Yes! Spot on!” Are you serious? Right there?
“Yes.” So that’s green? “Yes.” I– I’m just gonna be straight up with you right now, this is pretty dang crazy. We are– We are in the middle of Australia, How far underground are we? “Uh, not much.”
50 feet underground? “Yes.”
We went down this hole, and we’re excited about this little bitty trace in the ground. Man, people are weird! People are weird! We do this, so that– I see green right there by the way. “Where?”
Right here. There’s green right there. You see it? “Yep!” People are so weird! We’re doing this because women like pretty things on their ears. What do you think? “Yeah, they’re pretty.” This–this doesn’t make any sense at all. “Looks a bit of color there. Can you see color or not?” Ohhh, my gosh!
“Yeah?” I do see it! “You know what I’m gonna do?” What? “I’m gonna get a jack pick. You busy?” You’re gonna go get a jack pick?
“Yeah.” Lets do it! Bring it! Okay, don’t leave me here! *Destin chuckles nervously* “You’re digging, you’re digging.” I’m digging. Ok, I will dig. And… Yeah… There are moments in your life where you stop and think about how you got to got to this point that you are, at that moment. This is one of those moments. There’s 700 holes that I’ve passed on way in here. I’m in one of those. The only person that knows which hole I’m in is George, and he just went up that shaft, on a rope. This is not– This is dumb! *Destin laughs* There’s a big one right here. “Mhm. Color.”
Color. “Another one. Color.”
Color. “The other one. Color.”
Color. “You see the color there?”
Yeah. “There’s that one.” Oh my goodness! “And this one, look!” “Look!” Man… Look at that! It’s an actual– It’s an opal. We found an opal. George, you’re crazy man. There are some things in life you can only do if a master in the topic shows you how to do it. Finding a little bitty opal underground is one of those things. That leads us to this week’s sponsor. You’re smart. You know how advertisements work on the internet. Let me just give you the run down, and let’s decide if this is something you want to do or not. This week’s sponsor is The Great Courses Plus. On Smarter Every Day, I like to partner with sponsors long-term, and so I’m trying out this sponsor, and I would like your help to check them out. The Great Courses Plus lets you take complete courses on awesome topics. So before I show you more opal that George found, it be awesome if you’d do me a solid and check out the topics they have to offer. Many of my friends have recommended that I try it because they say its top notch. So I got them to agree to sponsor Smarter Every Day based on how many people sign up for a one month free trial. It’s pretty simple. The more people that try it with me, the more support Smarter Every Day gets. You can do as many courses as you want for free, for an entire month. The thing I’m really excited about is you can link it up to your Apple TV and watch it on the big screen. There’s an app, and you can check out all these courses. You’ll wanna learn about paleontology, you can do that. I’m excited about Greek and Roman technology. My wife saw this. Pediatric medicine. This is not like a surface-level youtube knowledge. These are in-depth courses, with each one of these lectures being taught by an expert in the field. Go to if you’re interested in supporting Smarter Every Day. If not, no big deal. But I think this is going to be really cool and I’d appreciate you trying it. Give me some feedback. Let me know if you think this is a really good match for Smarter Every Day or not with a free trial. I’d appreciate that. Link below, thank you very much. Let’s go get out of the hole and go say goodbye to Georgie. “Hold this rope here.” “Alright, don’t worry. I’m here.” That was awesome! Alright, so that is it today here on Smarter Every Day. That is how you go find opals in the middle of this. When you see a woman that has opal earrings, or an opal pendant, or anything, just think of Georgie. Right Georgie?
“Thank you!” “‘Especially when the woman is good looking.” If it’s a good looking woman, especially think of Georgie. *Destin laughs* Okay, this is what raw opal looks like so, George has brought us here to Yanni, who is showing us this stuff. “A stone that was next to that, here, I cut it and this came out.” Wow.
“Expensive one, by the way.” This is very expensive? “This is– What I can say, for example. Okay, correct me Yanni.” “For this one here maybe, $10,000?” 50 years, mining opal.
“40.” 40 years?
“Uh, 60, uh 40…” ‘Lotta years. Georgie!
“Yes?” Thank you so much! “Thank you my boy!” I appreciate it, I feel like you’re my friend now. “Yeah. I am your friend, man!”
Very good. “I am your friend!”
Very good. “I could be your grandpa, but doesn’t matter. I’m your friend.” *Destin laughs* Anyway, I’m Destin. You’re getting smarter everyday. Have a good one. Have you ever had your generator die when you’re down there? “Many times!” You just climb up the rope?

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