British Classic Mineral Specimens

Australia!!!! 1982

After Alderley... came Ozzie

I was sitting in the farmhouse in Alderley one night, and saw a film on TV - Hammond Innes - Gold Mine. All about a Cornish mine owner who went broke, and went to ozzie to make his fortune. I'd sold my farm contracting business within a week and was on a plane to Perth within a few days. That started the next phase of my life - I went so quickly that I even forgot to get hold of my best mates - Ike WIlson in particular - who hunted me for years after that, till I got back in 2000 and he gave me the biggest bollocking of my life for not keeping in touch.

I arrived in Perth with £500 in my pocket, on a one way ticket. It was early 1982. I'd handed back my inheritance, which would have kept me going for the rest of my life without ever having to work. The smell of the air when I got off that plane was almost intoxicating - the warm desert air, the colours - the bright, deep piercing blue of the sky, and the vivid orange red of the ground - that tang of eucalyptus that I came to know so well, the musty smell of the red dirt - so evocative that every time I think of the bush, those smells are so real I can feel them in my head. I have a little jar of that red dirt on my desk - if you splash a few drops of water on it, the old smells come back..

I remember that long bus ride into Perth - the student hostel I stayed in - Top Deck it was called. I slept for a few hours, and the next day, they kicked Malcolm Fraser out of Parliament House and Bob Hawke took over - I remember Fraser crying as he left. It was the beginning of a long downhill slide for Ozzie, under a labour government.

That night I went into North Perth for a beer. I stood at the bar, and ordered a pint - the guy looked strangely at me and shoved a little glass over the bar with fizzy beer in it. I slammed it down and ordered another, and after that a few more. I had the equivalent of a couple of pints and then the world started to spin.. They dont tell you that Oz beer is about 9% until you've been there a while. That afternoon I walked down The Terrace, in Perth. Its a bright, modern city, tiny - the size of an average English village. The Swan river flows along the edge of the city - everywhere you look is water, blue sky, fresh, clean and invigorating sea air.. Every other office block was full of mining companies - I was looking for Carr Boyd - the Chief Exec knew my dad apparently. I saw John Daniels that afternoon - he had no jobs, but knew someone that did, so I knocked on the door, and a beautiful ginger haired girl with piercing blue eyes and a stunning body led me to his office. 'Have you ever run a gold mine?' he asked. 'What qualifications?' I told him I'd done Geology at Hull, and I'd been in gold mines - I had - Gwynfynnyd in North Wales for a quick trip underground with the manager one day.

I got the job on the spot, and on the way out, Sandy gave me her huge smile, and my heart melted at the sight of those blue eyes. She told me to keep in touch. I spent my money on a little landcruiser, equipped with a proper fridge, and little boxes in the back for equipment. I bought a swag (its a roll of material and canvas you sleep on in the bush) a camp oven, and retreated to Top Deck for a last night. Next morning I fuelled up, and started driving. They just said 'head down the Great Eastern - you can't miss it - Kalgoorlie is 600k's'. I headed up into the hills behind Perth - the air got warmer, the sun seemed brigher, and the heat began to climb. Soon the houses dropped away and gave way to rolling fields of parched brown earth, with little trees sticking out of them like those artificial things they put on kids railway sets. The road stretched in front of me - a shimmering black ribbon that vanished into a haze in the distance. After an hour or so, a collection of corrugated shacks rolled by on either side of the road, a water tower leaning drunkenly in a patch of scrub to the side of one of the houses. Some people live in those little towns all their life - some never even see Perth. Alongside the road is a shining silver pipe - nearly 3 feet in diameter, it joins the road just after the Perth Hills, and stays there, all the way. Its the Pipeline - water that's pumped 600 kilometers to the Goldfields - one of the most incredible achievements of early Australian settlement. The engineer that designed it committed suicide a week before the water reached Kalgoorlie. They told him it would never work.

The fuel guage dropped lower and lower - and the miles crept by. The hot sun was searing - the panels of the little landcruiser drummed in the wind, the bonnet flapped, and dust crept into every crack. The straight, shimmering black ribbon stretched endlessly into the distance. I drove for 5 hours, until I started to get scared - I'd seen no other vehicle - was I on the right road? I decided to stop, and got out the swag, and billy can, and made a pot of tea over a fire - I just parked up in the bush to the side of the road and soon fell asleep under the stars to the shrilling of crickets. I was awoken next morning with a roar, and the ground shook as a huge road train carrying massive dump trucks heading for the mines rushed past. Heartened, I started the engine of the little landcuiser and drove on. After half an hour we arrived at Coolgardie - fhe first of the big gold mining areas. I managed to get fuel, more water, and some food from the dusty, grimy counter of the little petrol station. 'How far is Kalgoorlie' I asked. 'Just down the road' came the answer. I drove on, excited now, my heart pounding. All along the skyline were rickety headframes - lifeless wheels devoid of cables pointing at the relentless blue sky. Greyish heaps of stone, mullock dumps, were everywhere. The bush was strewn with rusty bits of metal - old tins, cans - 100 years of rubbish that hardly rusts in the desert environment. Here and there, an abandoned Model T Ford, sat on its chassis with a rudimentary winch turning it into a winding engine for some long forgotten prospector. I drove into the bush, and wandered amongst the dumps, peering down timbered shafts that twisted their way into the red dirt in the search for yellow metal. There were bigger shafts too - three compartment things, with yawning great holes plunging deep into the ground - no fence, nothing to cover it - just a gaping, dark hole below the stark, lifeless skeleton of a headframe. I was tempted to climb the ladderway but the rungs fell out when I touched them, the timber eaten to dust by termites. I sat with my legs dangling over the edge of the abyss - I could almost hear the rattle of the cage, the rush of quartz rock spilling into the hoppers - the pounding of the huge stamp batteries as the ground around them shook in a steady monotony. The sun started to dip to the horizon - I had spent most of the day wandering amongst the rock piles, so I headed for the road, and Kalgoorlie.

As the sun set behind me, the horizon flooded with crimson, the bush turned blood red, sharp silhouettes of gum trees outlined against the dark ultramarine of the sky - I couldn't help a sharp intake of breath - it's the most beautiful thing you could imagine. You get used to it after a while, but the first sight of a bush sunset is something never to forget. I drove on - up a shallow slope, and there, ahead of me, lay an incredible sight. I stopped. I sat there with my chin resting on the top of the steering wheel - watching the horizon. There were lights - everywhere - christmas trees, decorated, little groups of red lights at the very top above the wheels, and white lights picking out the form of the headframes. The light shimmered, flickered in the dust that rose all around. The dust, the lights - filled the horizon, stretching for miles in each direction. Heading towards me, arrow straight, aimed from the very heart of the headframes, was a twin row of street lights. I slowly drove down the road towards the lights as the headframes loomed ever larger, and the smell of Kalgoorlie started to waft through the open windows. Over the musky smell of the bush came a tang, a slight smell of sulphur, acid, and the unmistakable scent of fertiliser. I drove down Hannan Street, passing pub after pub until I reached the intersection at the top where it meets Boulder Road - the huge headframe of Mount Charlotte towers above the end of the road and I parked in the glow of the lights from the headframe, still shaking my head in disbelief that I was actually there - in Kalgoorlie - Western Australia, and not sitting in a cold, damp cottage in Cheshire thinking about mending someone's fence the next day. I parked, and wandered down Hannan Street to The Exchange - a big clapboard hotel, with timber sidewalks around two walls, and walked in. It was crowded full of beefy Aussie bush types - dusty brown hats, dirty jeans, and gnarled, weatherbeaten faces. Jugs of beer stood on tables and the bar, next piles of money in untidy mounds of notes and coin, spread down the polished wooden top of the bar. Behind it, working furiously to pull beer, and leaning precariously forward over the bar as they did, were about half a dozen nearly naked girls - tiny G string panties, and no bra tops at all. A miner would pull a note from the pile to pay for his beer, push a pile of extra coins over the bar, and the object of his desire would lean closer to him so he could fondle her nipples. The more money, the longer the fondle. Sometimes the tip wasnt big enough, and she'd stand jauntily behind the bar, out of reach, and play with her nipples till they stood erect - the crowd would oblige with more tips, and so the game would go on. Sometimes a gold nugget would roll across the countertop, and phone numbers were exchanged.

There was never any food - miners and geologists stood side by side with dusty drilling crews, and gnarled prospectors - occasionally a well dressed executive would walk in and the crowd would part to let him to the bar - one of the new style of stock market entrepreneurs who floated mining companies on the Perth exchange at a rate of three or four a year, making millions every time, and never finding gold - but paying the old prospectors and geologists handsomely for glowing reports on 'goat pasture' they'd pegged 'near' the latest hot strike, and sold into the float for huge vendor stock considerations. In later years, I became one -pegging ground, floating companies, and living the high life for a while until the boom became a bust. I drank my beer with them, buying jugs, and sharing the banter around the bar - never taking my eyes off the stunning, shapely, slim and athletic girls behind the bar. I slept one more night under the stars, my head spinning with a thousand dreams and visions of this hot, dusty Eldorado.