The Opal Days

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Terry
Posts: 2747
Joined: Mon Nov 01, 2010 6:53 pm

The Opal Days

Post by Terry » Thu Aug 29, 2013 6:46 pm

The Opal Days
In a way it could be said that I’ve been chasing rainbows most of my life, the urge really took off If I remember right when I was about eight. I’d just heard a story about an uncle of mine who had once picked up a piece of rock with about an ounce of gold in it. He’d been walking along a newly gravelled road, but not knowing for sure if it was gold he just placed on the mantelpiece. It stayed there for some years before someone recognised it for what it was. Despite a frantic search of the area and all the known gravel pits around, no more pieces were ever found. But the story certainly fired my imagination, no stone or piece of rock escaped my attention from then on without being given a thorough examination.

Then in my late teens I wrote to Ion Idriess after reading his book ‘Lasseters Last Ride’; another young bloke and myself had this half baked idea of going out and finding the reef. I’m surprised now that he even bothered answering my letter; perhaps he saw a little of himself as a young chap in us. Anyway he suggested I have a go at opal instead and reckoned Coober Pedy would be a good place to try my luck.

It took a couple of years before I finally took the plunge, my age and lack of funds being the main drawback at the time. I managed to save a few pounds and then worked my way up to Darwin where I teamed up with a Swiss bloke named Hans after convincing him a fortune in opal awaited us. With funds at a premium we hitchhiked to Alice and then travelled on the back of a semitrailer to Coober Pedy. This was in the early sixties and Coober Pedy was a much different place then to what it is today. There were only about 300 people there from memory and apart from the Miners, Traiges and Brewster's stores, plus the Progress Association’s hall there was virtually no other buildings except the Nursing Post in the town.

It was a pretty rough place with lots of heavy drinkers and big gamblers, but unlike in later years you could leave your gear anywhere without fear of someone pinching it.

We started out with a hand auger, long length of rope, pick and shovel, Jelly, fuse and detonators. Our first home was down an eighty foot shaft and entry was via the rope and footsteps gauged on either side of the shaft, it’s amazing one of us didn’t break our necks.

We were fortunate enough to find a little opal from the beginning but were still on meagre rations. It all became a bit too much for Hans who pulled the pin after a few months, as luck would have it another bloke called Gunter (German) had just lost his partner (Manfred) so we teamed up and eventually brought an old Brush Hut out on the Flat for Twenty Quid. We were moderately successful over the years without making anything like a fortune, yet they were great years for a couple of young blokes learning to make their way in life, eventually we bought a fairly humble Dugout. We remain mates to this day, although we don’t get to see much of each other now as Gunter still lives in Coober Pedy
I left in 1968 to get married after meeting Valma on one of my infrequent trips home to the West; but soon started chasing rainbows again searching for gold. The last stanza from a poem about those days probably sums things up

I stir at last, the daydream ends, of opal days and long lost friends,
as young men then we’d grown up fast and learned when down you just bounce back.
A new life now and years speed by still chasing rainbows in the sky,
though memories are always there, of life out in that old brush shack.

© T.E. Piggott
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r.magnay
Posts: 1377
Joined: Sun Oct 31, 2010 1:41 pm
Location: Port Lincoln SA

Re: The Opal Days

Post by r.magnay » Fri Aug 30, 2013 7:35 am

Good onya Terry, a typical story about opal mining and never finding any, seems opal miners never do, if you ask them!.... ;)
Ross

Heather

Re: The Opal Days

Post by Heather » Fri Aug 30, 2013 10:54 pm

Really enjoyed reading about your opal days Terry. I can understand the quest for opals, gems or gold. When I was a kid my father collected gem stones, tumbled and set them. I recall one trip we made - I must have been very little - but it left a lasting impression. We collected quartz crystals - smokey and white ones and I'll never forget how beautiful and big they were and how much fun it was finding them.

Another trip gold prospecting with the kids when they were in scouts a couple of years ago. As it turned out, our guide didn't show up so we just took the scouts out to some random place in the bush with metal detectors and we had a ball - not an ounce of gold of course but it was great fun.

As for opals, well, they are my "birth stone" so I've always had a special fondness for them. I have two little ones that I bought in Coober Pedy when I was fifteen. One has a flash of red in it and I love it. Spent a few hours in Coober Pedy fossicking!

And if any of you gold prospectors is game, my engagement ring remains lost in the paddock somewhere. There's a reward for the finder!

Thanks again Terry, you've revived some good memories.

Terry
Posts: 2747
Joined: Mon Nov 01, 2010 6:53 pm

Re: The Opal Days

Post by Terry » Sat Aug 31, 2013 12:20 pm

Hi Ross,
We were reasonably successful but as mentioned never made a fortune.
But none the less had quite few reasonable finds;the Ponderosa was our most successful mine there is a photo on here somewhere of it.
Being young blokes though we tended to spend id as quick as we found it, but I wouldn't change things for quids.

Terry

Hi Matt
I wrote to Ion a couple of times and he always answered and was always encouraging, not that I needed much encouragement, I've always had that urge be it opal or gold. If you don't give it a go you'll never know, just perhaps spend the rest of your life wondering.

Cheers Terry

G/day Heather
I remember now you telling me you'd been to Coober Pedy and that opal was your birth stone. It's probably a place that everybody should visit, but unfortunately in my opinion not a patch on what it used to be, it's lost that special something it used to have.
It was a raw and exciting place in those pre tourist days, pretty well everybody was a miner not like today where only a small percentage of the population actually mine in the real sense. Yet despite its rough appearance there was something special about it. I could quite easily write a whole book about just my experiences in the years that I spent there.

Terry

r.magnay
Posts: 1377
Joined: Sun Oct 31, 2010 1:41 pm
Location: Port Lincoln SA

Re: The Opal Days

Post by r.magnay » Sat Aug 31, 2013 1:53 pm

Yeah I agree Terry, I first went there in the '70's playing in the band, it was race weekend and we played a couple of nights, it was a lot different then than it is now!....they even have bitumen roads and curbing now!.... I had a bit of a go at opal mining a bit later on, but mainly at Mintabie........didn't find a bloody thing!
Ross

Vic Jefferies
Posts: 1041
Joined: Mon Nov 01, 2010 8:21 am

Re: The Opal Days

Post by Vic Jefferies » Sat Aug 31, 2013 6:48 pm

Great story Terry, I enjoyed it very much. My wife and I visited Lightning Ridge a couple of years ago and can easily understand how one could be bitten by the bug. Amazing you wrote to a hero of mine Ion L Idress and he replied!
Great pity, worse than a great pity, that his books are not taught and studied in school today. Given that the teachers we have today are the result of the madness of the previous generation I suspect we should not be surprised.

Terry
Posts: 2747
Joined: Mon Nov 01, 2010 6:53 pm

Re: The Opal Days

Post by Terry » Sun Sep 01, 2013 11:03 am

G/day Vic, I’m really pleased you have enjoyed this yarn.

Yes Ion Idriess was also an inspiration to me as well especially as a young bloke.
I was surprised when he answered my letters, his letters by the way were always written by hand. He was very encouraging as well which was great as most people I knew thought I should be settling into a steady reliable sort of life, but I always had that urge to chase rainbows and still have to some extent.
I can understand how you felt a form of excitement when visiting Lightning Ridge, there is something special about those sort of places isn’t there. I still feel the same excitement out in remote areas of the goldfields over here, especially when coming into a new area I haven’t been to before.

Cheers Terry

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