Underground Art

Beez Neez now Chy Whella
Big Bear and Pepe Millard
Sat 8 Nov 2014 23:17
Chambers of the Black Hand Mine, Lightning Ridge
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After breakfast we headed out along the 3-Mile Road for three miles, following the Yellow Door Tour route. The mine – Chamber of the Black Hand has been worked for some hundred years and produced a fair bit of opal, today the attraction is to see the underground art. Australian Traveller Magazine has just awarded the Chambers a number two in ‘The Twenty Most Unmissable Attractions in the Outback of Australia’. We sat waiting outside the mine entrance and a while later our guide arrived.
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We loved the warning sign at the door. Loved the new way to spell ‘bottem’ on the list of rules. Hard hats on down the stairs we went.
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The plans of the mine were extraordinary, we would be two storeys below ground. 
So we are now forty feet below the surface down a staircase to the first level or carving level, oh and there is a lift for those who cannot manage the steps. We didn’t get up this morning and expect to be looking at the only underground jewellery shop, complete with tea and coffee facilities and a credit card machine....... We can quite see why this incredible collection was awarded the Hidden Jewel Award, New South Wales. No sooner were we at the bottom than we saw a picture of the artist. Ron Canlin. Ron served eleven years in the Royal Marines S.B.S. Five years on oil rigs as a diver and is married with one daughter and three granddaughters.
Ron and his wife came to Australia in 1980, making their home in Southport, Queensland. Having been interested in fossicking – digging up Victorian rubbish tips in the UK, he decided to visit Lightning Ridge at Christmas 1980. He was totally captivated in the lifestyle and possibility of making a fortune in black opal – so went back to Southport, sold the house and business and moved here permanently in April 1982.
Setting up in a shed on a claim, Ron began mining in earnest, having a little luck here and there, but no fortune. He gained the nickname “Have Hoist Will Travel” as he changed his mining claims as often as he changed his mind. Ron relinquished the Black Hand Mine at least twice – but finally registered it a third time and was determined to work it until ‘the colour came’.
The purchase of the Flash Newspaper put an end to full time mining for a number of years as he and his wife were kept very busy. In 1996 they sold the paper and retired from the workforce. Ron could then go back to mining with enthusiasm and having the artistic and creative abilities he is well known for – decided to build himself a “walk-down-mine”.
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Noting the beautiful sandstone, Ron started experimenting with carving animals in the walls and pillars, these are the first couple of carvings he did. The ideas and skills grew and grew, as did the interest of friends in the Ridge and visitors from overseas. That is when Ron thought the tourists might also find the mine of interest, which has proven to be the case. Fourteen years has produced one man’s “passion”, dinosaurs, a ten foot Buddha, angels, jungle cats, super heroes and Egyptian chambers as well as a small bee hive – well of course.
Had this been us bimbling around a posy art gallery we may have stood back from some of the items and made critical comments but we kept wondering at the fact that these ‘works of art’ are not only fashioned lovingly in the soft rock but to get a ‘canvas’ ready takes so much effort. There was just so much to look at and each alleyway brought more “oo’s and arr’s”. Every era, religion, animal, insect, hero and so much more. The pictures can tell the story from here.
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After our tour and bimble we had the chance to meet the man himself, Ron with Bear