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The 352,000-ha Vergemont property has been for sale since 2016. Two neighbouring stations - Tonkoro (138,200ha) and Melrose (73,048ha) - were recently purchased by the state government and added to existing national parks. | Source: Ian Wilkinson/Queensland government
The 352,000-ha Vergemont property has been for sale since 2016. Two neighbouring stations - Tonkoro (138,200ha) and Melrose (73,048ha) - were recently purchased by the state government and added to existing national parks. | Source: Ian Wilkinson/Queensland government

Bombshell: Fear spreads about the future of Queensland’s opal industry

Australia’s opal industry is up in arms after the sale of an outback Queensland cattle station, a vital source of the country’s national gemstone.

Vergemont Station, located 140 kilometres west of Longreach, has been acquired in a joint purchase by the Queensland government and the Nature Conservancy. The purchase was reportedly finalised after an anonymous donation of $21 million.

The 352,000-ha property has been for sale since 2016. Two neighbouring stations - Tonkoro (138,200ha) and Melrose (73,048ha) - were recently purchased by the state government and added to existing national parks. 

These purchases led to speculation within the opal industry that Vergemont would soon be converted into a national park — speculation that has now been proven accurate.

Queensland’s environment minister, Leanne Linard, said the government would work with the industry to ensure the future of opal mining.

“We will allow small-scale opal mining interests to continue their operations on suitable areas,” she told The Guardian.

“We will work to ensure an ecologically sustainable coexistence between the existing opal mining operations and conservation of the important natural and cultural values on the property.”

Erik Madsen, Founder of Australian Opal Centre
Erik Madsen, Founder of Australian Opal Centre
"This is our national gemstone, and that makes this a national issue."
Erik Madsen, Australian Opal Centre

Queensland’s opal mining industry finds little solace in these promises. Key industry stakeholders plan to travel to Canberra to raise this issue at a federal level.

Among them is Erik Madsen, a founder of the Australian Opal Centre, who said that this issue affects every Australian.

“This is about more than just Queensland’s opal miners. This is our national gemstone, and that makes this a national issue,” he told Jeweller.

“We’ve got to fight for what we’ve got. Vergemont Station is a major source of boulder opal, and if it becomes a national park, we can’t possibly see how mining will be permitted.”

The million-acre cattle property has around 60 operational claims and leases. More than 100 people — seven per cent of Winton's population — are believed to use the property to mine opals.

The Queensland Boulder Opal Association has previously written to the Department of Environment and Science requesting information on the outcome of opal mining activity in the region if Vergemont Station was purchased for national park purposes.

President Alison Summerville described the purchase as a ‘nuclear bomb’ hitting the mining industry.

“You can’t imagine the distress this has caused the opal mining community,” she said.

“Some families in Australia have been mining opal for more than 100 years. They’ve set everything aside for the next generation, making significant plans and investing huge amounts of money into machinery and camps.
“Now they’ve learned that with a stroke of a government pen, it can all become a national park, and the story is over.”

Summerville said that Winton recently hosted a delegation of Queensland government representatives to explain the impact of this purchase on the region and that negotiations to secure the future of mining in the area were ongoing.

More reading
Trip of a lifetime: Unique opportunity to explore Australia’s opal fields
The Opal Sensation: Examining the rising love for opal jewellery abroad
Opal miners demand answers
Opal mining industry rocked by government error
Excitement building ahead of Australian Opal Exhibition
Dealing with the intricacies of opal dealing

 











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