Hazards of Mining in the Australian Bush-Part 2

By Neville Ryan

 

While Australia didn’t have have the problems surrounding the mining of CRYSTALS in South America or the difficulties of mining MINERALS in the Africa or even the problems faced by LAPIS miners in Afghanistan, we did have our own set of problems mining in north west Western Australia. 

As people travel through the Australian bush in the northwest they often remark how little it looks like a desert. Most people are expecting it to look like the Sahara Desert (there are areas like that) but are surprised how green it looks. It often looks almost pleasant and welcoming……until you get out of your vehicle.

Spinifex waiting to strike.

Spinifex waiting to strike.

The small green clumps of vegetation known as Spinifex makes a nice color contrast with the red soil. Many unknowing people will walk through Spinifex much the same way they would walk through a vacant lot in a city suburb. They will only do this once! These nice little plants have spines as sharp as a scalpel. They will penetrate shoes and jeans like a hot knife through butter and the moment you forget about them, they will strike. They are beneficial for the cattle ranchers because in time of drought they set fire to large areas of Spinifex so the cattle can eat the new shoots that sprout. Dodging razor sharp needles and keeping an eye out for multiple poisonous snakes (all of which would kill you very quickly and painfully) is a way to get the heart pumping every morning.

 

Sleeping can at times be a big problem. On one mining trip I decided to forego the tent that was full of ants, mosquitos (called mozzies in Australia), flying bugs, millipedes and cockroaches and cleverly decided to sleep in the cab of the truck. I say cleverly because my idea brought out many grumbles from the others who hadn’t thought of the idea first. I threw in my flimsy mattress and settled down for a good night’s sleep. It was even more comfortable when I moved the gear stick into 1st rather than 4th and saved myself unwanted gear stick probing during the night. Ahhh, peace and quiet……..except for that annoying whine from a dreaded lone mosquito. You all know it’s impossible to ignore that noise and the only thing worse is when it stops. A flurry of hands and feet and the noise is back…then silence. So it goes on until I decided to take action. I reached for my ever present bug spray and gave it a quick burst. Unfortunately I had forgotten that we were using nuclear powered spray which meant I had to jump out of the truck before the fumes rendered me unconscious. More mosquitos were waiting for me outside so more spray was needed. After a time I braved the truck cab and settled down for the night. It was then that I noticed the width of the cab was about 1 inch shorter than the length of my body so I couldn’t stretch out completely. I know to many people out there an inch short doesn’t sound like much but in reality it can drive you crazy because when you can’t stretch fully that is all you want to do. Luckily I was saved from worrying about my predicament because the mosquito started up again.

 

Spinifex as far as the eye can see. You can't see the flies, mozzies and snakes.

Spinifex as far as the eye can see. You can’t see the flies, mozzies and snakes.

The worst part of mining in the bush were the mosquitos and flies. The flies are actually related to bees and while they don’t sting they are attracted to the moisture in your eyes. This means that from sunrise to sunset they are actively trying to get to your eyes and after only a short time this can drive you to distraction……… or insanity! The flies were so bad at one time that we all agreed that screaming out loud from frustration was ok. One night we were preparing a meal slightly earlier than normal so it was still light. This was the one and only time we made that mistake. The flies were so bad that we had to throw green wood on the fire and stand in the smoke so we could eat our meal. They also had the knack of striking while I was operating a pneumatic drill or carrying large rocks.

 

The flies daytime shift ended at nightfall then the mozzies started their evening shift. The mozzies, like the flies, were relentless except with the ever present danger that they were carrying some sort of malicious disease. Luckily none of us came down with anything other than lots of itchy bumps all over our bodies. They were particularly bad when having a shower. We rigged a drum of water in the backhoe bucket, put in a hose, lifted the bucket and “Hey Presto” we had a shower. Unfortunately we had to shower at night with icy cold water while being attacked by hordes of mosquitos attracted by all that moisture. It was good to get all that dust and mud off but we paid a price.

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