By Neville Ryan
The stories in this series are a compilation of events that took place over several trips while mining Tiger Eye, Snakeskin Jasper and Rainforest Jasper in the Pilbara region of northwest Western Australia.
When most people hear the word mining they imagine huge machines churning the earth, giant trucks moving many tons in a single load and thundering explosions all choreographed in perfect timing. I’m here to tell you that’s how the big boys operate but small time miners in Australia 30 years ago, not so much. We were initially a shoe string operation with a lot of enthusiasm but not much else. We had a truck, backhoe, generator, pneumatic drills, hoses, tools and drums of diesel. Throw in some food and water and we were ready………….almost!
We needed explosives because we were going to be working in some tough beds of jasper looking for Tiger Eye. Off to the government lockup where a stern looking guy asks for I.D. which is dutifully presented. He checks the mining license (no photo) and driving license (no photo in those days) and asks “Are you the person named on these documents”? The answer is “yes” and he smiles and says ”good on ya mate, how many boxes of Jelly do you need”? Keep in mind that “Jelly” is the unofficial name for explosive that is similar to dynamite except that it is a lot safer to handle. You can drop it, cut it and even throw it in the fire and it won’t explode. “I suppose you need some detonators with that” was the next question. Once again the answer was “yes”. “No worries mate I’ll pop them in the car for you”. Off we drive in the Toyota laden with explosives and detonators sitting on the dashboard. Ahhhh. The Good Old Days!
We set off with our truck fully loaded and were headed for some potential mining sites about 1,000 miles north of Perth in Western Australia. We made quite a sight with the fuel drums strapped up forward and the backhoe fully secured behind them on the bed of the truck with the generator trailing along behind. We travelled north towards Mt. Tom Price along the inland route through Meekathara. In those days most of the route was a one lane road and by one lane I mean the paving was only wide enough for one car. If someone was coming the other way you would have to move 2 wheels onto the dirt and hopefully the other vehicle would do the same so you could pass each other safely. If a big road train (semi -trailer pulling multiple trailers) came through you would have to pull off the road completely and wait until the dust settled before you could continue. The other incentive to us pulling over was the fact that they were going like a bat out of hell and didn’t move over for anyone. Luckily you could drive for 15 to 20 hours and not see another vehicle. I have been told that the road is now a 4 lane highway and mining trucks are operating 24 hours a day.
The story continues in part 2.