Opal & Gem Festival became a hallmark event with locals
In 1971, local miner Derek Foster dreamt up the idea to celebrate the culture and character of opal mining and Lightning Ridge by means of a Festival. Derek’s wife Hazel put together a program of activities and the Lightning Ridge Opal & Gem Festival was born. In its hey-day, the Festival included a Float Parade down Opal Street, Wheel Barrow Races and Shovelling Competition, novelty events and plenty of entertainment. 1972 saw the first Opal Queen Ball and the Festival donated $2000 to the Bush Nurse Association.
In the eighties the Opal Festival became a hallmark event with locals, attracting hundreds of people to the social activities. The Opal Queen was predominately themed with aspiring locals stepping up to provide ‘celebrity’ entertainment such as Michael Jackson, Cindy Lauper and Dr Who.
In 1985, the Committee decided to launch the Opal & Gem Expo to promote opal and attract tourists to the town, on what was the slowest weekend for tourism for the year. The opal and gem trade show was set up in the car park of the Lightning Ridge Bowling Club and the event attracted hundreds of miners, jewellers, wholesalers and opal trade from all over Australia.
In 2000, the International Opal Jewellery Design Awards Association (IOJDAA) was formed to showcase the stunning and innovative use of opal by jewellery designers around the world. In 2001, they launched the International Opal Jewellery Design Awards which is now a biannual event.
Today the Lightning Ridge Opal & Gem Festival is a 4 day event held at the end of July each year. The Opal Festival includes the Opal Queen Ball, Opal & Gem Expo, Australian Opal Awards Trade Show, and the Australian Opal Awards Jewellery Competition is held biannually. The event attracts approximately 4000 people over the four days, and the event is the largest on the Australian opal events circuit.
The Opal Festival is run by the Lightning Ridge Opal & Gem Festival Committee and is a not for profit event with approximately 15% of takings donated back into the local community. The balance is held to fund the cost of the following years festival.