We were coming back from The Nob. These days it's just
a huge hole in the ground but once it was a hell of a shaft, deep into
ironstone and going every which way following gold-bearing seams - and
it gave some very, very good colour indeed.
"How much gold did they get out of there anyway?" he said.
I'm a bit edgy, there's talk around of certain mining operations closing
down, others maybe starting up and if I can't sell enough product I'm
buggered and the family is going to have to pack up and look somewhere
"Bullshit, bullshit." The air-con in the Magna was pumping
away but he still shouted and waved his arms around. "What do you
mean by heaps?" he went on. Ratty and tired - too long in the sun,
drinking too much beer and not enough water.
"Well, what year do you mean?" I was as patient as I could
be. "The year that Jack Noble first found real colour, blind old
bloke that he was or the year that they pulled a Tattslotto total out
He had a bit of a think and cut in. Not to be outdone.
"It was pretty rich wasn't it?" he said. "Didn't they
get a million ounces or something out of there in the end?""
Back then, they got so much gold out of strange small pockets in the
ironstone, they all had fits. Huge accumulations in tiny spaces. Just
sometimes, in some places. It's the Great Depression, everyone's destitute,
on the bones of their arse and suddenly they find one of those little
pockets and bingo, there's the tucker bill paid off, there's a jingle
in the pocket for the pub, a bit of a spree and enough to look out for
another place that might work.
Not all of them did the job for you though. You can still see the slices
those early blokes cut across a promising ironstone outcrop. Dug into
this iron-hard stone and then you crushed it all up in the old dolly
pot, bloody hard yakka, looking for colour. And found absolutely bugger-all.
Just have a look at the old mineral leases maps from the thirties. More
than seven hundred taken out and less than half had a mine put on them,
or even had a name given to them. There was nothing there except hard
"They looked at ironstone outcrops first," I said. "That's
the only place they ever found it here."
"Not in quartz?" he asked. "That's gold all over, you
find it in quartz and you look for reefs of quartz. " He started
to gush. Know-all dill. "You find the quartz reef, you dig a bit
up, crush it and then there's gold all over the place and you're rich."
He was very definite about it. And smug. "That's all there is to
it. Bugger this ironstone business. Those miners were silly old buggers.
They looked in the wrong places." He was on a rant. Can you throttle
a mate and not get locked up?
"All right smart arse!" Time to hit back. Put him on his head
a bit. "If there's quartz gold, then there's alluvial gold, because
quartz is an imperfect medium and it breaks down in time and releases
the nuggets." Cop this, I thought. I've done the mine tours. Work
this one out.
"Why aren't there alluvial fields here," I went on, "why
didn't those old blokes get out and dry-pan and fossick. Pick up the
"They did back then and they still do now." He crossed his
arms in triumph. "You've seen all those nuggets that the bloke
with the Beatles haircut gets from down around Kurinelli. And they got
the same from the alluvial fields out at the Last Hope and Mad Mick's."
Proved his little point.
Yeah, okay, there is heaps of gold round Kurinelli but it's different
geological strata. You can look that little point up. And sure, tourists
still pick up a little bit out there north of Warrego at Mad Mick's
but no-one seriously punts it anymore.
Or do they? Moonlight Rockhole, what they called the alluvial field
out there around 1937 or 1938 supposedly turned a "considerable
quantity of gold, including some very valuable nuggets". And there's
a heap of country around here that looks a bit like that out there or
down around Kurinelli.
I had to tell him.
"You know, I saw some stuff once." How do you put awe into
your voice? "I saw a drill core out of Noble's Nob once, bisected
- you know, cut into two (poor bastard, no brains and happy about it
I thought) - that just sparkled like honeycomb so much gold was in it."
He played around in his pocket, rattled some rocks he'd found somewhere,
pretty coloured rocks he'd picked up.
" Do you reckon lines of hills play a part in it?" he asked.
A good question, I thought. There's no doubt that the really rich finds
are often associated with a line of hills. Just look at Southern Cross,
Mount Samuel, Hammerjack, cross over the highway to Eldorado and Enterprise
and then extend along the ridge out to Weaber's Find, Rising Sun and
the fabulously rich Noble's Nob.
It's what made this town rich once. Buckets of gold. In pockets, maybe
along lines of hills.
The richest mine ever in this little area? Full of filthy lucre? Back
in 1933 in an unnamed shaft that someone else had walked out of a couple
of days before, just a few feet further down, they found ore that kicked
in at 6 ozs per ton. I had another think.
"The Peter Pan area started to have a go about then." That's
up around where Two Tank Hill is today. Early days in the diggings.
"Peter Pan won the Cup in 1932," he reckoned. Had to say what
"Yeah well, it did win and so did the The Pinnacles. About six
feet down, mate, that's all. Nothing to it. In the same line of hills
as Peter Pan, a bloke put a costean down down across some pematite breakaways."
I had another think. He beat me to it.
"The Pinnacles in its first crush got 62 ozs of gold out of six
and a half tons of ore. Ten ounces of gold a ton! That's starting to
be big gold field figures!" he shouted.
I hate enthusiasm like that. He's wishing he was there.
And then thinking about Weaber's Rising Sun, just a spit away from where
Nobles's Nob got to be later. It turned in 315 ounces from 55 tons of
rock. In 1933.
"They had a rush, didn't they?" he said, nervously playing
around in his pockets with the stones he'd picked up.
"Last one, mate. In Australia anyway. At least, until the next
Poor bastard, couldn't get a kick in a stampede. Rocks in his pocket
and rocks in his head. Look out for those blokes back then though. They
came in a rush. Heaps of hard work and heaps of gold if you got it right.
Peko, Lone Star and Golden Forty all started around 1933 and all of
them produced in no uncertain fashion. These mines took a lot of gold
out of the ground. Up to 1936, just as an example, they claimed 11,913.87
ozs of bullion.
What's gold worth now, even in the slump? More than US$300 an ounce
- that's some three and a half million bucks in yankee terms, five and
a half in ours. Not bad for those times either.
And some of the wheelings and dealings of some of the people on the
fields who juggled where the money was going to be, where to go next,
how deep to dig, how long to stay in a particular place. That story
probably bears some telling too.
The real question is though, how did the old blokes sometimes get it
right? And only some of them? Noble and Weaber did, some others could
smell it out in the rocks, the gold I mean, but others just did a starve.
If you look at the pretty complex dealings, sharings, partnerships,
alliances, broken friendships, betrayed alliances and all that, it comes
down to the fact that like today, there's plenty of gold around, it
just takes luck and judgement and determination to dig it out. But there's
a lot of rock between it too.
But in Tennant Creek, that chance was there if it worked right. On Marla
Mamarla - Mount Samuel is the European name - on Mineral Lease number
352 in 1936 they pulled an incredible 2,109 ozs from 722 tons of ore.
They hit the pocket.
Old-Timers reckon they know where there's a couple of strikes like that
left, only bigger. But things stop them now. Arthritis, old age, anything.
But they know. They can just about smell it. A couple of them reckon
that underneath Paterson Street is the richest strike in the region.
Maybe around the Goldfields pub, a couple of them think.
Boofhead tumbled the couple of stones out onto the dash from his pocket.
"What do you reckon about these?" he asked. They looked funny.
I grabbed at them, felt their weight.
"Oh my sainted aunt!"
It came out, a low moan. They were freckled all through like that Kiwi
ice cream - hokey pokey - all golden through the rich blackness of the
"Where? Where?" I thought of the bisected drill core and started
to sweat. I shouted and whirled my arms around. Took him by the throat
and gripped tightly.
"I can't really remember." He choked a bit. "I mean we've
been looking at these old places for months now and you know I like
pretty stones and well, it could have been anywhere. I just picked them
up. I haven't worn these shorts for a while, I cant remember the last
time and it could have been anywhere."
We'd been to the Wheal Doria (just over a ton of ore for 48 ozs in 1934)
and near the site of the Rising Sun (6 ozs a ton, again in 1934) We'd
been to the War Whoop and the Spotted Dawg and the Two Nipples and New
Those names rang like clarions in my old head. How the hell did they
think them up anyway? He might have picked the pretty rocks up at the
Edna Beryl maybe or the Blue Moon - we'd been to all of them. It would
be like looking for the Lost Elephant Graveyard.
I thought of the cemetery. I thought of my silly mate being lowered
down, just like David Charles Grant, seventeen years old Mick, 1919
to 1937 poor young bastard or Mick O'Brien, miner, buried somewhere
out near the race course, the first bloke shot to death in Tennant Creek
back in 1934, there's a story there. Could I neck my dumb mate and get
away with it ?
So I locked him in the car instead while I went into the pub for a soothing
ale. It's an executive vehicle and you can do that. "You can think
real hard," I told him, "and remember where you last wore
those shorts. Think about that old gold." It's easy to think hard
when you're locked in a car and it's 38 degrees in the shade.
"I'll be back in a while."