Grasshopper is a sub field on the extremities of Mintabie Opal Field. It produced vast quantities of opal in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. There are some incredible tales to be told about these finds and a couple of the best of these I will write about in the future. Grasshopper was a miner at Mintabie and he was the first person to find opal in this area and the field now bears his name.
This is the story of what I believe was the first pocket of opal dug out of Grasshopper and definitely the pocket that accelerated the major rush to peg claims there.
The area in the early days was reached by driving over a sand dune. The flats past the sand dune were being prospected by the occasional four wheel drive Investigator drilling rig. One of these rigs was operated by our friend Sarge and his partner Ken.
Robert and I were having a break from mining and I was in Canberra and Robert in Corowa. I received a phone call from Sarge that went like this. “Hey Pete, you and Robert better come back to Mintabie quick! Ken and I were drilling at the end of Mintabie and we have drilled up quite a few thousand dollars worth of vertical opal; you better get back and peg some claims!”
Mintabie is two days very long drive from Canberra and we were there as quick as we could. As soon as we arrived Sarge took Robert and I out to where they drilled the opal. Sarge had pegged his claim and a few of their other friends had pegged close by.
The question that had to be answered was where to peg. We were confronted with two Investigator drill holes about twenty feet apart that both had produced great opal. Sarge had pegged so these were right in the middle of his claim. There were another four or five claims pegged and that was it. Robert and I had three sets of available plates. We pegged as close as we could to Sarge but towards Mintabie. One claim was a little further over and two adjoining claims were towards the sand dune. In hind sight the whole area was on good ground with some claims better than others but at this stage it was purely pot luck.
We had been working a claim not far from the air strip. It had not produced any opal and we were at a point where we were both loosing interest in it. As it was getting close to Christmas, we decided to try the new area. We went and saw Lennie Butts (He owned a Caldwell Drill that drills the large holes for the shafts) to see if he could put down a couple of shafts. We told him where the claim was and that we had put a couple of stakes in the ground where we wanted the shafts drilled. It was a Friday and Lennie told us that he could do them on Monday after he finished servicing his rig.
Saturday afternoon we were sitting outside our camp talking when Lennie arrived. He says, “Hey boys, you better get out to your claim! I finished servicing the rig early and decided to start on your holes and I’ve dropped opal all over the place.” Well, for any opal miner that hears this, the hair stands on end and palpitations start, as it is such a rare thing to happen. We jumped into the Landover and raced out to the claim. Sure enough there was opal all over the top of the dirt he had removed whilst drilling the shaft. We immediately started noodling the heap, putting the opal into a bucket.
This was a slow process and took several hours. The opal was seam opal up to 2 cm thick, mostly potch and colour with a few better pieces but nothing of particularly good quality. Never the less it is an incredible feeling knowing that you have bottomed on opal. This was particularly exciting because it was a new field and the potential was totally unknown apart from Sarges drill holes and the little prospecting that Grasshopper and a few others had done. We were eager to go down the hole and see what was in the wall.
The image on the right is typical of the rough opal from the first pocket of opal we found at Grasshopper
About twenty minutes after we had started noodling ,the cars, trucks and motor bikes began to arrive and there was a constant stream of vehicles. Opal miners were everywhere with pegs over there shoulders. Many of them were running just to peg some ground. It was the case of a ‘fair dinkum opal fever rush”! By nightfall the whole valley had been totally pegged out.
Later on we heard what had started it all. Lennie Butts made most of his money by drilling shafts for the many Mintabie hand miners. After delivering us the news Lennie headed straight for the pub. He told everyone in the bar that he had just drilled up the thickest prettiest opal that Mintabie had seen in a long time. If anyone doubted this they could drive over the last sand dune and see us picking up the opal off the heap. Lennie’s drilling was secured for the foreseeable future and the rush was started.
We did get a large pocket of opal and Grasshopper became a major opal field.