A pub on the Grawin opal fields is the hub of the local mining community.

Story + Photos Mandy McKeesick

For a licensed premises, the Grawin Opal Miners Sports and Recreation Club – or as it is more affectionately known, The Club in the Scrub – has a homely feel. Located 50 kilometres west of Lightning Ridge, in northern New South Wales, this modest, cypress-pine construction is the heartbeat of the Grawin opal field, with all members of the community – young or old, full-timers or six-monthers – welcome through its doors.

In opal lingo, a full-timer is someone who resides permanently on the fields. A six-monther, on the other hand, is one who lives here during the cooler months and then escapes to kinder climes in the summer. Ninety-year-old Jim ‘Figgy’ Punton considers himself the latter, although he has been coming here for more than 40 years and is a regular attraction. He is widely known for his teeth. “These are my Chad Morgan teeth,” he says of a rugged set of dentures, which draw furtive glances from tourists. “And these ones I keep for the kids,” he says of a grubby brown set. “I tell them this is what happens when they don’t brush their teeth.” To see or photograph his opal dentures requires a donation to the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS).

Figgy was one of the founders of The Club in the Scrub. Back in 1974 a flood cut the Grawin off from civilisation and supplies had to be flown in. Beer prices at the pub rose from 20 to 50 cents. The waters eventually receded, but the beer prices did not, and the opal miners thought, “Bugger this, we are going to build our own club.” Figgy, John Hay and Stan Roberts, who can all still be found at the bar, were three of the original members. “Every Saturday we would cut a load of cypress logs, then have a dinner and a dance, and on the Sunday put all the logs together,” 85-year-old John says. Forty years later, the Club remains. The pub does not.

This story excerpt is from Issue #117

Outback Magazine: February/March 2018