The town of White Cliffs, deep in the heart of Australia's Outback, is a dump. It was founded after the discovery of opals beneath the dusty, chalk-white soil in 1889, and generations of miners since then have dug, chiselled and tunnelled their way through millions of tonnes of dirt. Above ground, the place looks like a rubbish dump, littered with pyramid-shaped piles of sand, gravel and abandoned mining equipment. As many as 50,000 holes pockmark the moonscape. There are holes at the side of the road, holes on top of hills and holes in people's back yards. Small holes tumble into big holes. Kangaroos use the mounds of discarded soil - known in Australian mining jargon as 'mullock heaps' - as lookout points to scan the surrounding scrub-covered plains. White Cliffs would win no prizes in a tidy-town contest. The New South Wales town is, however, a fascinating place. Apart from the abundance of abandoned excavations, White Cliffs' other claim to fame is that most of its 220 residents live underground, in caves burrowed into the sides of the three low hills that surround the main street, with its single pub and general store. This troglodyte existence is an attempt to escape the searing summer heat - temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius are not uncommon. In the past 20 years White Cliffs' opal fields had been all but written off as exhausted. Until a few months ago, that is, when rumours started circulating that a syndicate of five miners had struck lucky. Some said their find was worth US$3 million (HK$23 million). Others whispered a figure twice that big. Nobody really knew, but everyone agreed this was the biggest find in White Cliffs for 20 years. But tracking down the five miners proved nearly as difficult as finding the opals. The owner of the local shop had heard about the find but could not say much more. The head of the mining association for the area was vague on details, but knew the name of one of the miners. Repeated phone calls to the man's home failed to elicit any response. Finally, the owner of a bed and breakfast, Peter Pedler, said he knew the five miners and put me in touch with them. The legendary miners turned out not to be the grizzled, bearded old-timers I'd expected, but a laid-back, friendly group of men who preferred to keep a low profile because they feared the attention of the tax authorities and, in one case, an ex-wife. The opals they had found were worth about US$500,000, they said. And, given that this was the result of working six days a week for years, and would be divided between the five of them, it was hardly a fortune. One of the men said he had been carrying one of the valuable chunks of opal in his pocket as a good luck charm - until he lost it somewhere on the streets of Melbourne, which he chuckled was 'just one of those things'. The miners hope their find will bring more tourists to White Cliffs. But they hope there are not too many. They want their town to remain a place for adventurers, dreamers and Outback characters - and men who are not bothered when they lose a lump of rock worth more than a year's salary.