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Snippets 18 November 2009
30 April 1914 by Gouger:
Some five years ago, we were sitting round the fires at the 'old town', Lightning Ridge, when from a distant camp came the cry, “Horse down a shaft.” The miners' horses often toppled down the scattered shafts, though whether with the idea of doing a bit of opal-gouging on their own, or merely committing suicide, I don't know.

Soon a motley crowd of 61 men, various dogs, many opinions, some lanterns, certain slush lamps and a huge rope scrambled along to the orifice where the animal was wedged 20ft down. “Sailor” climbed down and managed to knot the rope around the horse's belly. Before he could climb out, some fool yelled, “Every man on the rope.”

Now, the sudden and combined strength of 59 men, lugging at a rope which is sawing against hard rock is pretty considerate. The rope parted. One end caught “Sailor”, who was almost out of the shaft, across the neck and sent him flying down on to the unfortunate horse. The last man on the rope's end followed his heels down a hidden shaft behind him, while 58 men sat down hard and sudden.

Only one man stood up. He was the usual loafer, who had not been pulling at all. When the excitement calmed a bit, and the 59th man was saved, and the 61st man had ceased loafing, we hauled the 60th man (“Sailor”) from the shaft. Save for the loss of a penn'orth of skin, he was none the worse, though to hear him talk you'd have thought he was dead. It was then found that the horse was defunct. Our good intentions had pulled the rope almost through him. With a dismal feeling of failure, we filled in the shaft.

Barbara Moritz
29 December 2009 06:48pm
Snippets 11 November 2009
26 March 1914 by Gouger:
I have met live things hiding in many curious places, but the most fantastic lair of all was in a tiny seam of mud, 25 feet beneath the solid rock surface. He was a little brown toad, and his tiny eyes never even winked in the candle light, the first light he must have seen for countless years, perhaps it was the first he had ever seen.

Pressed in by millions of tons of rock, without air, without food or moisture, unless it percolated to him from the surface through the seam of mud, this ill-shapen castaway had life. I put him out of harm's way, and went on sinking. If he liked to live in such an out of the way place, I guess it was no business of mine; if he got his living there without work, so much the more power to him. I know I couldn't. The shaft proved a duffer.

Barbara Moritz
29 December 2009 06:45pm
Snippets 4 November 2009
2 January 1913 by Gouger:
About the most unexpected night's spree I ever knew of was sprung on us by an elderly, mild-looking gentleman, with spectacles and a microscope. It was at Weetalibah (N.S.W.). The first night the old chap was there, he borrowed a hurricane lamp from the publican, and commenced shooting at the small flying bats from the pub verandah. We gathered round in respectful silence.

After half an hour's hard shooting that merely made a sieve of the atmosphere, Long Harry got his pea-rifle and brought down two straight away. The professor was delighted, and, thanking Harry profusely, picked up his prizes and laid them on the table.

Getting his microscope to bear on the corpses, the professor presently produced a tiny phial and appeared to be rounding up invisible objects into the open bottle. Evidently, some of them accepted the invitation, for the professor would jam the cork in quickly, and chuckle like an infant with a toy.

But not a single thing could we see in the phials. After a long while Harry spoke. “Say, boss,” he said, “would it be any harm to ask you what's in them flasks?”

“Oh, certainly not,” replied the professor; “small parasites that live on the skins of these bats. These two specimens you just shot have yielded me some splendid samples.” Harry looked round at us in astonishment. Then his face changed to pity.

Leaning over the professor's shoulder, so that the publican couldn't possibly hear him, he whispered, “Look here, matey, the rum's bad in these parts. You stick to beer – it's best in the long run.”

The professor straightened up. “My good man,” he gasped, “you mistake me. I have not been drinking.” Then, after a pause, and to prove no doubt that he really had got a prize - “If you can procure me a dozen such specimens as I have here, I will buy you and your friends all the rum they can drink.”

There was an instant of pained silence, then a rush for guns and ammunition. For an hour, the night sounded like two hundred Boer wars and five Mafekings. The professor had to take his prizes away in Ryan's bullock wagon. But he paid up – a painful, long-drawn-out pay-up – and learnt that night what men can do when they put their thirst to it.

Barbara Moritz, Secretary
29 December 2009 06:42pm
Snippets 28 October 2009
21 March 1912 by Gouger, concerning a plague of winged cannibals continued:
One morning in our camp we found two miserable kangaroo dogs that had been left on the chain all night had perished, and 14 fowls from the married people's quarters were dead – literally bitten to death.

After that, it was an education to see every domesticated animal on the field line up to the fires at sundown, the horses pushing to their places, the fowls cackling and scurrying through the horses' legs, the dogs curled up, with only their noses and front paws out of the smoke, while, on the outskirts, even the thick-skinned goats would back their hinder parts into the reek.

Cooking and eating the evening meal was a dreadful operation. My mate and I would pile on the green bushes, make a rush for the damper and plates, then squat in the smoke, swallow in as quickly as we could, half-cooked chops, mosquitoes and smut, washing down the black curses with pannikins of blacker tea. Then we'd light a smouldering cow-dung fire at the mouth of the tent, take our boots off in the rancid smoke, and make one frenzied dive under the net into the bunk, pinning the net down after us as if 50 ravenous bailiffs were scrambling to get in.

But the mosquitoes soon discovered how to get through the net, and after that, there was no peace for the field until an Indian unearthed a supply of art muslin. Had it not been that the flood was all round us, thus making escape impossible, Lightning
Ridge would have been abandoned in a fortnight.

Barbara Moritz

29 December 2009 06:40pm
Snippets 21 October 2009
21 March 1912 by Gouger, concerning a plague of winged cannibals:
When the dirty old Barwon and Narran overran their banks, aided by the tremendous flood waters from Queensland, Lightning Ridge was left stranded, with miles of water covering the box-tree flats on every side. The flood brought down millions of mosquitoes, loaded with billions of eggs, which the fiercely hot sun soon hatched.

The next two months was reinforced Sheol to man, beast and bird on the opal field. The wretched horses made sleep almost impossible for the first few nights of the plague, by galloping over the ridges and crashing through the small scrub, in their efforts to brush off the swarms of winged devils that pursued them. After that, smouldering fires were made by burning green buddha, and as long as these were tended and the suffocating smokes kept up, the half-maddened beasts had some relief. Before sundown long lines of horses would come in, and stand around waiting for the fires to be lit. Then the animals would back into the smoke and remain there all night, with only their noses showing in the open.

Barbara Moritz

29 December 2009 06:34pm