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Central West Queensland since 1923
Central West Queensland

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15 October, 2020

Rock solid success for Opal Festival

IF YOU WENT for a walk down Winton’s Elderslie Street recently, chances are you would have discovered rock-solid miners and history during the town’s annual Opal Festival and Trade Show.

By Hamish Hart

Established by the Queensland Boulder Opal Association (QBOA), the two-day event allows traders to sell their rough and cut stones in the Outback town, as well as jewellery and souvenir items, bringing locals and travellers together for a weekend of family fun.

The festival was originally scheduled from July 10 to 11. However, due to Covid-19 restrictions, it was pushed back until September 26 and ran for a single day for the first time in the event’s history.

Former QBOA president, Len Coytes, who stepped down from his role following the festival, said this year’s event had proven a success despite Covid-19 restrictions affecting its typical two-day duration.

“The festival went very well. Our sub-committee organised the management of Covid-19 distancing well,” Mr Coytes said. “We had more than 30 stalls, many tourists spent thousands of dollars and buyers bought plenty of rough-cut opals.

“We only ran one day because we believed it would be easier to control, and visitors embraced the new structure.

“It was also held on the last day of the Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival, so a lot of people were in town for that, and because we didn’t have food stalls, local traders were inundated with people wanting food. This boosted the trade of other businesses in town.

“I haven’t met one opal trader who wasn’t happy with the day. The general impression was that it was one of the best festivals we have had to date which, given the restrictions, is somewhat surprising.

“One family said it was the best bush experience they’ve ever had and asked ‘what time is it on next year’’?

Following the cancellation of opal festivals in locations such as Lightning Ridge, Gold Coast and Yowah, Mr Coytes said the continuation of Winton’s annual trade show had been testamony to the resiliency of outback Queensland.

“Miners rely on selling wares to pay their bills,” he said. “You can buy polished opals online, but they’re one of those stones you have to inspect in person.

“The Queensland boulder opal industry is a very strong pillar supporting the Longreach and Winton economies, as well as the tourism associated with them, and the fact we persisted with the festival during Covid-19 augers well for events like Way Out West and our Opal Festival next July.

“We’ve proven Winton can put on a festival and still sensibly control numbers and lighten the risks of infection.”

Mr Coytes said QBOA’s newly-instated president, James Evert, would thrive in his new position due to his “decades of mining experience” and “commitment to the industry”.

Winton Shire Council mayor, Gavin Baskett, congratulated the QBOA on another successful festival and believed next year’s edition would be an even greater success.

“It was one of the best ones yet due to the amount of people who attended. The amount of international buyers was down, but this was countered by the numbers attending from Queensland and other States,” Cr Baskett said.

“With people feeding off the back of the Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival, it helped the Opal Festival a great deal and all stallholders said they were happy with the numbers throughout the day.

“The QBOA always does a fantastic job and with new blood in the association with their new president, hopefully they will continue to grow the industry for many years to come.

“The opal industry is crucial to Winton and it’s great to see the festival, which has run for many years, continuing to grow. It will be back bigger and better next year.”

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