The finest uncut opal in existence, the Fire of Australia, has joined the South Australian Museum’s collection through the vision of a private donor and funding from the Federal Government’s National Cultural Heritage Account.
Valued at nearly $900,000 Australian dollars and weighing at 998 grams, the Fire of Australia is the world’s finest piece of opal of its kind on public display.
The Director of the South Australian Museum, Brian Oldman said the rarity of this piece of opal cannot be underestimated.
“Opal of this quality can only be created under certain climate conditions,” Mr Oldman said.
“90% of the world’s most precious opals are found in South Australia.
“When our state’s inland sea evaporated millions of years ago it provided a unique silica-rich environment for the creation of precious opal. It is these exceptional conditions that created the Fire of Australia.”
Still in the rough condition in which it was found, two faces of the Fire of Australia have been polished to reveal the gem’s exceptional quality, with its transitioning colour from green to yellow to red depending on the angle from which it is viewed.
Minister for the Arts the Hon Senator Mitch Fifield today announced $455,000 in federal funding for the Museum to secure the significant piece.
The Turnbull Government understands the importance of preserving and displaying Australia’s unique artefacts locally for current and future generations.
This funding helps Australia’s cultural institutions, such as the South Australian Museum, acquire significant objects for public display.
Walter Bartram’s son Alan said that the Fire of Australia was mined in 1946 by Walter Bartram at the Eight Mile field in Coober Pedy, South Australia and has been in his family for over 60 years.
“After loaning the Fire of Australia to the South Australian Museum for its Opals exhibition, we made the decision to place this family heirloom in safe hands.
“We’ve been long term supporters of the South Australian Museum and it seems fitting that it should be passed onto the people of South Australia to enjoy,” Mr. Bartram said.
Opals was the most visited paid for exhibition in the Museum’s history, resulting in donations of precious opals of more than $3 million, which includes the Fire of Australia.
The Fire of Australia opal will be on display in the South Australian Museum’s front foyer until February 28 2017.
The gem was first discovered in 1946 by miner Walter Bartram at the Eight Mile opal field in Coober Pedy — a small desert town in South Australia famous for its opals.
(South Australia, which encompasses a vast arid area in the south and middle of Australia, produces more than 90% of the world’s precious opal, according to Oldman.)
Oldman said it would have been part of a larger seam of opal that ran underground, and would have been extracted in pieces.