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Life

Australia's black opal fields lure dreamers and prospectors

Part-time miners flock to desolate but colorful Lightning Ridge in search of riches

One of the most beautiful black opals from Lightning Ridge is the 180-carat Aurora Australis, on display at the Altmann & Cherny retail store in Sydney. (Courtesy of Altmann & Cherny)

LIGHTNING RIDGE, Australia -- Hudson pear sounds like something a fancy restaurant might serve on its dessert menu, topped off with a dollop of cream. But in the hot, dry wilds of the Australian Outback, the Hudson pear is a cactus intruder from Mexico, and far from a tasty or benign addition to the landscape.

It comes armed with long barbed spikes that can pierce a car tire, the sole of a miner's boot or the paw of a hapless animal that stumbles into its jagged embrace, and is just another of the hardships that face prospectors in their hunt for riches around the black opal capital of the world, Lightning Ridge.

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