Chambers of the Black Hand opal mine, Lightning Ridge | video, photos, pictures

WHAT does a Pom, an opal mine and more than 800 carvings and paintings have in common? The answer – one of the most popular tourist sites in Lightning Ridge.

Darth Vader, the Pied Piper, an Egyptian mummy, Buddha, angels, demons and politicians – they all feature in the Chambers of the Black Hand opal mine.

Located in outback NSW, this site has been the must-do list for tourists for the past 20 years, but now its creator has decided to semi-retire.

English born Ron Canlin, 77, first purchased the 50 metre by 50 metre mining claim in 1982 hoping to find his fortune in opals underground.

Originally from Derby in the English Midlands, he moved from the UK to the Gold Coast, but it was during a visit to Lightning Ridge that his life direction changed.

“We came to The Ridge for a look and decided to move,” he said of the visit with his late wife Glennis.

“It was for retirement and a different life I suppose.”

But, like many mining sites around The Ridge, not all hold an undiscovered fortune in opals.

“I never used to find much so I decided to change it into a tourism mine,” Mr Canlin said.

His first mission – build stairs so people could access the underground mine.

“I built a one-man hoist and it took six months to dig 112 stairs to the bottom,” Mr Canlin said.

“I know every square inch of those stairs.”

Next, he created a cutting room so he could show tourists how opals were mined.

“I decided to carve a little welcome into the wall and that started it,” Mr Canlin said.

“Once I filled a room [with carvings] I thought ‘this could be a good idea for tourists’.”

And, he was right. His first carving was in 1997, and these days around 20,000 people visit the site every year to see his artworks that adorn every nook and cranny of the sandstone mine.

“I’ve got 20 different galleries – there’s an animal room, a Michelangelo room, an angel room, a David [a Renaissance sculpture created between 1501 and 1504 by Michelangelo] room, a Star Wars room and super heroes,” Mr Canlin said.

When asked how he decides what to carve next, he said ideas will often flow into multiple carvings and often a whole room.

“From an elephant comes an animal room. I thought I’d carve Bob Hawke so I thought I’d do more politicians,” Mr Canlin said.

“There’s not much in my head by I’m a good copier.”

As he finalises life in The Ridge, Mr Canlin said he will be in his new home in Batlow in the Snowy Mountains before Christmas with his partner Isabelle.

When asked if he will miss the depths of the mine and the creativity it has allowed him for the past two decades, the answer was easy.

I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. I won’t miss it, but it’s been a lovely journey. It’ll be nice to get away and do some fishing.

“I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. I won’t miss it, but it’s been a lovely journey. It’ll be nice to get away and do some fishing,” he said.

And rather than the stinking hot temperatures of The Ridge, Mr Canlin is looking forward to the cold.

“I’m really looking forward to making a snowman,” he said.

The Chambers of the Black Hand opal mine will continue to operate with Mr Canlin returning every six weeks to maintain the carvings.