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Posted On: 24 May 2017 05:09 pm
Updated On: 12 November 2020 02:17 pm

All the way from ‘Down Under’: Rare Australian opals on display in Doha!

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Title image: The Virgin Rainbow, Richard Lyons courtesy South Australian Museum

All that glitters isn’t gold… sometimes they're opals! For the first time, The South Australian Museum has brought over their world-renowned Opals Exhibition to Qatar!

This unique exhibition will showcase beautiful, precious opals from the South Australian and will run till June 15, 2017. At the exhibition you’ll find the rare and beautiful ‘Virgin Rainbow’, the world’s finest opal valued at over AUD 1 million, as well as other rare and precious items from the Museum’s collection.

The exhibition is located at the Australian Embassy in Qatar, which is in the Tornado Tower in West Bay. Attending the exhibition was the the Australian Ambassador to Qatar, His Excellency Dr Axel Wabenhorst. He was excited about the new launch in Qatar and shared that it highlights a unique aspect of Australia.

DSCF4605.jpegPictured above: The Australian Embassy staff and representatives with the Ambassador Axel Wabenhorst (first from left) and Brian Oldman (third from left)

“The opals are an Australian precious stone, it’s our national gemstone and we have here some of the finest pieces in the world from the collection of the South Australian Museum,” Wabenhorst said. “It’s the task of our embassy of showing the people here in Qatar what Australia has to offer, and so even though people here may be aware of Australia as a tourism or education destination, or as a source of meat and vegetables this is just another aspect of Australia that people may not yet be aware of.

ILQ also spoke with Brian Oldman, the Director of the South Australian Museum in Adelaide, about the new Australian exhibit in Doha.

Oldman shared a few interesting facts about the very first Opals exhibit that opened at the South Australian Museum in Adelaide. The exhibition was launched in September 2015 and explored the 100 year history of opal formation in South Australia. It was also a celebration to honor the centenary of the gemstone’s discovery in Coober Pedy, which is the heart of opal mining in South Australia.

“The exhibition included a breathtaking opal display, revealing treasures from the South Australian Museum’s collection that demonstrate the beauty and variety of opals from South Australia as well as other parts of the country,” Oldman said. “The exhibition at the Australian Embassy in Doha features the best and most beautiful opals displayed in Adelaide.”

iStock-528906288.jpgPhoto for illustrative purposes only

According to Oldman, opals are valued by four Cs: color, cut, clarity, and carat. “These factors are used to assess an opal’s value, which can range from hundreds of dollars to over one million dollars for a stone like the Virgin Rainbow,” Oldman added.

All the opals were mined from ancient sandstone around the Australian outback. Some were mined by hand, others by machine. Back in the mid 1900s, miners would tunnel using their hands, and their go-to tool was a pick. The opal, the Fire of Australia was mined by hand and is one of the most valuable opals to exist, weighing nearly 5000 carats. 

“Modern methods include tunneling machines with revolving cutting heads, and small underground front-end loaders,” said Oldman. “Ultra violet light can help to pick out glimpses of the hidden opal among the dusty sandstone.”

The main attraction: The Virgin Rainbow

The Virgin Rainbow, valued at over AUD 1 million, was discovered by opal miners John Dunstan, Tania Burke, and Dale Price in Coober Pedy, outback South Australia in 2003. 

“This remarkable opal was dug out as a small clump of stone with only a glimpse of colour showing. Subsequent polishing revealed the spectacular beauty inside,” said Oldman. “The Virgin Rainbow is an opalised fossil, formed from the pocket left by the bone of a dead belemnite – a long extinct form of squid-like animal that possessed an internal skeleton.”

When looking at the Virgin Rainbow, it seems to breathe a multi-hued fire of reds, gold, greens and black, which dance as the eye moves over the stone, said Oldman.

The Qatar connection

The South Australian Museum and the Australian Embassy in Doha hope to introduce and delight visitors to these wonderful gems, even the ones who are familiar with the ever-changing beauty of Australia’s national gemstone, Oldman said. “Opals are best appreciated firsthand, so the viewer can see the dance of colour and light within each unique stone,” he added.

DSCF4547.jpegPictured above: Visitors at the opening of the Opals Exhibit at the Australian Embassy in Qatar

The South Australian Museum wanted to share and celebrate its collection with audiences outside of South Australia and acknowledge the recent opening of the Australian Embassy in Qatar.

“In working with the Embassy, the South Australian Museum has also forged new connections with Qatar Museums through the Museum of Islamic Art,” said Oldman. “This is my first visit to Qatar so I am excited to learn more about the museums while I’m here. I understand them to boast a wealth of cultural treasures and I’m excited about the future of the museum scene here with the coming National Museum of Qatar which looks incredible.”

Oldman plans to meet representatives from Qatar Museums in the hopes of future collaborations. “We’re so pleased to share these spectacular opals with the people of Qatar and hope that people have an opportunity to visit the display and experience the unique beauty of these colourful gemstones.”

What are your thoughts on opals? Comment below! Check out the exhibition at the Australian Embassy in Tornado Tower, Doha, Qatar! Don't forget to like and share!