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Snippets 15 April 2009
Lunatics or Heroes?, a photo exhibition in the Historical Society's Cottage Hospital (BNA), was opened on Good Friday by long-time resident, Jerry Lomax. He stirred memories with animated stories of mining in the 1960s when he mentioned the infamous pistol-packing Mrs Lenz's gate to the 3-Mile, Constable Mathers' ability to turn a blind eye, and another keg up in a tree.

Lomax arrived about 50 years after Ion Idriess, the famous Australian author, and he was about the same age when he started mining. However, times were much quieter than in 1909 – maybe 30 miners – and about the only improvement in machinery was the replacement of ox hide buckets with Sydney's cast-off night cart buckets. Dry rumbling changed when permanent water became available, and electricity expanded facilities in the village.

An Old Chum Remembers MORE, a collection of Walgett Spectator articles written by opal miner, John Landers, was also launched. Similar stories to those related by our Hero Jerry are within. Now into 2009, another fifty years has passed, and it is the people who came and stayed that have made Lightning Ridge what it is today.

The Good Friday event kicked off the ninth exhibition at the Cottage Hospital Gallery. Please come to view Lunatics or Heroes. We're open Wednesdays and Fridays, 10-4pm, or by appointment.

Barbara Moritz
24 April 2009 02:41am
Snippets 8 April 2009
'Lunatics or Heroes' at Lightning Ridge? If you aren't sure where YOU fit into the scheme of things, come down to Heritage Cottage Hospital Gallery on Good Friday morn, 10.30am. A well-known local 'Hero' is launching our photo exhibit and the historical society's newest booklet, An Old Chum Remembers MORE.

MORE is a series of Walgett Spectator articles submitted in 1936 by opal miner John Landers. He tells of his thirty years at Lightning Ridge. In one of the articles, he invites the famous Australian author, Ion Idriess, to write his story of opal mining at the Ridge. Idriess' Lightning Ridge was published in 1940.

MORE is dedicated to this popular author who actually began his writing career on the 3-Mile diggings in 1909. The final pages of MORE are two Idriess articles from other publications complementing Landers' articles of the (Lunatic) Hill before WWI.

MORE's conclusion is today's Lunatic Hill and its proposed future, bringing the reader up-to-date. You'll want your own copy that is a sequel to An Old Chum Remembers 1906-1921 by Landers, 2002. In 2009, big things are happening at Lunatic Hill that will secure the Ridge's future in tourism.

See you Good Friday morning at 10.30am. This event is sponsored by Walgett Shire and promises to be an entertaining way to start the Easter weekend.

Barbara Moritz
7 April 2009 04:41pm
Snippets 1 April 2009
Since the Mystery ‘Hystery’ Tours, the Historical Society has been flat out getting ready for the Easter opening of our 2009 exhibition: Lunatics or Heroes, and no, this is not an April Fools joke!

Just think back – how many people questioned your intention to visit Lightning Ridge and/or asked you how you could live ‘way out there’? Especially the old timers were suspected of a certain madness to be on the opal diggings in the middle of nowhere.

People may think we are Lunatics, but Heroes we are when you consider that the Ridge is one of the few regional centres going ahead. The dream and a freedom of lifestyle – a bit of the Wild West? – is often the attraction for visitors and locals alike. And lately, the edge of the Outback is very green.

Join us at our Good Friday opening, 10.30am, on the Cottage Hospital (BNA) verandah. Remember the old timers who were our inspiration to come to the opal fields. Linger for a cuppa and a chat and enjoy the view. Our backyard looks especially tidy thanks to a couple of the chaps from Best Employment. They got a preview of the 2009 exhibition during their breaks.

We’ll launch An Old Chum Remembers MORE by John Landers, a reprint of 1936 Walgett Spectator articles. The booklet is dedicated to Ion L Idriess, the famous Australian author who started his writing career on the diggings at Lunatic Hill in 1909. He wrote more than 50 books in as many years. Our favourite is Lightning Ridge that tells his opal mining adventures during the heyday of the 3-Mile.

We hope to see you Good Friday morning or sometime during the busy weekend and on-going winter season. We’d like to thank Walgett Shire for the community grant that supports our 2009 Easter opening.

Barbara Moritz

7 April 2009 04:40pm
Snippets 25 March 2009
The first goat race in 1977 was the brain child of the late Peter Prentice, a grazier at Angledool, north of Lightning Ridge. He sat on Walgett Shire Council and was generally very active and interested in Lightning Ridge activities.

In the early 1970s, Easter at the Ridge was very popular with visitors. However, in 1976 numbers were down due to rumours that roads were still cut by flood – only 16 coach loads of visitors arrived instead of 30. Perhaps a new feature at the annual Easter Saturday horse race would be just the thing – what about racing harnessed wild billy goats pulling gigs on the track?

Race Club Secretary Prentice sought approval through the AJC (Australian Jockey Club) but his request was denied. Ridgeites were undaunted and announced that the inaugural Great Goat Race would take place in the main street, from the Diggers' Rest Hotel to the Bowling Club. Local businessman Herman Kreller, as co-organiser, would man the microphone on Easter Saturday morn. Preparation began.

The pine forests around the Ridge were full of goats. Local Stephen Henley flew his airplane up to Angledool to pick up Peter Prentice and they looked for the roaming herds. Once located, men on motor bikes rounded them up and brought them in. Stephen and his wife Lesley ran the Diggers' Rest Hotel so were keen for the Great Goat Race to succeed.

A carnival atmosphere prevailed – even a marble challenge using goat droppings was an associated event. Goat's names were chosen carefully, e.g. The Fonz, Ben Peake, Paleface Adios, Goat, Mandrake, Sir Bill, to name but a few. The numbers were spray-painted on the side of the critter and sometimes his name.

The home-made 2-wheeled gigs were very inventive – wheels of all sizes were used, with luck, two matching per gig. Even Santa looked as comfortable in his creation (the shafts bound in glittery twirls from a Christmas tree) as if being drawn by his team of reindeer. These days gigs are standardized.

Hundreds of locals and visitors – young and old – lined the street to cheer on their entries. Local SP Bookie, Harold Hodges, did very well on the day. The unpredictable madness of each race was dictated by a billy goat shooting out into the crowd or stopping dead in his tracks not to be moved on any account. The tipping gigs, bearing too much weight or too little, were a source of entertainment but, thankfully, no injuries were suffered apart from the pride of participating drivers of all ages.

On the following day, the Great Goat Race was called again over ABC Radio's Australia All Over by Alex Nicol. Also June Barton on radio program Morning Extra mentioned the race and said she would like to be present at the next one. And so it has continued right through years. Other towns picked up the idea but Lightning Ridge held the first Great Goat Race of the region.

Goats were not always a source of sport and entertainment at Lightning Ridge. In the 1930s and earlier, they were an important food source, and the village's Billy Goat Lane was a highly scented thoroughfare according to octogenarian John Allport. Every house on both sides had milking goats and the billy goat's practice of piddling on his front legs ensured the predominant aroma.

The minimal upkeep of goats suited the semi-arid conditions around Lightning Ridge as there was no permanent water supply until the early 1960s. People relied on goats for milk and made butter from the cream. The Allports ran a goat dairy and killed the surplus half-grown goat kids for meat and made floor mats of their skins. John and his brother delivered milk to the miners on the opal fields for pocket money.

Today, goats continue to roam the forests but, in recent years, are a commodity on the land and not vermin. Graziers can market feral goats so no longer welcome shooters to keep the population down which was a popular pass time and source of meat for locals. Permission to enter a property could most likely be sought by Walgett Shire's commercial hunters who could also be opal miners. Goats for meat can probably be purchased from the grazier.

Llanillo Station supplies the goats for the famous race that is in the trilogy of major activities for the 2009 Easter Festival at Lightning Ridge – the rodeo, the horse race and the goat race. Local artist John Murray's logo meets you head on – the bull, the horse and the billy goat – and has new energy for a big weekend at the Ridge.

Barbara Moritz
7 April 2009 04:39pm
Snippets 18 March 2009
Of interest to author Ion 'Jack' Idriess' followers, is that his first published article appeared under the pen name, 'Miner', in the 13 July 1910 Sydney Mail It describes life on the diggings under three headings: 'Opal Mining at Lightning Ridge', 'Snipping and Classifying' and 'Grinding the Potch'. Three photos accompany the article. State Library of New South Wales is presently scanning the original newspaper page for our collection.

You have probably read that Jack often said his drunken, lawyer, opal mining partner, Tom Peel, urged him to write 'paras' and submit them to Australian publications. His biography says that Peel actually sent in the successful article and photos, possibly since Idriess had gone to the sheds to earn a 'nest egg' to return and keep digging. His first published item earned him 3 Guineas – his only 'gem' of eight months mining!

Idriess was a qualified Assayer from the Broken Hill School of Mines when he set out on his nomadic life of prospecting. He had just turned 20 in September 1909 when he took out his Miner's Right at Lightning Ridge. Jack's second stint from late 1910 was productive, and his biography says “....he was never off opal for the next two years.”

It was more like 18 months, that second time, since Idriess as 'Gouger' describes the March 1912 flood around Lightning Ridge in Jim Bradly's selections republished in 2008 as Gouger of the Bulletin, and his following items to the Bulletin are from Far North Queensland about tin and gold.

His reporting to the urban areas of Australia about life in the inland and surrounding isles are some of the most borrowed books at libraries across Australia. If nothing else, celebrate 100 years since he began his writing career by reading Lightning Ridge and you'll get a taste of his appealing writing style.

Barbara Moritz
7 April 2009 04:37pm