This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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2009 Travels May 26


We left at 8am for the Grawin. Another early start for John! The lure of opal actually had him almost bounding out of bed.

The road past Lorne to the highway was graded yesterday and was great now.

We were at the heaps by 9am.

At the front of the Club in the Scrub

A lot of trucks came in to dump through the morning, including the old red and black one that all the experienced noodlers got excited about. We joined the others around the load as it was dumped, like crows around a rubbish bin. After working on that heap for a while, I think we’d found a couple of good bits.

Went down to Truck to get our lunch about 12.30.

One of the regulars – T – sold John a jar of very nice pieces. I thought he’d brought them out for D to have a look at, but D had decided to have a rest day at camp today. I suspected that might have been related to the presence at camp of a rather attractive young South African backpacker! Our gain. We did some haggling over the price, as expected, and in the end he came down from $300, we went up from $150, and settled on $200. Three of the pieces in the jar had a really good red flash in them.

Opal mining machinery

By mid afternoon we were weary, so drove back to camp, stopping to get firewood along the way.

D seemed to be rather skeptical about our purchase – until he looked at the pieces! He offered to buy a good piece that John had found, but we were not selling.

Both tired tonight, and to bed soon after tea.

At the Grawin

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2009 Travels 23 May


Fine weather again – even some blue sky.

Blue sky, and with only water-filled tracks as a reminder of the rain event

A station worker ran a bush “grader” – two big old tyres laid flat and weighed down by a sleeper across them, towed behind a tractor – over parts of the camp ground, to smooth it out a bit. I thought he’d had a go at the track to the road too.

The second Econovan left this morning.

D went into town and fetched our newspapers whilst he was there.

I got our washing done – and dry!

The ground under the annexe floor matting had dried out also, over the past day or so, and no longer oozed mud every time we looked at it. The matting was going to need a really thorough clean at some stage – didn’t really want to contemplate that, though. Not going to be easy, or pleasant.

Definitely shoes off at the door…..

After lunch, went for a walk on the property. The lady manager took walking tours of points of interest around this part of the station, but we wanted to take our time exploring by ourselves. We had picked up quite a bit of information about the place, whilst we had been here.

Our first destination was the Lorne Lookout, on top of a big mine waste dump, on the western boundary.

Forget the Black Stump……we went walking beyond the pink stump.

The station was about 10,000 acres in size. To its west was one of the oldest opal mining areas – the Three Mile and Lunatic Hill, where we’d explored on the Yellow Car Door tour route.

Apparently the father of the current owner had a lot of problems with the opal miners: digging mines on his land without permission, eating the “wild” sheep, making off with fence posts and fencing wire – not from stores, but from where they were actual fences! He eventually carved 3000 acres off the property and gave it to the Mines Department. Then, all mining on the remaining station ground was banned.

P – the owner – can’t dig for opal on Lorne, because then it would have to be opened up for all comers. But he did have a mine, on Lunatic Hill.

So, with that history, there were a lot of remnants of the earlier mining history around the station, like the waste dump. From its top, we could see a fair way over the surrounding farming country.

Outlook from top of waste dump on Lorne

We then followed the fence line between the station and the mining areas. Could see some current mining camps on the other side of the fence.

Came across what appeared to be the remains of a railway carriage, including the wheels. That was really incongruous and we speculated about how it got there. Could only presume that some old carriages may have been brought to the fields for accommodation? I thought we’d seen some doing duty as homes around the town?

Once was a railway carriage?

We eventually came to a large dam, with quite a lot of bird life around it.

Ring necked parrot

Nearby were three old agitators – the barrels of old cement mixers that were used to wash opal containing gravel in, to make it easier to spot the stones.

Agitators and a big heap of old dirt

Judging from the big heaps around these, they had obviously washed a lot of gravel in their time. They still had motors in, and looked in working order, so we wondered if they were still sometimes used? Maybe the station owner brought dirt from his Lunatic Hill mine and washed and sorted it here?

Old agitator with dam in background

Retraced our steps to near the waste heap, then followed tracks that brought us back to camp, via the old pig yards and the homestead dam. One could get lost on this place!

Old station pig pens

It was a really interesting and enjoyable walk, and great to get some exercise!

We had a camp fire again, at night, after having pasties for tea. The stars were so bright again – a very good sign, I hoped.

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2000 Travels June 1


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.

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The Thursday mail run

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!

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Working the excavator on the opal claim

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.

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Excavated mine pit showing rock layers

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!

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Divining fault lines with a bent wire at Devil Devil

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.