THURSDAY 1 JUNE OPALTON
The first day of winter, with clear blue sky but a chilly wind. Overnight, the temperature inside the van registered a low of 3 degrees! Technically, we were in the tropics, here – just – but you wouldn’t know it.
John ran the Truck to put some charge into the van battery, in the morning.
Just before 11am, we drove up to the Outpost to be there when the mail run arrived. This was the social highlight of the Opalton week – maybe the only highlight! It was quite fascinating. There were certainly a lot more people in the area than we realized. It was quite a weird array of characters and vehicles. People chatted amongst themselves – it was obviously the weekly catch up. There were heaps of dogs around and it was a great meeting place for them too!
I posted two letters to friends, which would carry an Opalton Outpost franking. Unusual.
There was quite a little crowd gathered by 11am and L had his HF radio rigged so it could be heard outside. We heard the mail lady announce she was “just coming over the grid” and the crowd stirred.
A good five minutes later a ute pulled in. The diminutive mail lady was very self-important. An array of goods came with the mail bags – boxes of groceries, eskies of meat, gas bottles, containers of diesel, bags of chook feed! All items that people had ordered. People came, helped to unload the ute, then left with their goodies.
L, the lady we’d met in the Winton butcher’s shop, turned up with partner J. We arranged to follow them out to Devil Devil to look at their open cut mining. But, before we went, John had described to J the junk heaps we’d found the other day, on the hill beyond Snake Jump – and J was interested to see what was there. Potential spare parts!
Then we headed out to their mine area – on the same track that we’d taken, on Tuesday. I had the GPS going, to record our route waypoints, and the directions we were taking were all over the place, to every point of the compass. We knew Devil Devil was west of Opalton, but we also went south, north and even east at one stage. L told us later that the guy with the grader, who made the track, got lost a few times when he was doing it! Devil Devil is some 16kms to the west, but the track distance was 28kms!
We went straight to their camp area where they dropped off their mail and had a quick lunch. There was a moment of embarrassment when I think L thought they should offer us some food (I suspected they were getting by on a minimum) but I quickly mentioned that we’d bought our sandwiches with us.
L and J shared their camp area with an older, experienced miner, R. It was quite a substantial camp with 240v generators, a shower “building”, a pit toilet that they bored. They were hairdressers from the Gold Coast. The lease actually belonged to a former customer of theirs, whose husband was too ill to mine any more. L and J were keen to try opal mining, so they have some sort of share arrangement with her. L and J were novices, but said they were learning fast! This was their first season out here, apart from a visit last year. They hadn’t worked a dozer or excavator before!
We drove tracks to where they were digging, a couple of kms from the camp.They told us about fault lines in the rock as an indicator of opal and showed us the terrain they were excavating. J brings up a shovel full of dirt and rock and L looks quickly through it for any signs of good stuff. They didn’t seem to be finding any, though.
They demonstrated how to “divine” a fault line with bent wire – John had a try and was really good at it. Pity one couldn’t divine for sapphire bearing gravel in the gemfields!
We did some birdwatching while L and J were working, and found a Mallee wren and a red backed kingfisher – both new to us.
We then followed L and J to look at where R was mining, but he wasn’t there. We found him back at the camp. He had knocked off early because he’d found a big pipe that he thought was worth tens of thousands of dollars! He showed us – it was huge. Longer than his forearm, and thicker. He gave us the name of his son, in Barcaldine, who cuts opal. He talked of various claims in terms of how many millions X or Y took out of it last season! It was a fascinating insight into an activity and way of life we’d not known anything of. Obviously, L and J were hoping to strike those sorts of riches too.
The largest opal pipe ever found was at Opalton in 1899 – over 3 metres long and as thick as a man’s thigh. It took four men to carry it!
Even with the GPS waypoints entered, we got a little lost, leaving Devil Devil. There were huge open cuts through the area and tracks everywhere.
We gathered some wood on the way back.
It was late afternoon when we got back to the van. We’d driven 65kms.
S and S, the two Europeans, left this morning.
Tea was soup, stir fry noodles with pork and veggies.
While we were at the Outpost this morning, found out that L has a Flying Doctor medical chest. These are supplied to remote places by the Flying Doctor Service – one person is responsible for it. So L would be the liason person with the RFDS in case of an emergency for one of the locals – or a traveller.