Oddities of Mining in the Australian Bush in the Good Old Days-The Final Chapter

By Neville Ryan

If you were mining in Africa for minerals, South America for crystals, Afghanistan for Lapis or even the Himalayas for uncommon crystals you would have experiences unique to those areas.

When out in the Australian bush you come across many things that you don’t find in the city. I thought you might find it interesting to read about some of those differences.

When you think of shopping it usually means getting in the car and going down to the local store whenever you feel like doing it. In the bush however it can be a little more complicated. One time we were about 250 miles from town and stopped in to let a station owner (ranch owner) know that we would be mining on the property. We caught him just as he and his wife were about to take off in their plane to go shopping. You wouldn’t want to forget the sugar!

On the same trip we were mining when a government mining inspector showed up. When you are hundreds of miles from town you don’t really expect any visitors. He came all the way out to tell us about the Pebble Mouse sites. You are probably thinking “what is a Pebble Mouse site”? Let me assure you we asked him the same question. It turned out that a particular type of mouse while digging its burrow ejected small round pebbles through the burrow opening. These pebbles were then arranged in a circular fashion around the opening. He told us the sites were protected then proceeded to input the location of each site into his GPS and take down our mining permit information with a stern warning that if any of the sites were damaged or destroyed we would be in big trouble. We were careful to avoid the Pebble Mouse habitat.

Termites are not something you would normally think about unless they were eating  your house. Out in the bush however termite nests take on a whole new dimension. They can be up to 15 feet high and 10 feet across. While they are tall and wide they are relatively narrow. The termites design the nest so that the thinnest part follows the arc of the sun and helps keep the nest cool. How solid are they? If you hit one with your car you would come off a poor second!

Now that's what I call an ant hill!

Now that’s what I call an ant hill!

In the good old days there certainly wasn’t a lot of entertainment out on the mining sites. No computers, I pads or I pods. We did have a short wave radio that would sometimes pick up Radio Australia so we could listen to the news and lots and lots of classical music. I like classical music but it had its time and place. The real entertainment came on Sunday morning when we could listen to people talking to a doctor at the Royal Flying Doctor Service over a 2 way radio. Some very funny situations but not suitable for this article.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service has to be one of the finest organizations in Australia. It started in 1928 when only 2 doctors were caring for people over an area of nearly 800,000 square miles.

In  2013, the 63 aircraft of the RFDS and a number of chartered aircraft undertook over 75,000 flights taking over 80,000 hours and covering a distance of nearly 27 million kilometres (nearly 17,000,000 miles). They treated on average 809 patients everyday (295,000 per year) across  more than 80% of Australia (7,150,000 km2 or nearly 2,800,000 sq miles), an area nearly the size of the continental United States of America.(Information is from the RFDS web site flyingdoctor.org.au )

The RFDS is a lifeline when you are out in the bush. They will come and pick you up anywhere in Australia. They will land on dirt runways or dirt roads, day or night, and their specially equipped planes are an ICU unit that can carry out operations while in flight. We tried to become members but were told that the service was free but a donation would be appreciated. We were more than happy to donate to such a fine organization.

Have you ever been alone? Truly alone. I was for one night. Three of us were out mining when we received an emergency call over the 2 way radio. One of the party had to rush back to Perth and he had to be driven to the coast to the nearest airport. I was left with the choice to drive with them or stay behind and look after the camp. I decided to stay behind to secure the camp and equipment. Thinking back on the situation it would have needed a huge search party to even find where we were let alone someone stumbling in out of the darkness. Later on in the evening it began to hit me that I really was alone. No sounds from cars,buses or planes. No lights, except our little lamp powered by the generator. The lamp and the generator were my only contacts with civilization. I climbed a small hill next to the camp and looked up to see an incredible blanket of stars covering the entire sky for as far as the eye could see. I then looked down at my truly insignificant single bulb lamp. That was when I truly realized how insignificant we are in this huge beautiful universe. I then took things one step further and switched off the generator. Silence! Darkness! What was that clomping near by? I had the rifle in hand and I was ready to meet whatever alien was going to present itself. Those camels didn’t know how lucky they were! (Australia has the largest population of wild camels in the world and they are being caught and exported to the Middle East for breeding purposes). More silence. What’s that noise? Just wild donkeys wondering around. More silence then a huge cracking noise that sounded like a gun shot. That one really got me moving. On investigation I found it was our petrol (gas) drum being changed from a nice cylindrical shape to looking like a piece of crumpled up newspaper because of contraction under the cold night air. The next morning it heated up and snapped back to its original shape, with a mighty crack again.

This brings to an end my memories of days gone by in the Australian bush. I hope you have enjoyed the series.  When I look back at the good days and the bad days I am very happy to now be living in the wine country of Northern California.


One Response to “Oddities of Mining in the Australian Bush in the Good Old Days-The Final Chapter”

  1. Trish CrockerOctober 15, 2014 at 11:59 am #

    Us city folk in Australia don’t know too much about the bush. Good article Neville. Just Neville and the Universe – Wow!

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