White Cliffs is Australia's oldest commercial opal field. It is located 295 kilometres northeast of Broken Hill. Opal was first mined at White Cliffs about 1889, and the population peaked at 5,000 in its heyday despite the water shortages. Digging was very easy, and the light opal was very clean and found a ready market in Europe. The light crystal opal found at White Cliffs quickly became famous on the world markets.
For 30 years the White Cliff opal fields produced the first commercially accepted opal on the world markets, far surpassing the quality of the Hungarian opal. Opal displaying such vivid colours had never been seen before. The colourful seam opal was very easy to value and it did not shatter like other opal when cut and polished.
From 1903 to 1914, the richer areas of the opal field became exhausted thus resulting in a decline in production. White Cliffs suffered and never recovered from the effects of World War I and the loss of the European markets. Today, White Cliffs is a unique town and very popular with the tourists, fossickers and miners. The modern age has brought electricity to the town and water is readily available. Some of the townspeople still prefer to live underground where it is cool in summer and warm in winter.
Although there is not much new ground left on the old opal field to sink a shaft, one can fossick among the old diggings. There are those who say that more opal than the amount mined remains in the ground ready for discovery: a new lucky strike will one day turn White Cliffs into a boom town again!