A Miner’s Legacy
© Catherine Lee

Winner, 2018 Henry Lawson Society of NSW Literary Awards, Gulgong, NSW. 

In the wild and open country where the roos run wild and free
and the reddened earth’s suffused with such profound tranquillity,
where koalas munch ecstatic on the eucalyptus leaves
there’s a sense of peace—but sometimes this exterior deceives.
In the beauty of the landscape there are secrets that belie,
with a history of darkness not apparent to the eye.

It is spewing from the fabric of this rough abandoned shack,
with its ghosts of former residents who never ventured back.
For it’s now a nest for pythons and a resting place for rats
with a silence only broken by the buzzing of the gnats,
while the spectres that reside here are relied on not to tell
any tales about this dwelling and its ancient rusted well.

It was early nineteen hundreds and the fever gripped them tight—
there was fighting on the goldfields, furtive whispers in the night.
There were many other diggings where civility was law,
where the blokes were mates and bound together, loyal to the core;
but in one secluded corner long forgotten over time
there was treachery and lawlessness, unsystematic crime.

The remoteness of these diggings and the lack of good police
only served to aggravate the fact and cause it to increase.
With a landscape filled with pits and holes resembling pre-dug graves,
wrong solutions came so easily, corruption surged in waves.
These were men who didn’t compromise, were dangerous and wild,
and they swarmed around this region they commanded and defiled.

The decrepit shack’s deserted yet equipment still remains,
though corroded now and worthless due to ruthless sun and rains.
Over time it garnered status as a place that all should shun—
was a source of superstition and alarm  for everyone.
There was no-one there to claim it when the last known tenant fled;
like the others he had vanished—most presumed that he was dead.

It is known a group of Chinese workers lived here way back then,
and they suffered at the hands of restless fortune hunting men.
There was fossicking at night and undermining in the day, *
plus the accidental shootings, murder, drunken disarray.
There were claim disputes and robberies; they had to be on guard,
finding constant racist wild attacks particularly hard.

Yet the claim proved so productive most had stayed to see it through,
while their isolation magnified and persecution grew.
When a rumour circulated they had struck a mother lode,
all that jealousy and loathing took just minutes to explode.
They would not give up their nuggets so the Chinese workers fell,
and by sunset all but one had been disposed of down the well.

Only one remained as witness—he was shrewd and somewhat old,
so they let him live to point the way towards the hidden gold,
apprehending him at gunpoint—but he simply stared them down
and refused them under torture with despising, hostile frown.
He was brave and stubborn, nothing would persuade him to reveal
all the treasure they had sweated for and hastened to conceal.

When he cursed them then fell silent many strangely felt unease,
and indeed a few days later came great hardship and disease!
There were quite a few who died, and some went mad or ran away—
through it all the old man grimly nodded, held them all at bay
while the well received more victims and the stench soon filled the air,
but considering it justice he was not inclined to care.

Many years went by and people came and went within this place
on their quest for hidden nuggets, greed and hope on every face.
But instead they found an empty hut beside a gruesome well,
which they covered due to dread of falling down to depths of hell.
So a legend grew and spread for miles that evil lay in wait;
any fool who found this battered shack would meet a deadly fate.

There were tales of wrathful spirits, eerie lights with reddish glow
and of voices begging sweet release from torments down below,
while bizarre events occurred and seemed to validate the claims
with perplexing disappearances to fuel the rumours’ flames.
So before too long the property lay derelict and bare—
was avoided and abhorred because of what had happened there.

Now the battered corrugated iron shrieks against the wind,
but with nature’s elements and time the atmosphere has thinned.
There’s an antique windlass, spades and picks, bleak rubble everywhere,
plus a rotten sluice, some pans, brick hearth in worthless disrepair.
Yet a feeling of malevolence persists—each vengeful ghost
guards the solitude and silence, a united judging host.

Though so many men have searched and failed, they all have disappeared—
I am standing here determined on this site so known and feared.
I’m prepared for many days of toil, each anxious lonely night,
but will face the hardship gladly for I want to make things right.
I am fuelled by this alluring tale my Chinese forebears told—
for their bones within this well protect our priceless cache of gold.


* Undermining – digging in to the adjoining claim. Some diggers slept in their workings to guard against unwanted fossickers .
* Night fossicking – A man who slept or did nothing in the day would go around at night to where he knew claims to be rich and steal things by candlelight.

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