Read about the amazing story of Mark from Opal Quest, who has turned a hobby of cutting gems into an opal mining and jewellery business. Within the last 4 years he has learned a lot about the industry and is making sure to put his Kanga to good use – after all it comes down to finding that beautiful Opal.
How it all started
“Basically, Opal Mining is a hobby of mine that got out of control. I’m an electronic technician by trade and I’ve done a lot of building jobs, gardening and landscaping.
Some time ago, I broke my leg operating my bobcat so I couldn’t do much for a long period of time. One day I was walking past a garage sale, where I discovered a box under a table with rough pieces of opal. They were auctioning it off at the end of the day. So, I went for it and loaded it up in my car. I was intrigued to cut into it and find out what it was. I designed and built my own cabbing machine to cut and shape the opals. Once I started cutting the opals, I realised how beautiful the colours were inside and the quality was awesome.
In the following months, I bought some jewellery making tools. A microscopic welder and made more opal cutting equipment as well as purchasing rough opal here and there. We did a lot of trips to Coober Pedy, where I caught up with some miners, who introduced me to the old-time mines in Brown Folly area. Ever since I have been doing 4-6 trips of mining a year during wintertime.”
Mine smarter not harder
“I used to do hand mining with a shovel, which is a lot of hard work! I dig through old-time mines that were operated back in the 70s, so there is a lot of old dirt that needs to be removed.
During my short stays from 1-9 days at a time, I wasn’t moving enough dirt by hand, so I needed a machine to run underground. One which was also easy to transport and store. I’ve had bobcats and a tip-truck before, but with a 15-hour drive it is better to have a smaller machine. That way I can easily move around on a trailer and also use it at home and around our farm. So, I decided to go look for a mini loader.
I found a second hand 8 Series Kanga Loader in Adelaide around February this year. The bucket was creeping a bit but with some replacement parts, a brand-new Kubota engine and one of the Kanga Service Kits it was running like brand new.”
Going on a mining trip
“So with my – almost – brand new Kanga, I decided to do my first trip in June. The first thing I did was cleaning out the drive – it took 2 full days to dig into the ground with my 4in1 bucket. Once everything was dug out, I was able to rip into the walls with a ripper attachment. It was great to see how efficient I could be with a mini loader as compared to shovelling dirt with a shovel & all by hand.
Generally, I just go straight into the wall and use an auger attachment for prospecting and moving out material in big chunks. I’ll then have a good look with a blacklight and rip around it, and finally hand pick out the good bits carefully. The rough opals are naturally the size of a 50 or 20 cent coin. The rest of the dirt is removed with a standard bucket.
What I like about the Kanga, is that it is an Australian-made product and I just like the design and build of it as well as its smooth ride with the tracks and solid steel frame. And of course, that it is making me a work a lot faster and smarter!”
Check out this video to see how Mark uses his Kanga underground:
Keeping the Air Kanga Klean
“Since I am digging underground, I needed a solution for air pollution. Initially I was using a large fan, which helped in addition to the natural ventilation shafts, but with the fumes of a mini loader it just wasn’t enough. So, I bought myself a Kanga Klean catalyst converter to avoid carbon monoxide. Ever since its installation, there is a massive difference! I use a gas detector to keep an eye on the fumes and the petrol generator running on the trailer outside would always register the detector with high level alarms.
So, I clipped the detector to my jumper when I hopped onto my Kanga and was wondering if it was even working, but it absolutely was. I could feel the heat coming from the wall; however, I couldn’t smell anything, carbon monoxide is odourless but usually you can still smell the diesel exhaust. My gas meter was detecting only 7 parts per million – 35 parts are the Australian standard for a working day. I would recommend it to anyone working in confined spaces.”
Read more about Kanga Klean here and check out this video review by Mark:
From Mining to Opal Jewellery
“Once done mining, I bring them home and shape the rough opal with diamond grinding wheel into gems and then set them in jewellery. My wife helps out with the computer side of things and the online shop. Currently, we sell our jewellery through our online shop, Etsy, Instagram and Facebook. Sometimes it’s hard to see what’s hiding inside the rough opal until we cut them into precious gems. Once cut, the colours and unique patterns really jump out at you.
We have lots of different types of Australian opal to choose from. We also design and create custom pieces of opal jewellery as per our customers’ requests, with around 90% of our jewellery going overseas.”
Would you like to find out more? Then check out their products at www.opalquest.com