Me and my mate took a trip the other day
out along the road to Gosse River. Whip out along the well-made road
past Nobles Nob and keep going - there's still a bit of water out there
and there are some nice river gums on the river bed (the old eucalyptus
camaldulensis) that you can loll around under. Esky, barbie and all
the creature comforts.
You still burn your head off at this time of year though, even under
Basically though we were looking for a couple of old mines from around
1937 - the New Hope, the Comstock and the Plumb, maybe stumble across
Desert Hope - on the road out there. The Tennant Creek Fields had been
kicking in for about three or four years by then and the miners were
looking for new areas, away from town, although there'd been some pretty
spectacular pulls of gold. Mount Samuel for example was getting returns
that made speculators fairly randy with desire to have shares in - 400
tonnes of ore from a couple of assays and something like 1000 ounces
of gold in return.
Nice dollars in those tough days.
The heat was fairly savage when we went out - at the time of writing
we'd been over a hundred degrees on the old fahrenheit scale for about
six weeks - hot enough to burn holes in you. Sunblock up! We were in
the air-conditioned Magna though and it was all pretty easy. We got
hot a couple of times but really it was no sweat. Jump in the car, pump
up the air-con and things are pretty sweet.
The old miners did it it a bit tough back then though. We're talking
about 1933, 1935 now. Rough, tough, fry your brains out stuff. Hard
times for those blokes.
Most people in Tennant Creek just accept that they're here, they don't
really know why or how they got here.
The only reason they're here is because an Aboriginal bloke called Frank
passed a bit of gold across to a white fellow who knew the value of
a lump of rock back in about 1930 or 1931 - the dates don't matter that
much - and a rush started. It was during the depression and no-one was
doing it that easy then.
They came here, to dear old Tennant Creek. It genuinely was the last
Gold Rush in Australia. A Gold Rush is when a flush of colour calls
to the hungry and the desperate and the no-hopers and everyone else
and they all come together, all of them trying to pull a quid out of
what's around, what's in the ground and what's sitting on the surface
for everyone to have a bit of a pick at.
The early colour in Tennant Creek was pretty good - there are some sites
around, not far from the town centre, that were returning six to ten
ounces of gold for a tonne of pretty hard-obtained ore. It's all hematite
and magnetite around here and it can bite ends off diamond drill bits,
even today, like a cat can bite the head off a mouse.
And those old miners worked in conditions worse than a blast furnace,
poured their strength and their youth and vigour into mines that sometimes
gave them jack shit in return and then again sometimes gave them an
They'd hang their bottles of beer up in wet socks, keep them damp so
that at the end of the day there'd be just a bit more than a dry humpy
and bugger all else to go back to. They'd open up a tin of boiled meat
and eat it and love it and then fall over at the end of the day on a
rough old cot and sleep and think about getting rich.
They were said to be men of marvellous stature, built like gods, accompanied
by women "hard and strong".
Go up and have a look at Mike Hester's museum in the old hospital -
you wouldn't pay sixpence to stay a night there, in what is a mock-up
of what things were like then.
But hungry blokes will come and bring their wives and kids as well,
even when there's bugger-all water, and no facilities and crap food
that's really only going to keep you alive and that will still end up
with you getting boils the size of fifty cent pieces
Because they'd dig their guts out in the stone, sometimes not getting
any further than two metres in a day, with two men in the shaft drilling,
another bloke outside sharpening the drill points, sometimes busting
all their gear, sometimes bursting out mad and going grog crazy, in
the early days never having enough water to have a decent drink, let
alone a tub. They did it it just a bit tough.
Anyway, we found those old mines, me and my mate. The New Hope (three
or four shafts there and maybe a long adit out along a seam) had some
good early returns, and then fell on its arse; the Comstock (shallow
shafts and some lateral chasing of gold seams) went nowhere and there's
a bit of a question mark over The Plumb (one deep, deep, deep shaft).
We never did quite find the Desert Hope. We got tired and sick of pioneering,
got hot and bothered and didn't have the same sort of imperative on
us that those blokes did and anyway the St. Paddy's Day Races were on.
We picked up a few relics out at the old, hungry Comstock - there was
a Holbrooks sauce bottle with a glass stopper, an old Capstan tobacco
tin and a litter of broken beer bottles. Southwark! Hell! Who'd drink
that rubbish, even back then.
And then there was an old set of paints, for kids. A rusty old tin tray
with insets for each colour, all dried up and nothing else left. Kids
out there, no water much to mix up with, bully beef for lunch or go
hungry (we found the tins), and this rusted-up painting set. Maybe an
easel was out there too. Didn't find that though. Still, someone cared
enough to get the paints.
The worst of times, the best of times.