By Neville Ryan
When I left off Part 1 we were heading along the Great Northern Highway to the town of Meekatharra, or Meeka as it is commonly known. The town before Meeka is Mount Magnet where we stopped for some supplies and I bought a pair of thongs. No, not those types of thongs! In America they are called flip flops. I had to pay $7 or $8 for them and I was outraged because in Perth I would have paid $1, but as it turns out I still have them 25 years later so I guess I shouldn’t be complaining. Meeka is about 500 miles north of Perth and about half way to our destination of the town of Tom Price where we would be mining Tiger Eye. I was always sorry to leave Meeka because it meant weeks of hard work in the Bush was about to start. The good thing about Meeka was that on the return journey we were heading towards civilization and it looked like Paris looming in the distance.
Luckily we carried our diesel fuel on the truck so we didn’t have to rely on the infrequent road houses (gas stations) along the way. One infamous roadhouse that was run by an unpleasant fellow refused to turn on the gas pumps after closing unless you guaranteed to spend a minimum amount of money on fuel whether needed or not. Truckers used to pull up and camp across the road, set up a b-b-q and refuse to buy anything from the roadhouse. It was their way of displaying their displeasure with the owner. This is the place where we stopped to refuel our truck. Normally it is a simple operation whereby you use a plastic hose to drain the fuel from the drums into the truck tank. On this occasion however, one of our team managed to squirt diesel over 3 of us from head to toe. I can’t write the actual words that were expressed at the time but you can probably guess. It was a pretty miserable drive from there on. The smell and taste of diesel stays with you a long, long time.
We putter along from Meeka another 250 miles to Newman dodging cows standing and lying on the highway. Luckily we have brand new 2 way radios for occasions just as this but unfortunately they don’t work! It’s every man and vehicle for themselves but luckily there were no accidents. Another 250 miles to Tom Price and we are just about there. Around 1,000 miles from Perth and all we have to do now is find the mine site. After some false starts we tracked down the site on a cattle station (cattle ranch) and after paying our respects to the station manager (he can make things very difficult if he didn’t like us) we set about unloading the vehicles and setting up camp.
Time to get serious and start mining. We locate a large band of Jasper which hopefully will include Tiger Eye. We are looking for a specific type of Tiger Eye called Marramamba Tiger Eye. It contains some amazing colors and takes a beautiful polish. It is incredibly difficult to find but miners are forever hopeful. Because the Jasper band is so large and tougher than concrete we all agree it is time for explosives. This involves the use of heavy pneumatic drills to make holes across the jasper so we can plant explosives. Let me tell you, this is hard work, especially for a city slicker. After the drilling is completed a committee forms (when more than 2 guys get together a committee always forms) and there is considerable discussion on how much jelly (explosives) to use. The general opinion is that it is better to “use a bit extra rather than not enough”. Hmmmm! Are you starting to see the potential here?
The detonators (which luckily didn’t go off while on the Toyota dashboard) are crimped onto the fuses and inserted into the jelly and the explosives are now primed. Ideally (remember this word), when an explosion occurs it should be a gentle thud and the jasper section we wanted would separate a few inches from the main bed. We could then use the backhoe bucket to pull out our section and break it up with drills. People, machinery and vehicles were moved back a considerable distance. Further than necessary but we were being cautious. The fuses are lit (there is another story about lighting fuses but that will be for a later installment) and there is excitement in the air. As it turned out excitement was not the only thing in the air. Our “dull thud” explosive sounded like an Atom Bomb going off. Our first thoughts were “that the explosion didn’t sound right”. Our second thoughts were “what are those strange noises?” We began to notice small pebbles descending from the sky. Our third thoughts were “HOLY S#*T”. We were all ducking for cover under the vehicles as large boulders of jasper came plummeting down to earth. Vehicles and machinery being hit, tree branches snapping, people yelling. Pandemonium. When boulders stopped falling we slowly extracted ourselves from under vehicles, made sure everyone was ok, checked the vehicles and machinery (all sort of ok) and then formed a committee to discuss the explosion. We checked the site and all agreed for the first time out it was a success! There was a thought that we should probably use less jelly next time but that was left open for future discussion.