Monday, June 21, 2004

A day in the life

Monday the twenty first of June turned out to be a very interesting day.

I set out doing all the mundane things that I do every day, got the old forklift going and went and filled the camp generator with diesel, checked the water and oil and all the gauges, everything was fine so I turned the forklift round and headed back towards camp. As I drove up the road towards the south, a direction that I had not looked this morning, I could see smoke down towards the dresser mine, I dropped off the forklift, jumped in the Landcruiser and headed towards the smoke. I could see a vehicle parked in the scrub, worked out what track went close and carried on to investigate, followed the track about two miles, worked out how to get to the vehicle (followed their tracks) and parked alongside it.

Just a wee way away was an old prospector, I took him to be an Aboriginal, and he introduced himself as something Todd, out from the cover of some trees came a younger bloke, he introduced himself as George Todd, they said I suppose you are going to tell us we can not prospect here, I said not at all, after all this is your land. The old fellow laughed at this and said he was a half caste so it wasnt his land, I said it was my companies lease, and by rights they could prospect but should give me half of what they find, adding that I did not expect them to find anything because this land had been well picked over, and if they did I did not expect them to tell me about it.

We got to yarning (as you do in the middle of the bush) and I was telling them that just up a bit further a couple of blokes had taken forty ounces out about ten years ago, in fact it was a bloke called Todd who had been one of them, that was me said the old fellow. We talked some more and it turned out that the old bloke, who claimed to be close to eighty, was teaching his nephew, George, all about the prospecting game. George, who would have been in his early forties I guess, was in charge of loading the salt ships in Hedland and when there were no ships he had a few days off, and went all over the countryside prospecting with his uncle, mainly to be with the bush and his uncle more than finding the gold. He said he was looking for some dry blowing area that he had heard about was round this area, and did I have a map, I said I have one back at the camp and if they liked they could come back and we would have a cuppa and see if it was shown. We came back to the camp and had a cup of tea but never found the area he was talking of, I showed them where I had been told there was alluvial gold, and they set off to do a bit of detecting.

I carried on around the camp, doing a few odds and sods till about three, and then went and found where they were and had a bit of a yarn again, they had found one piece of gold, maybe about ten grams, in a gully but that was all, I sat talking to George for maybe a half an hour about town and how glorious it was in the bush this time of the year, then came back to my camp, it was a very interesting day and they were very interesting people.

It seems that the older bloke had been born on a station on the other side of the Shaw river, Abydos I think he said, but not actually in the station but in a cave, his father was an English bloke and he was related to the Todd that did the survey work for the overland telegraph, and for who the Todd river had been named that runs through Alice Springs (his wife was named Alice, and the town was names after her) and that he was taken away at about four years of age and sent down to Fremantle. There was a policy in those years that took half caste children away from tribal Aborigines, for what was thought at the time their own good, but that has been seen since to be a terrible thing, they call it the stolen generation and it still causes controversy here. He was away from his family for about ten years, then came back north and learnt to prospect from his father and elder brothers (one of whom was Georges father), I came back to the camp, did a few chores, panned a bit of gold and then took my normal position, in a chair facing westwards watching the sun go down and drinking, on this occasion, a Bourbon and coke that I mistakenly bought thinking it was Rum and coke, and by the way, today was the shortest day, but a very fruitful one. We also had a discussion on the name Blackfella, and they reckoned it was all right, they call themselves Blackfellas and us Whitefellas, and mentioned that by rights they are Yellafellas, being half caste or part Aboriginal, but it seems that the word Yellafella has gone out of usage and they now use Blackfella for everyone who is not a Whitefella, of course Chinamen and Malays are different again.

By the way, a picture of the old fellow is on the locals gallery on my photo page, the youngere bloke was reluctant to have his picture took.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Arthurs big day out

Well! Today, the sixteenth of June has been a very interesting day.

The plan was (dont all good days start with a plan) I was going to set off early, forgoing my little natter with me mates in Pomgolia, and take some gear that belonged to a bloke who had been off sick for several months over to Bamboo, pick up some sewage fittings and some filters, pick up a chitty for me shopping in Hedland, and drive up to Hedland, do me bit of shopping and then come home. That is a bit of a hike, 160 (100 miles) kilometres over to Bamboo, 110 kilometres back to my turning, a further 110 kilometres to Hedland and 160 kilometres back to Normay, that is a total of 540 kilometres (337.5 miles) or about the distance from London to Glasgow.

I got up about five thirty and started my heart with a cup of coffee and a fag, checked my car out, fuelled up etcetera, and set off only to see smoke a few miles away. I investigated and there was a fire in a gully, now there are several reasons for a fire as you well know, one being a lightning strike, but being as we have not seen a cloud in the sky for over a week, I dismissed this idea. Another reason is Aboriginals smoking out wild turkeys, but being as there were no Aboriginals about I dismissed this as well. The third and most likely reason was prospectors, burning out a gully, to make it easier for them to walk down the stream bed with metal detectors looking for gold nuggets, this turned out to be the real reason. I wandered around looking for the reason and after a while I spotted a bloke, ducking down in the Spinifex, hoping I would not see him. I did see him and was not sure if he was a Blackfella or not, the problem was it was just day break and the sun had just risen over the hills, but I wandered about a bit more till I saw two vehicles cunningly hidden behind a ridge. I worked out where the cars were and negotiated the track to them. On arriving there, one bloke was still in his swag, and the bloke I had spotted was walking into the camp. The bloke who walked into the camp, said sorry about that but the campfire got away, funny I said, that it just happens to burn down the gully that is supposed to have alluvial gold in it. I told them that they were on our lease, and they could prospect but by law, we were entitled to half of what they find, but I would settle for a third and say bugger all about it. They said they were moving on down the track a bit and off our lease, I went back to my camp, and hung around for a while, until I saw them move off as prospectors are sometimes very light fingered and have been known to borrow diesel and odds and sods.

By the time I got away I was about two hours behind schedule for this big day out, and bugger me dead, if just after Miralga creek, I ran across a mob of camels crossing the road, well actually I was just coming out of a creek, up the bank and the big bull (maybe I should say the Alpha male) was crossing the road, having shepherded his cows and juveniles across, I managed to get a couple of shots of the bull and two of his cows as they disappeared into the scrub, it is a wonderful sight to see, the way the bull makes sure the mob are safely away and always puts himself between you and the herd. I thought to myself, well that was a bonus, and carried on when a few miles down the track I came across two full grown males, on the other side of the road and managed to get a couple of pictures of them as well, by this time I was double chuffed.

I carried on to Bamboo in a nice frame of mind, down the rest of the dirt road, out along the bitumen with little of interest happening, got stuck behind a tanker with three dogs (trailers) on the dirt road towards the Rippon Hills, but managed to get past him as we turned onto the Bamboo Creek road as he was stopping for a pee. These road trains have mobs of gears and as he had to change down to get round the corner, which was a good spot to have a pee and check his tyres. I carried on to Bamboo, had a yarn with the boss and got my chitty, then set off to find the camp girl (a grandmother) to find out where to drop this gear, found her and had a bit of a chat and a fag, she showed me the house and I dropped the gear off. I then had to find Bob the builder (her husband, and maintenance man) and get some stuff off of him to take back to my camp for maintenance there, this took quite some time and included a bit of lunch (egg and bacon pie and a cuppa) I helped my self to some cake and snacks to eat along the road, got all the gear packed in the wagon and was away from there about quarter to one.

I saw little of interest on the way to Hedland excepting for a dingo scavenging on a dead beast (cattle) by the side of the road, and the car bringing the girl who had missed her plane that morning into Bamboo, had a bit of a yak on the two way with the Bamboo crew, stopped at the Tabba Tabba turn off for a wee and to stretch my legs and cruised the last forty kilometres to Dixons, arriving there at twenty to three, I had made good time on the journey and then did my bit of shopping in Hedland, got held up at the checkout in Action, went over to South Hedland to buy one thing at K mart, got held up again at the checkout, down to the red dot shop for my chocolate fix and got held up again at the checkout there as well, I finally got out of Hedland the back way at about five o clock, and headed up the Broome road amidst lengthening shadows. The back way out comes onto the highway at the nine mile creek, and at the twelve mile creek is an Aboriginal community, and just outside the community was a black kid about four or five sitting in the middle of the road, I stopped and shushed him off the road, he looked a bit pissed off but eventually moved, I could of gone round him, but the person behind could have gone right over him, as I drove away I saw him in my mirror going back to sit in the middle of the road again, warned any truckies on the radio of the obstacle, then saw somebody running from the community to get him.

I carried on to the Tabba Tabba turnoff onto the Marble bar road, and viewed a glorious sunset in my mirror, tried to take a couple of shots in the mirror, and got to my turning just in time to get the last throes of the sunset on the camera, uneventful trip up the dirt road in the dark, saw one kangaroo and one dingo, and I was back home, put me shopping away and wrote this and am absolutely cream crackered.

I will try and put some pictures up in the morning, particularly the one I took of the prospectors, one of them was eighty years old and looked like he had not had a shower or changed his shirt since 1956.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Mercy dash

I have been painting the dining room part of the combined kitchen/dining room donga, bloody hard work, first I had to move everything out, so put most of it in the kitchen and the chairs and tables outside, then I washed it all down with sugar soap, it did not look that dirty but the colour of the water told me a different story, I should have bottled it and sold it as ink. That done I set to, to patch and repair, couple of bits of it was just about rebuild, I then decided to take the paint off of the window frames where it never should have been. I had done all this and taken the curtain hooks down, put the curtains in to wash, taken the bug zapper off and put outside, and was about ready to paint, it had been wood panelling at one stage so all the joins between panels had to be toshed in by hand, then a roller over the top and it was just about done, the following morning, I took the flyscreens off and painted them whilst washing the windows, I had just got into this when the phone rang.

It was the Western Australian Geological Survey Department; the PhD student who is around the place studying rocks was broken down, only 16 kilometres away from me as the crow flies but at least twice that distance on the track, he had pulled up for the night to camp and the vehicle would not start, he had used the petrol generator to charge the batteries and still could not start, and could I go and rescue him again, I of course being stupid said I would. I rang my boss and told him the situation and he said, go and ring me when you get back.

Off I set, now this must be the worst track in the world, it is kept in very bad repair to keep tourists and dodgy fossil hunters away, I had to drive down towards a weather station on a big river, until I saw this hidden track, I had driven past it several times in the past and until I was shown it, I never knew it existed, as soon as you are on it you have to dodge round two trees that have fallen and then you are in a creek, which has water in it, up over the bank and a sharp turn and then you weave in and out of trees and bushes for about half a kilometre, down a steep creek bank, through more water and up the other side, then you run along a creek bank over tree roots, through sand and loose stones, it has so many twists and turns that you can never see the road more than about ten feet in front (nice mix of metric and imperial measurements there) then the track settles down a bit and even though rough you can see a little way ahead. It twists all over the place and there is at this time of year a wonderful smell about as a lot of the trees and shrubs are in full bloom just now. I am making very slow progress because of the conditions of the track, and listening to the cassette player, it is playing Guy Davis, Whats a nice girl like you doing in a dump like this, well I aint a girl but I was wondering what the hell I was doing in a place like this, then I remembered I was off on a mercy dash to rescue my geo mate and his rather nicely shaped girlfriend, then the next track came on, John Farnham singing a touch of paradise, and I thought to myself that this suited the mood as well, I had moved out of the dump part, through the trees and branches of the creek and was into a part that runs between hills with some fantastic views, so I reckon I was getting a touch of paradise, and as I said before there was such an intense smell of blossom in the air, and birds whistling, and the odd lizard scurrying across the track, and of course the ever present Spinifex Pigeons, like a quail with their little top knots bobbing al over the place, and them trying to outrun the car. This went on for maybe forty five minutes, twisting all over the place, when around a hill I came and can see the geos ute parked under the trees by the side of a billabong, in an idyllic setting, straight out of a McCubbin painting, excepting of course that there were no motor vehicles around in his day. http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/collection/australian/painting/m/apa00018.html

The billy was on when I got there, and I was given a cup of real good coffee in a cup that has its own plunger thingy, and I sat drinking it overlooking this billabong at peace with the world, forgetting of course that after I had got the geos ute going I had to drive back along the bitter sweet track, but living for the moment I was enjoying the ambience of the occasion when I saw a flurry across the billabong and thought it was two kangaroos, but it was a dingo chasing an injured kangaroo, the dingo saw us and quickly exited the scene, the roo got down under some tree roots in some shade and rested, with a wary eye on us. I have seen many a kangaroo in my time in Australia and quite a few wild dogs but this is the first time I have actually seen a Dingo on a bit of a hunt, they are a magnificent animal and although I felt for the kangaroo, I realised that it is in the nature of things.

I drank my coffee, started the geos ute, and set back with them in case they stalled or stopped crossing a creek, we got back alright and charged the batteries but couldn’t get the bugger to start, there are two batteries being delivered to where the North Pole Road meets the highway tomorrow and hopefully that will cure their problems.