StGd Opal Fever.indd

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                                                                                         KAT Y M A R R I N E R / M O N I C A B Y R NE

Introduction > This study guide to accompany Opal Fever, a documentary
by Piper Films, has been written for secondary students. It provides information
and suggestions for learning activities in secondary SOSE, English, ESL and TESOL
classes.                                    Writers: Monica Byrne and Katy Marriner

Opal Fever highlights that mining a natural resource is not just a job but a lifestyle choice that
for many can border on obsession. The series also provides classes with the opportunity to
discuss life in a remote community that is based around one industry. Mike and Corey Piper
and Vicki Harris from Piper Films called Coober Pedy home for six months while they were
making Opal Fever, a four-part documentary series for the ABC series ‘Reality Bites’.

Episode One > Ten years ago                           Episode Two > The Mine Rescue Squad is run by
Mark Jackson came to Coober Pedy to visit             volunteers and is called to rescue trapped and injured miners. Brian
his father, Stuart Jackson, a licensed opal           Underwood joined the Mine Rescue Squad after his brother-in-law,
valuer and cutter. He now works a claim called        Phil Lewis, lost his left leg when the cutting head of his tunneling
Jackson’s Folly, that last year alone yielded         machine was accidentally switched on by his mining partner. In
$250,000 worth of opal. Jackson’s claim was           Episode 2 the Mine Rescue Squad rescue Ilia Katsapouikidis who
abandoned by George and Judy Aslamatzis ten           came to Coober Pedy to help his grandfather work a claim. Despite
years ago. George Aslamatzis’ search for opal         taking precautions, Ilia is hurt when a large rock dislodges from the
has dominated the last thirty years of his life and   side of the shaft and punches a
while a lucrative claim currently eludes him, he      hole through his helmet, knocking
remains optimistic that he and Judy can find a         him to the floor of the shaft. The
fortune.                                              Mine Rescue Squad find Ilia in what
                                                      seems to be the middle of nowhere
                                                      and offer him treatment. He is
                                                      transported to the Royal Adelaide
                                                      Hospital for more comprehensive
                                                      tests and not long after returns to
                                                      Coober Pedy still optimistic about
                                                      finding his fortune.

Episode Three > Kim Kelly is one of the                         Episode Four > Opal deals are traditionally
five Compliance Officers working for the Department of            made in cash. Bargaining is part of the process and
Primary Industries. He spends his days patrolling the five       George Aslamatzis is used to haggling with his old friend,
thousand square kilometres of Coober Pedy’s opal fields,         opal buyer Yanni Athanasaidis. In Episode 4, Yanni
                            ensuring mining and safety          Athanasaidis travels to Hong Kong and then to China,
                            laws are followed on the            selling opal and learning more about the manufacturing
                            field. Kelly is also president       processes that are possible in countries where wages
                            of Cooper Pedy Golf Club,           are low. Episode 4 also focuses on John Dunstan who
                            unique because the fairways         dreamt of finding 1.2 million dollars of opal at Mintabee
                            are covered with tailings from      and three years later his dream came true. Dunstan uses
                            the opal mines, rather than         a bulldozer and excavator to dig opal from an open cut
                            grass. Episode 3 returns to         mine. His latest find, an opalised belemnite, close to 120
                            Stuart Jackson who runs             million years old, is both beautiful and rare. This opal
                            the Opal Studies course             ‘The Virgin
                                                                                                                              ISSUE 38 SCREEN EDUCATION

                            at Coober Pedy Technical            Rainbow’
                            College where students study        is tendered
                            opal cutting, polishing and         for sale but
                            jewellery setting. Jackson also     offers fail
                            values the opals found by           to meet the
                            local miners, especially rare       reserve price.
                            and valuable finds.

                            Close Analysis                                  Pedy and the opal mining indus-             various methods of opal min-
                                                                            try?                                        ing used in the episodes of Opal
                            The People                                  •   In Episode 4 John Dunstan                   Fever.
                                                                            describes a dream he has about
                            What do each of the episodes reveal             finding opal at Mintabee, which          ‘Fingers crossed’
                            about the people who live and work in           later becomes a reality. Is it impor-
                            Coober Pedy? Make notes about each              tant to be a dreamer on the opal        •   George Aslamatzis insists that his
                            of the following people, paying atten-          fields? Are the opal fields a place           wife Judy is lucky as she picks a
                            tion to how the filmmakers introduce             where dreams become reality? Is             spot to drill another shaft but the
                            them to the audience, their personality         it the dream of the next find rather         reality is fortune could be missed
                            traits, their attitudes to life and opal        than the financial gain that inspires        by an inch. Recall other scenes
                            mining.                                         people to mine for opals?                   that explore the concept of luck.
                                                                                                                        How do the filmmakers explore the
                            •   Mark Jackson and Karin Jackson          The Opal Mining Industry                        concept of luck that is involved in
                            •   Stuart Jackson                                                                          finding opals? Is opal mining about
                            •   George and Judy Aslamatzis              •   What do you learn about opal min-           skill or luck? What view does Opal
                            •   Brian Underwood                             ing from Opal Fever?                        Fever offer?
                            •   Ilia Katsapouikidis                     •   Make a list of the stages involved
                            •   Kim Kelly                                   in getting the opal from the ground     I’ve let go of all fear now. I’ve come
                            •   Yanni Athanasaidis                          to sale.                                through this, and it’s an experience
                            •   John Dunstan                            •   Make a glossary of the terms as-        that I’ll never forget … And although
                                                                            sociated with opal mining used in       some people may think this was a bad
                            •   How does the opening of each                Opal Fever.                             experience I actually feel that, even
                                episode influence your response to       •   Australia produces ninety per cent      though I’ve probably only earnt two
                                the ‘characters’ of Coober Pedy?            of the world’s precious opal and        thousand dollars this whole year from
                            •   What do all of these people seem            Coober Pedy produces about              opal alone and just my medical bills
                                to have in common?                          eighty per cent of this total. Use      are more than that, it doesn’t matter,
                            •   Explain each person’s involvement           the Internet to research the opal       I feel lucky, lucky to be alive and life is
                                in the mining industry.                     mining industry in Australia. Where     good.
                            •   Describe how these people’s lives           does opal mining occur in Aus-
                                are interlinked as a result of living       tralia? What types of opal can be       •   Explain how Ilia sees opal mining
                                and working in Coober Pedy. How             found in Australia? What tech-              as an opportunity. Who else shares
                                do the filmmakers highlight the              niques are used to mine for opal?           this view? Kim Kelly is a Compli-
                                links between these people?                 Share your findings with the class.          ance Officer for the Department
                                                                        •   What tools of the trade do the              of Primary Industries. What is the

                            ‘Karin must really love me to stay’             miners use in the search for opals?         nature of Kim Kelly’s work on the
                            ‘She is my good luck charm’                     What skills are shown to be essen-          fields? How does Opal Fever por-
                            ‘She holds this family together’                tial to the search for opals?               tray his approach to his work?
                            ‘You can’t tell men’                        •   What methods of opal mining are         •   Episode 4 opens with George
                                                                            used by Mark Jackson, George                Aslamatzis and Yanni Athanasaidis
                            •   What do these statements and                Aslamatzis, Ilia Katsapouikidis and         negotiating a deal. Why may opal
                                other images of women in the                John Dunstan? What reasoning                deals traditionally be made in
                                series reveal about the place of            dictates their choice of technique?         cash? What does this scene reveal
4                               women in both the town of Coober            Use your research to explain the            about the negotiation process?
                                How do music and camera shots           ers use to convey a sense of what the          town for overseas or domestic visi-
                                shape our reactions to this meet-       town is like? Consider how the film-            tors. Is there much of a focus on
                                ing?                                    makers reveal certain things about:            the town itself or are the filmmak-
                            •   What does Opal Fever reveal about                                                      ers more focused on the people?
                                the mark up associated with an          •   Housing                                    What does the narrator reveal
                                opal find?                               •   The demographic of the towns-              about the attraction of Coober
                            •   Opal Fever follows Yanni’s trip to          people in relation to age, race,           Pedy?
                                Hong Kong to the International              gender
                                Jewellery Show. He meets with           •   Leisure industry                       The Dangers
                                Tony Wong, a Chinese opal buyer.        •   The physical environment and how
                                What do these scenes reveal about           residents have adapted to this         •   What does Opal Fever reveal to be
                                the nature of the opal industry?            environment.                               some of the difficulties, dangers
                            •   Yanni visits an opal jewellery facto-                                                  and disappointments of opal min-
                                ry in Shenzhen to learn more about      •   Coober Pedy was officially named            ing? How do the miners respond
                                the manufacturing process. How              by the local Progress and Mining           to such risks? ‘Ah yes it is dan-
                                do these manufacturing processes            Association in 1922. Find out the          gerous … every job is dangerous
                                differ to those used in Australia?          translation of the Aboriginal name.        … you have to be careful.’ How
                                How does Yanni respond as he                How do the filmmakers reinforce             does the documentary reveal the
                                tours the factory? What are your            the notion that opal can be found          dangers of working underground?
                                impressions of the factory?                 anywhere in Coober Pedy?                   Episode 2 opens with footage of
                                                                        •   Why do the filmmakers place                 the Mine Rescue Squad during a
                            ‘Out of the ordinary … fantastic …’             such an emphasis on the game of            practice run and then shows Ilia
                            ‘Not another one around.’                       golf? Why is the golf club trying to       Katsapouikidis’ rescue. What do
                                                                            achieve reciprocal rights with St          these scenes reveal about the
                            •   In Episode 4 Stuart Jackson is im-          Andrew’s in Scotland? What is the          nature of the Mine Rescue Squad’s
                                pressed by John Dunstan’s latest            irony of this? What does this reveal       work and commitment?
                                find. What does this scene reveal            about the humour and spirit of the     •   What are the difficulties associ-
                                about the worth of such a special           people of Coober Pedy?                     ated with rescuing and treating an
                                piece? What does selling a valu-        •   Imagine what it would be like to           injured miner?
                                able opal involve? What view of             live underground. What would be
                                this process is offered by Opal Fe-         the key differences between living     I think the worst thing that can happen
                                ver as it traces the marketing and          underground and living above           in any rescue situation is that you go
                                tendering of ‘The Virgin Rainbow’?          ground? What would be the ad-          out and find that it’s somebody you
                                                                            vantages and disadvantages of liv-     know … and all the way to any rescue
                            Life in Coober Pedy

                                                                            ing underground? Design the floor       you’re thinking ‘I hope it’s not serious’,
                                                                            plan for your own underground          ‘I hope nobody’s going to die’… but
                            Locate Coober Pedy on a map of Aus-             abode. What things would you           you’re always hoping that you’ll be
                            tralia. As a class find out as much as           have to consider? Explain how you      able to pull it off and save someone’s
                            you can about Coober Pedy. Carry out            would organize things like plumb-      life.
                            some research about the history and             ing and electricity.
                            distinct nature of this town. What does     •   Create a web site for the Coober       •   What does Brian Underwood’s
                            the series suggest about life in Coober         Pedy Tourist Information Centre,           comment reveal about his deci-
6                           Pedy? What images do the filmmak-                highlighting the attractions of the        sion to work as a volunteer for the
                                Mine Rescue Squad? What does               ‘But this is what I love to do.’               knowledge and understanding that
                                his involvement reveal about the                                                          you have acquired from viewing
                                nature of life in a remote com-            •   What is each miner’s perspec-              the series.
                                munity like Coober Pedy? This                  tive on opal fever? Consider what
                                episode makes use of re-created                motivates them to mine for opal in      Relevant web sites
                                footage of Phil Lewis’ accident and            Coober Pedy. What observations
                                Ilia Katsapouikidis’ accident and              about opal fever are offered by the
                                treatment at the Royal Adelaide                narrator? Do the miners portrayed
                                Hospital. What is the impact of                in the series have opal fever? Is
                                such a production element?                     it only the miners who have opal        Monica Byrne and Katy Marriner are
                                                                               fever?                                  teachers at St Columba’s College.
                            I’ve heard a lot of stories, and sure
                            you never know things could happen,            ‘Good luck with your opal fever …           This study guide was produced by
                            I think that comes with the territory …        hope you find some colour.’                  ATOM. For more information about
                            that’s mining. I just believe … that if it’s                                               ATOM study guides, The Educa-
                            your time there’s nothing you’re going         What do the lyrics of the song and the      tion Shop, The Speakers’ Bureau or
                            to do to stop it … so hopefully there’s        radio DJ’s comments in Episode 3 tell       Screen Hub (the daily online film and
                            some guardian angel looking after me!          you about opal fever?                       television newsletter) visit our web
                                                                                                                       site: or
                            •   What is Ilia Katsapouikidis’ attitude      •   Stuart Jackson runs a course at         email:
                                to the dangers associated with the             the local TAFE instructing others
                                pursuit of a fortune?                          about the technicalities of cutting,    Notice: An educational institution may
                                                                               polishing and valuing opals. What       make copies of all or part of this Study
                            Opal Fever                                         does the popularity of this course      Guide, provided that it only makes and
                                                                               with locals and international visi-     uses copies as reasonably required for
                            ‘Some people say opal fever’s better               tors say about opal fever?              its own educational, non-commercial,
                            than sex.’                                     •   During each episode the worth of        classroom purposes and does not sell
                            ‘It’s a sickness.’                                 each find is superimposed on the         or lend such copies.
                                                                               screen. What is the purpose of this
                            •   The series is called Opal Fever.               filmic technique?
                                What does each episode reveal              •   In Episode 1 Mark Jackson speaks
                                about opal fever?                              of ‘the sound of money’ as he
                            •   Consider the music, the shot of                looks for a seam that will yield a
                                the tin drum, the name Jackson’s               fortune. Later he acknowledges
                                Folly and Mark Jackson’s belief                that the story associated with a

                                he will retire at forty. What view of          valuable find is also rewarding. The
                                opal fever is offered in the closing           opalised scallop shell in Episode
                                sequence of Episode 1?                         3 and ‘The Virgin Rainbow’ in Epi-
                                                                               sode 4 are rare finds and the own-       Opal Fever is distributed by ABC
                            There’s no where else in the world …               ers find it difficult to just sell them   Video Program Sales Phone:
                            anywhere else in the world where … if              to anybody. Is opal mining just         1300 650 587 Fax: 02 8333 3975
                            you found a million dollars, two million           about the money? What do these          email:
                            dollars, or ten million dollars … that             finds tell you about opal fever?
8                           you can actually get to keep it to do
                            whatever you like … it’s great.
                                                                           •   Write a creative dictionary defini-
                                                                               tion of opal fever. Draw on the

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