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Opals Exhibition at South Australian Museum

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by Jo Harris (subscribe)
I love the things we have here in South Australia – the fabulous food, wine, people and places – beauty everywhere. And, for more beauty in my life, I own and operate a gorgeous little gallery called Mrs Harris’ Shop:
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Stunning display at SA Museum

A hundred years ago, a fourteen year-old boy named Willie Hutchinson was on a gold mining expedition with his father in outback South Australia.

The story goes that Willie disobeyed his father and set out in search of water, rather than staying at camp as he'd be instructed to do.

That historic act of disobedience was the beginning of Coober Pedy, its opal fields and other opal mining communities in places like Andamooka and Mintabie.

Willie not only came back to camp with water to last a fortnight, but with half a sugar bag of precious opals.


To celebrate the centenary of opal mining in Australia, a multi-million dollar exhibition has been specially created and is on show at the South Australian Museum.

Opals brings to life Australia's most precious gemstone.

It is a story millions of years in the making, from the heart of South Australia, where extraordinary circumstances transformed an ancient inland sea into a mysterious and desolate lunar landscape.

The harsh environment hides a multitude of beauty.

Opals is a story of discovery, human ingenuity and magnificent beauty, set against a backdrop of profoundly isolated geography.

It features exceptional opalised fossils of ancient marine reptiles, breathtaking opals collected from around Australia, an underground mine recreation, stories of life in the opal fields and an immersive display that explores the science of opals.

Under ground

The museum has gathered some unique and fascinating opals from around the world to complement its own significant collection and showcase the beauty and diversity of Australia's national gemstone.

Spectacular beauty . . .

On display for the first time is the finest opal ever unearthed. The exhibition's centerpiece, Virgin Rainbow, is itself worth in excess of a million dollars and its refracting colours defy description.

How to enjoy Opals . . .

Exhibition tours
Guided exhibition tours are available periodically during the exhibition. Please visit the Museum website for details.

Free lunchtime talks
Thursdays*, 12.45–1.30pm
Meet in the Museum foyer.
This is your weekly opportunity to hear more about the many facets of the Opals exhibition. Grab a bite to eat in the cafι then join a diverse program of informal talks, with speakers ranging from palaeontologists to exhibition designers. For the full program visit the Museum website at learn/bookings.
Please note: there will be no lunchtime talks during December.
For families

Coober Pedy's trademark skyline

Sat 7 Nov, 11am – 4pm
Museum lawns and foyer.
Opals were first discovered at Coober Pedy in 1915 and, since then, the town has become an icon of outback ingenuity. From the lunar landscape to the colourful characters, you're invited to find out more about the world centre of opal mining at this family-friendly fun day of talks, tours and hands-on activities for kids. For the full program, visit the SA Museum website.

This is a free event, but exhibition entry fees apply.

Essential equipment and a common sight on the opal fields

Makers at the Museum: the rainbow connection
Wed 11 Nov, 6–8.30pm
Meet in the Museum foyer.
Join contemporary jeweller Lauren Simeoni for a hands-on workshop drawing inspiration from the colour spectrum of Australian opals. After a guided tour of the exhibition with curator Ben McHenry, Lauren will lead participants through some simple conceptual making exercises, before giving everyone the opportunity make a piece of wearable art using an eclectic mix of recycled and salvaged materials and inspired by opals.

Tickets: $25, includes entry to the exhibition, materials and a glass of wine on arrival.


Night Lab
Fri 20 Nov, 6–10pm
Throughout the Museum.
Night Lab is your chance to venture to the Museum after dark for an evening of science, culture and curiosity. In November you'll be able to explore the Museum's minerals collection and get to know the outback communities where opals are mined, through hands-on activities, talks and tours. Don't miss this evening of exploration and entertainment, along with drinks, food and great music in one of Adelaide's most inspiring settings.

Tickets: $35, includes exhibition entry, a drink on the Museum at the Night Lab bar and nibbles.

Let's just go a bit further . . . there might be some opal around the corner.

Inside the exhibition: interactive performances
Weekdays during school holiday programs (11–15 Jan) and other surprise appearances throughout Opals.

Throughout the course of the exhibition, local performer Emma Beech will bring the exhibition to life with short, interactive performances inside the exhibition space. Visitors will have the unexpected opportunity to meet a host of different characters and hear tales inspired by the exhibition.

January school holiday program: under the Eromanga Sea
Monday 11 – Friday 15 Jan
Kids and their families are invited to dive into Australia's ancient inland sea and explore the technologies that help the Museum bring the prehistoric world to life! From 3D printing to fossil casting, come in for stories, hands-on activities and special displays. Full program details will be available in November. Visit the website to find out more.

Ali Clarke and her young friend meet an earlier visitor to the opal fields

Minecraft at the Museum
Mon 18 – Fri 22 Jan, 9.30am – 3.30pm
The Armoury (directly behind the Museum)
Over the course of an action-packed day, discover the story of opal mining in Coober Pedy, using Minecraft. Participants will have a chance to explore the exhibition and visit virtual opal mining fields in Minecraft. Experienced facilitators will guide participants through a variety of activities and introduce them to basic coding techniques . . . bringing the opal fields of the outback to life! Suited for ages 8–13.
Tickets: $60 per child, includes exhibition entry and lunch.

Jenny Kee: iconic opals
Tue 2 Feb, 6–7pm
Pacific Cultures Gallery
Pioneering Australian artist and designer Jenny Kee is renowned for her ability to showcase our cultural icons with humour, flair and a unique graphic style. In the 1980s, Jenny developed two textile designs based on the arresting colour-play in black and white opals. Join her at the museum for an insight into her love affair with our national gemstone, her design process and stories from a life lived in full, vivid colour!

Tickets: $25 per person, includes entry to the exhibition and a glass of wine on arrival.

All photographs were supplied by SA Museum - but don't be satisfied with this - the museum has had a long association with opals and the outback opal mining towns – take advantage of this special relationship and enjoy a fabulous display!

Images supplied by Supplied by SA Museum
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When: 10am-5pm daily until February 14 2016
Phone: (08) 8207 7500
Where: South Australian Museum
Cost: Adult $17 Concession $12 Child (<16) $5 Family $35 Members free
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