One of the most amazing sites in Lightning Ridge is the Chambers of the Black Hand. When opal miner Ron Canlin bought an unwanted mine in Lightning Ridge in 1982, he dreamt of making a fortune by uncovering rich seams of precious stone. These days the 66-year-old miner’s imagination is filled, not with glittering opal but with the angels, goblins and religious figures he carves into its sandstone walls. As a source of opal the mine was a flop – yielding just $27,000 in 25 years of toil. But the endless supply of bare sandstone has proved to be the perfect canvas for a form of sculpture that is attracting tourists from across the country.
Using the tools of his trade – a jackhammer and pickaxe – and a few kitchen utensils, Canlin turned his seemingly worthless mine into an eclectic underground sculpture gallery. The result is The Chambers of the Black Hand, a set of catacomb-like rooms where dinosaurs, goblins and wizards and figures such as Nostradamus and the Archangel Gabrielle emerge eerily from the walls. The sandstone is perfect for this kind of work – it’s stable, but very malleable.