One Last Throw of the Dice
He'd been sitting the same way for days, slumped in the old, busted-up
cane chair on the verandah surrounded by the old, rusty relics he'd
picked up from the mine sites scattered all over the district.
Even the most gracious and generous approaches had done nothing to snap
him out of his dark lethargy and droopingly black mood.
"I just don't care anymore", he muttered on one occasion as
I wafted a fine, full-filled tumbler of the very best Ruby Cabernet
under his unquivering nostrils. "Nothing matters anymore! It's
all over, do you hear me?" He'd paused for breath, face ashen and
sagging. "Finished! Over! Defunct! Kaput! Collapsed! Gone, oh Lord,
all gone! Forever no more!"
And then nothing. Silence. Limp despair.
Anyone else wouldn't have had a clue about what he meant, would have
thought instead that he was just a candidate for the nut house, to be
fed with gentle drugs till his mind swelled and burst, easing his way
into a lifetime of hazy oblivion. So we cosset our depressed and mentally
unwell in these enlightened times and days.
But no. I knew his horrible malaise. I knew the black dog that gripped
him in its ugly maws and shook him mercilessly so that he hung limp
in the despairing chair of his own making.
Tennant Creek was finished as a mining centre. Shot. Worked out. Unprofitable.
Never again to thrill to the roar of the explosives, the chink of the
pick, the clank of the dolly pot, the ceaseless chant of the great battery
heads as they crushed the precious yellow metal from the unyielding
No more would magnificently muscled miners spend their strength as they
belted away at hammer and tap mining. No more would hours of sweat-pouring
diligence over a blisteringly hot dolly pot yield up that precious yellow
stream of gold dust rimming the bottom of cast-iron futility. No more
would golden hope spring unexpectedly from disappointing black ironstone
scattered across unrelenting hillsides.
Normandy had gone. Packed up. Sold up. No more Gecko. No more White
Devil. No more Warrego. No more hum and throb of a vital and active
mining community, reaping wealth from a reluctant ground, a harsh and
unyielding environment bested by an heroic endeavour from pioneer men
The romance, the struggle, the toil and the glittering rich rewards
were gone, stripped away forever. Where now the voices of the mining
pioneers? Lost on the wind forever. Where now the thirsty throats roaring
boisterous and joyous triumphs across the crowded pubs. Scattered to
the corners of the country. What of the nuggets and plugs of yellow
magnificence tossed casually over a bar top? Melted down for dividends.
His depression was bad, deep and too cold to fathom.
"Boof" I cried. "Remember that the Creek has slumped
before! It's not the first time. The Creek will rise again!" Said
more in vainglorious hope than certainty, but perhaps enough to drag
him from his slough of despair.
"Never again" he despaired. "Look at the gold price.
A piddling $268 an ounce!" He choked on the words. "Not enough
to dig from the ground."
"But it's been higher!" I tried. "It'll go up again!"
"Normandy know. They got out. Lazy miners who wanted quick profits
and no high costs. Huh, talk about economic rationalism."
"Remember the saveloy success" I implored. "Remember
the miners of 1936 and their celebration of one hundred thousand pounds
worth of gold!"
"Gone, all gone" he cried. "No one will ever dig the
Creek gold again!" He choked on memory. "The Professor's gone,
Mount Isa at least offered a modest stipend for his talents. Miss Kitty's
retreated to Western Australia to a tin mine!" He gasped at the
"Don't think that way," I cried. "There might just be
one last throw of the dice."
He responded with silence, instead toying idly with old dolly pots and
dishes and lanterns and things he'd picked up on the field and kept,
tokens of the golden days. The sullen mood was interrupted by the thump
of the dodgy NT-wide newspaper as it belted against the door, thrown
by an insolent bald-headed paperboy. I opened it without any enthusiasm.
I knew when I was beat. I poured a huge tumbler of the last of the Grange
'76 and turned the pages.
And there it was. Salvation. Hallelujah! Salvation, brothers and sisters!
"Giants Reef on Track" roared the tiny little banner header.
"First gold production from its Chariot gold deposit by early next
350,000 ounce deposit, twenty grammes per tonne, along with
additional resources totalling 215,000 ozs of gold and 89,000 tonnes
of copper in twelve other deposits in the surrounding area."
I took him by the throat and lifted him high. "Read this!"
I roared and his tired eyes grew wide, his jaw slumped and his quivering
limbs grew firm as his body once more stood erect.
"Go!" he cried. "Go and gather all the bottles of Montrachet,
the Veuve Clicquot and Oxford Landing, that highest quality nectar of
bliss". I looked at him and choked over his final choice, but dashed
to his cellar to do his bidding. My spirits soared as his had - the
Creek would rise again!
I arrived back on the verandah and stopped, shocked and appalled.
He was lying on his back, kicking his fat little legs and waving his
pudgy little arms around in somehow disgusting circles. He was in a
rapture of glee and ecstasy and he was singing a little ditty:
"Hammer and tap,
Hammer and tap,
I always knew
The Creek'd be back."
Strings of linked saveloys, feet and feet of lurid pinkness, tangled
around his neck and limbs and spilled all over the floor. I forgot my
compassion and reached for the phone. Perhaps the good doctor did have
a spare Prozac or two that he wouldn't mind sharing. All for a good
cause, of course.
My Last Throw of the Dice.