A $34 million opal museum and cultural tourism facility will be built at Lighting Ridge in outback New South Wales after securing government funding.
The Australian Opal Centre has been designed by Pritzker Prize laureate Glenn Murcutt and Wendy Lewin and will house the world’s most comprehensive collection of Australian opals.
The community and industry have contributed $1.08 million to the initial construction costs, which will be topped up by $9.5 million from the federal government, $7.5 million from the NSW government, and $2 million from the Walgett Shire Council. Fundraising for the final stage will take place while the first stage is constructed and opened to the public.
To be located on a 3.1-hectare site adjacent to the disused Three Mile open cut opal mine, the museum will include subterranean spaces that will take visitors deep into the opal field. A gently sloping ramp will lead towards a space suspended inside of an open-cut mine, with its geological strata exposed for visitors to see.
A two-storey, 100-metre-long, 30-metre-wide building at ground level will provide spaces for permanent and temporary exhibitions; curatorial facilities; education and learning facilities; a library; workshops for opal cutting, carving and jewellery making; research laboratories and theatre spaces for events and conferences.
“This is a bold and exciting project for all of us,” said Glenn Murcutt when the design was unveiled. “We have worked with the remarkable community in Lightning Ridge for over 13 years, and now to be able to realise the new Australian Opal Centre in this iconic Australian landscape is just wonderful.”
Australian Opal Centre President David Lane said the project was a result of more than 15 years of community investment and lobbying.
“This funding will enable us to position Western NSW and Australia as the world’s leading destination for opal- and fossil-related tourism, education, training, certification, arts and culture,” he said.
Federal member for Parkes Mark Coulton said the opal centre would “revolutionize the tourism offering in Lightning Ridge as a world hub for opal-related knowledge, training and certification.
“This will be an iconic centre that we can all be extremely proud of.”