Lightning Ridge will one day be a world hub for opal-related knowledge when the Australian Opal Centre becomes a reality.
The $34 million project was given the go-ahead this week, when the Federal Government committed $9.5 million towards stage one of the Australian Opal Centre, under round three of the Building Better Regions Fund.
“I have long been campaigning for the Australian Opal Centre, which will revolutionise the tourism offering in Lightning Ridge as a world hub for opal-related knowledge, training and certification," Federal Member for Parkes Mark Coulton said during a special announcement on Sunday.
"This will be an iconic centre that we can all be extremely proud of.”
The project will construct a new Australian Opal Centre as an energy-efficient, two-storey underground hub for opal education and training, certification, scientific research, art and culture. The new off-grid building will be designed by world-renowned Australian architects Glenn Murcutt and Wendy Lewin.
The first stage of the project is expected to cost $20 million, made up of the Federal Government's $9.5 million commitment; $7.5 million committed by the NSW Government; $2 million from Walgett Shire Council; and $1 million from community and industry.
“Regional NSW is full of tourism gems - none more iconic than Lightning Ridge,” NSW Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW John Barilaro said.
“People love Australia’s unique opal gemstones and will be drawn from across the country and the world to visit what will be a magnificent tourism centre.”
Member for Barwon, Kevin Humphries, also believes the Australian Opal Centre will bolster the region’s tourism.
“This is a huge win for my electorate of Barwon, offering new opportunities for tourism, as well as a boost to the regional economy,” he said.
Walgett Shire Council mayor Manuel Martinez said council has supported the Opal Centre project since its early stages.
“Walgett Shire Council is contributing another $2 million to this excellent project, and I look forward to seeing the benefits flow through the shire,” he said.
The sentiments were shared by Australian Opal Centre president David Lane OAM who said the project will be a game-changer.
“This funding will enable the new Australian Opal Centre to position Western NSW and Australia as the world’s leading destination for opal- and fossil-related tourism, education, training and certification,” he said.
“It will be a catalyst for renewed economic and cultural vitality throughout the region, and I thank the federal and state governments, Walgett Shire Council and the Australian Opal Centre's founders and supporters for making this possible.”
Fundraising for the final stage will take place while the first stage is constructed and opened to the public.