Monday, July 17, 2006

Documentary Maker Radio Special on Lightning Ridge Personality

On my blog awhile back titled Cornbread, Harmonicas, And Alkies Birthday, I mentioned Billy Capp who I knew during the Lightning Ridge, Australia years when I minded the black opal and harvested adventures for ten years there as "Eskimo Nell". A documentary maker for radio ( I won't put in her name in case she wanted to remain anonymous) contacted me asking for his email. Well, I answered that he wasn't exactly the type to have an email as he mostly lives pretty rough and is quite the character. She had done the documentary on him for UK radio and as she said in subsequent email today," My documentary went out on the independent radio network in the UK. It was also broadcast in the United States where it won a gold medal in the New York Festival of Radio." What an exciting response to one of my blogs! You never know who will be reading your writings! To see what I do and why I do it go to and

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Yowah and Koroit Computer Terminology

Log On - Make the barbecue hotter*
Log Off - The barbecue is too hot*
Monitor - Keeping an eye on the barbecue*
Download - Get the firewood off the ute*
Hard drive - Trip back home without any cold tinnies*
Floppy Disc - What you get lifting too much firewood at once*
Keyboard - Where you hang the ute and bike keys*
Window - What you shut when it's cold*
Screen - What you shut in the mosquito season*
Byte - What mosquitoes do* Bit - What mosquitoes did*
Mega Byte - What Townsville mosquitoes do*
Chip - A bar snack* Micro Chip - What's left in the bag after you have eaten the chips*
Modem - What you did to the lawns*
Dot Matrix - Old Dan Matrix's wife*
Laptop - Where the cat sleeps*
Software - Plastic knives and forks you get at KFC*
Hardware - Real stainless steel knives and forks from K Mart*
Mouse - What eats the grain in the shed*
Mainframe - What holds the shed up* Web - What spiders make*
Web Site - The shed or under the verandah* Cursor - The old bloke who swears a lot*
Search Engine - What you do when the ute won't go*
Yahoo - What you say when the ute does go*
Upgrade - A steep hill*
Server - The person at the pub who brings out the counter lunch*
Mail Server - The bloke at the pub that brings out the counterlunch*
User - The neighbour who keeps borrowing things*
Network - When you have to repair your fishing net*
Internet - Complicated fish net repair method*
Netscape - When fish manoeuvres out of reach of net*
Online - When you get the laundry hung out*
Off Line - When the pegs don't hold the washing up.
To see what I do and why I do it go to and

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Yowah Magic Amidst the Howling Dark Wind

My good friend Gwen and I awoke to a blustery cold black predawn morning. We shuffled our groceries and hot water urn out to the truck or "ute" as the Aussies say. We had loaded the portable grill and propane bottle on board the night before along with a long table and many folding chairs. The tourism group of filmakers both crew and stars were expecting to shoot on top of The Bluff here in Yowah, Queensland, Australia. We had offered to fix them a bush breakfast Yowah style. Gwen used to have her own catering company in Melbourne area before the opal mining addiction had hit her and I am a good cook used to cooking for fourteen when I did my Outback Opal Field Tours. About four kilometers away on a dusty bush corrugated dirt track with a steady climb upward, was the top of the bluff where if the sun had been up yet you good see far to the horizon in any direction without any sign of civilization. With our flashlights we hunted up wood kindling, sticks, and logs to start a blazing red orange fire for our guests to huddle by when they arrived and for us to see by as we unloaded our cooking gear and food. As the horizon began to glow and the fire roared we had already set up and fired up the grill. We had the crepe suzette batter made, bacon sizzling, coffee, tea, and juice bar laid out and were ready to pour the crepes onto the griddle when the sleepyeyed camera crew and actors arrived shivering in the cold and bee-lined for the campfire. Our scrambled eggs bowl was brimming over and the crepes were stacked. We set out bowls of fine grained sugar, and halves of fresh lemons, along with many sticks of real butter. We directed all to smear their crepes with butter, sprinkle lightly with the sugar, and then to squeeze the lemon juice over them. This was outback cooking sorcery at its best...this fresh and flavorful and light crepe! They then added their scrambled egg portions and snatched up the bacon slices and chowed down in great wonderment that our opal field food (tucker) could be so, soo... cosmopolitan. The contrast was part of the pleasure. The sun began its wondrous display of "Sunrise on The Bluff" and the bush magic show was complete. Yup, aside from being women opal miners, Gwen and I are Wizards of the Outback, too. To see what I do and why I do it, go to and

Friday, June 30, 2006

Other End of Yowah Opal Field Life

I also have a woman opal miner friend who is learning to use an excavator and yet uses Waterford wine glasses in her tin shed home to serve a drop or two to guests in the evening. She promises me that she will pick me up from Cunnamulla (two hours drive from Yowah and where the train/bus trip ends from Brisbane) in her BMW that is usually just stored in a shed behind her Yowah and Koroit opal cutting room.It is rare that she pulls it out to brave the emus and kangaroos that crash often into our outback vehicles. As a year round resident she has an air conditioning unit and other modern conveniences but it wasnt always so. Her hands are as beat up as mine and her biceps are develped and she suffers aches and pains of muscles and smiles with the red sandy grit of the outback in her teeth as well. She would still have her magnificent floral garden out front too if the drought hadnt made the cattle that run over the property that this opal mining town is built upon push thru her fence and eat every hard won blossom in this drought stricken land... just another peek at my and my dear friends' life in my beloved Yowah opal field of Queensland, Australia. To see what I do and why I do it go to and

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Most Opal Field Women Amaze Me

Photo is of myself and another femal miner in Yowah. Women on the opal fields of Australia amaze me. I see them swing a pick, haul a twenty litre bucket of ironstone rocks and hoist it upon a sorting table. I watch them jackhammer out huge slabs of rock. Yowah and Koroit opal is found in hard sandstone rock. The rock must be broken and the ironstone concretions known as "nuts" removed. The nuts have to be hauled out of the mine and back to camp. There they must be broken or sawn. They swing a hatchet like implement at the small round ball in their fingers with great force to break the "nuts" open..the ironstone rocks NOT their fingers. They sit for hours either sawing using a rock saw similar to a tile saw or sitting swinging that hatchetlike tool. Often you can watch them develop a "tennis elbow" from the reptitious swinging and the jolts that connecting hatchet or sledgammer to rock results in. No complaints just the ocassional sigh. such are the tasks they must accomplish to process the ironstone in search of that illusive one which will contain a potential payday. Now in between they make cups of tea for friends that drop by, chop wood for their wood stoves, and cook up a dinner. They still must do the laundry, cut opal into stones on the cutting and grinding wheels at night and clean out the ever present dust and critters of the outback that try to take over their homes. They are full of encouragment to their opal mining husbands and partners. Most of them grow gardens and nurse the occasional injured kangaroo. They always make time to help a friend, donate time to raising money for the flying doctor, and escort a tourist about while answering the flood of questions tourists throw at them. Yes, they have firm biceps and a great sense of humor, and sun damaged skin that disappears with their wonderful welcoming smiles. Their passion for their lifestyle is forever apparent. As is to be expected, once in awhile one runs into the town fishwife or an inveterate gossip or two, but for the most part the women take people as they find them and show respect for each other's differences. To see what I do and why I do it go to my website at and my son's site

Monday, June 26, 2006

Cornbread, Harmonicas, & Alkies Birthday

This one of my memories of Lightning Ridge, New South Wales , Australia back when I had mined there for ten years. I remember one particular old reprobate fellow who was much alone most days at his barstool but had an air of respectiblility and gentility about him. He spoke like a university professor. Altho I didnt hold much with drinking, I still had time for his brighter thoughts and wit. I heard it was his birthday so raced over the dirt track back to my camp. I took the plastic grocery bag down that was hanging from the rafters of my rough as guts mining camp at Pigs Hill. The sacks hung up there to deter consumption by field mice. The place had a gravel floor and a wood stove with a sink that had a bucket under it to catch the water as there was no plumbing save a garden hose leading from the 200 gallon rainwater tank outside. I had punched a hole thru the corrugated tin wall to bring in my drinking and washing plumbing. I said rough as guts... Anyway all I had for a birthday cake was the fixin's for cornbread. I added extra flour and baked it in my wood burning wood stove oven, bought a six pack of cold beer for my friend's present and drove my rattletrap car thru the meandering rough old dirt tracks in a somewhat unfamiliar terrain in one section of the opal field that I wasnt usually known to travel. I had to stop and knock on a ratty looking camp made of tin to inquire as to where his camp may be. Well lo and behold if it wasn't Billy Capp and a rhuemmy eyed friend leaning tipsily in the doorway. Told them what I was up to and they said lets make it a party.Billy used to be in vaudville in Sydney and was tiny, toothless and stringily capped in white hair with glued on opals running up his thread bare suit jacket sleeves. I tumbled them into my car and we scrubbled thru the dirt to my Mates door. We knocked loudly and when the door opened, a dark cloud of smoke billowed out and there stood "the Professor" all gangly and boneskinny and stooped shouldered in his striped bathrobe and lopsided slippers. We sang happy birthday while Billy Capp played the harmonica. Wasnt he shocked and I dont think that his look of the following extreme delight has ever been duplicated for me since. They drank beer, ate cornbread (a first for these Aussies), and we sang and laughed. I never knew any of them really well but we came close to something familial and tribal as in the Tribe of Man that day.Birthdays they come real regular but they needn't be "regular". To see what I do and why I do it, go to and too.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

A Peek Thru my Yowah Opal Field Window

Slept in the antique hospital bed in the central room of the house instead of the master bedroom near the loo. It is summer in Yowah Australia on the opal field and the very high peaked roof with a whirly thingamabob on top keeps it a bit cooler than in the insulated tiny low ceilinged back bedroom. As I swing my legs out of bed, I feel a twinge of pain in my lower back and roll back into bed to do a few lumbar stretches. Another ibuprophen day I reckon. I shook out my slippers to check for hidden centipedes and slip them on luxuriating in their soft fleece lining. I unlock the door leading to the back of the camp where the laundry( newely cemented because of the venomous snake found under the rug when it was a dirt floor) is. Also in the back is a door to the snug in winter bedroom located so close to the loo. Yes, I now have a flush toilet with a bath tub and shower too altho the tub base is lined with Australian gibbers (rocks) that have been sealed with a plastic latexy sealer. The laundry shows the rusty silhouettes of broke down lapidary cutting equipment against the early morning light of the prop-up-to-let-the-air-in-window. I open the loo door and note it's time to clear some of the clothes off the hooks that hang on the door...a collection of muddy bras, sweat kerchiefs, one pair of super dusty mining levis, and one silky dressy blouse with Aboriginal patterns on it. The white walls were given my morning perusal looking for the latest creepy crawlies to find my place. I keep the light on at night because of snakes and centipedes. Last night the mosies (mosquitoes) congregated in this bathroom drawn it seems by the water in the flush tank that is accessible to them because the plastic cistern tank is bowed and the lid doesn't fit tightly. A cloud of mosies had risen out of the tank during my middle of the night visit to the loo. I picked up the insect spray I keep near the toilet, apologized for the taking of life, and sprayed the walls and into the opening of the bowed tank.. Noticing the bath mat was still flat in the bottom of the tub instead of hanging on the side, I picked it up remembering the huge goanna lizard once found lying beneath it with its tail out looking at heartpounding first like another encounter with a snake. The ibuprofen pills were on the shelf beneath the mirror that sits on the shelf leaning against the wall waiting to eventually be hung. I went back into the lounge/kitchen/bedroom area in the center of the house. It is the room with the wood cooking stove smack dab in the middle. I checked the electric jug on the sideboard for drowned insects. Finding it all clear, I pressed the button to begin its boil. After taking my pills with water from the tap which comes from a hundred gallon cooling tank set high on a tower out front (the water comes out of the town well at 129 degrees Farenheit), I took my ibuprofen and made toast with a slab of cheese and honey drizzled over the lot to have with my instant coffee for breakfast. If you are an Australian peeking in the window you would not have gasped at the sight of me mixing a cuppa with instant coffee. Instant coffee is "the thing" to have and serve here in the bush of Outback Australia. That or a good cuppa tea of course. To see what I do and why I do it go to or

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Yowah Opal Field Morning (written one year ago)

I awoke to the sound of wind gusting and tin flapping and banging. an occasional clunk of wood dropping against wood punctuated through my waking haze. The wind gusted with short breaths as though of a man laboring up hill and then gave a once in awhile long sigh. The branches of the trees jiffled their taunting dance like kids shaking their bums, "Na nanana, no mining for you today." The tempo began to pick up and the blowing wind took on an assailant's characteristics. Eeeek. The big bad wolf was blowing my house down!. The sky was an angry overcast grey. As I stood there in my nightshirt holding my cuppa tea in my hand, the goosepimples rose in the cool breeze. I realized there might be no sun today. No sun to sort opal by. It was my partners Sabbath and he we wouldn't meet at the mine to dig today. So sorting is what I had planned. Well, anyway it takes no sunlight to shovel rocks out of my chicken coop. I had stored a mixture of nuts, sandstone, gravel, and assorted clayballs that all came out of a trommel a few years ago. It was time to haul it out and wash it and sort it. It was the ironstone nuts that I was after. I could see ironstone easy enough on any day. My borrowed Ford ute ( a Ford that is built like a Ranchero ) was parked out front. A mining vehicle used usually at Koroit a nearby opal field, it rust and dings and miles of wearing mining years heavily scarred its boy not unlike myself. Bit it has the heart of a rocket also not unlike myself. So if I was such a rocketheart I had better rug up (dress warmly) and get out there and start emptying that old chicken coop. (the photo is of a tree trunk statue of a female opal miner in my yard in Yowah)

To see what I do and why I do it go to or

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Countdown and Don't Forget the Panties

Australia now issues electronic visas. No more long lines in an Australian Embassy and lots of forms etc. The travel agent does it for you with info off your passport. If like myself, you bought online, you also get the Australian Visa online with a credit card. They punch it in as 20.00 Australian dollars it seems so only about 15.00 US dollars appears on your card. Taking my leather backpack to carry laptop in and a few undies. Lacy undies along with the mining variety of cotton. (I like to hang a lacy one up on the outside clothes line just to get the neighbors talking ) Yowah will be a town of about 60 people as is the case at this time of year, so everone drives by your clothesline. I guess they are less a symbol of sex but more of still being a woman pirate even at 63.My son who you all know as babymaek, has been downloading me some tunes that I can play on my laptop. I have no TV in Australia as am usually too pooped after a day of mining to care. Also get alot of writing done...maybe can finish writing the Lightning Ridge opal field outback mystery I started three years ago. I always feel a bit queasy about making my way around the city of Brisbane driving on the left side of road and all. Those roundabouts with double lanes that everyone else takes so super swiftly alwasy give me a fright or two. But once out on the open road my spirit soars as I begin the conversion from Grandma Barbara citywoman to Eskimo Nell opal miner and adventurer. The years drop away and I get strong physically again. Half of acting old is in the head. One needs only to play games with your head a bit and the joints dont ache as much the shoulders are further back and you sigh less. Definately less sighing.
I wrote this ten and half months ago but as have my ticket now and ready to do it all again. If you want to see what I do and why I do it check out my website at:

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Short Shower for a Tall Woman in Lightning Ridge

My grandson noticed that I had taken a short shower the other day and asked me why. I told him it was just habit and being frugal with water. I explained how in the outback my rainwater tank was all I had and it rained infrequently. Sooo your showers were short and cold to save water and to save chilling myself to death. I did sometimes heat up the water and then pour it into a bucket with a shower nozzle that I hauled over head with a rope. One bucket of warm water was all I would get so one wet themselves down abit, sudsed up and scrubbed, then rinsed quickly. So a long shower is not one of my habits. however, a good hot soak in a hot tub of water for a long time works for me. In Lightning Ridge, there is a hot bore batrh that I would go to late at night to soak out the sore muscles and dash back off to bed while still warm and limber.Some times the tub was in a tiny old tin type that came over with my mining partners mother from the old country. It was cramped and he was polite enough to let me use the tub water first. Yes that's right we shared the tub water. Like I said before, water was scarce. We did add some newer hotter water from a bucket that had been on the fire before he climbed in.In Yowah I have hot artesian well water running in pipes into my house in a proper shower! What luxury! I drew cartoons of me conserving water in Lightning Ridge and Yowah and Koroit opal fields. They are in a new cookbook that I will be printing shortly called "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes an Australian Opal Field Cookbook".If you want to see what I do and why I do it it go to my website or

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

It's a Long Way Down

I just put upa pix of me going down my first mining shaft in Lightning Ridge, Australia. I mined there ten years before moving to Yowah, Queensland to mine. The shaft is three foot wide and made by a Caldwell bucket auger. It went down 40 feet to the mine floor. I usually worked black opal claims in which the opal level was seventy feet deep. After ten years of this (I started when I was forty years old) the ole knees began to make it difficult to climb those ladders, I moved to Yowah to mine Yowah nuts using open cut methods. Just hire an excavator to remove the over burden and then jackhammer out the nutband as you stand upon it. No more underground work for me.To see what I do and why I do it go to my website or

Monday, June 19, 2006

Chomping at the Bit

I wanna get outta here! Australia round trip can cost from 1300 to over 2000 coach. I need to find a ticket for less,Uusally it costs 200 more to stay for three months before returning.I have a little 1988 Mitsubishi with friends in Brisbane. It is the boxy hatchback type that when I lay down the back holds my generator, jackhammer, picks, sledgehammer and buckets for mining Yowah opal. (not anymore...I wrote this a year ago on another blog and since then have hit an emu and demolished both hatchback and emu) Great gas mileage and that''s good Australia has had petrol at 2.50 and 3.00 per gallon since 1983 or so. I am afraid to ask what it is now.I prefer Air New Zealand as the stopover in Auckland for two hours is a refreshing break from the 14 hour flying time trip. People tell me of wild deals where their round trip cost them only 600 dollars....if you are flexible on times for leaving and arriving. I am so flexible I tend to step on my head in airports. Really am gnashing my teeth nights thinking of all that opal laying in the ground waiting for me to jack hammer it out. Getting to where I cant stand it. Good thing I am visiting the grandkids. they are the only treasure that can detain me...for a little while anyway.To see what I do and why I do it go to or

Friday, June 16, 2006

"I hurt in the dirt As I flirt with Lady Luck More for the love of opal Than the chase of a buck" To see what I do and why I do it go to or

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Outback Australia Anonymity

Outback residents often are known only by their nicknames. When the subject of what their real names are comes up, the nosey one who dared ask such a "sticky beak" (nosey) question gets the head tilted, squinty-eyed answer, "Whadya wanna know for? Don't ya know everyone's ere to be anonymous, running from sumpthin!? If ya value yore skin, I wouldn' go around asking, Mate."Some nicknames the owners knew about and others were snickered at behind their backs. I had one for a fellow who used to sit quiet for hours just sucking down beers and saying nothing to anyone with a brooding, hard thinking face half hidden from view.. And all of a sudden, he would growl out something horrifically vulgar and suggestive to a passing female. My nickname for him amongst family and very close friends was Smoldering Smut.If you want to know more about what I do and why I do it go to my website or

Monday, June 12, 2006

Aussie Opal Miner With A Lived in Face

This is a page in my Smoke Gets in Your Eyes an Australian Opal Field Cookbook that I have written and stored in my computer. Mal was a f riend in the first year when I first hit the opal fields in my two thousand dollar fox vest (hey I had big pipeline paychecks) and my one carat diamond "friendship" ring, 200 dollar snakeskin boots, Gloria Vanderbuilt LEvis with a hundred dollarsilk blouse and feathers in my hair.(Iused the feathers for courage to drive the icy snowpacked Arctic Haul Road while working on The Alaskan Pipeline)BIG MALA ginger colored curl lay over his ruddy furrowed brow accentuating his receding hairline. The ginger (Aussie for reddish) was repeated in his thickly flared mustache and stubble chin. Referred to occasionally as Mal with the Lived-in Face, he more often wore the mask of a clown mimicking Johnny Ray or Elvis for the entertainment of his grog-swilling mates. An intelligent, opinionated mind lurked behind his dust rimmed, bloodshot, baby blues. He delivered his bigoted and barbed wit in a basso bushman mumble. In an instant he could put nearly physical power into a snide remark then, wearing the standard bushman's costume of short shorts and singlet, lightly mince and prance its hurt good-naturedly away. He was fun and a good friend to have as long as you never crossed him. He made his own rules and changed them at the drop of a hat. He had great legs. To see what I do and why I do it go to my website at or

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Carrots and Bullets

After rattling through her double locked doors, she tossed her backpack into her rocking chair and flicked on the computer. She couldn't get out of her gear fast enough. Levis were feeling too tight these days and her bra cut into her back and could be tolerated for only so long. Another two weeks on a strict protein diet was in order. She lifted up her big couch pillows and pulled out her favorite lounge-around outfit, a grey and red striped pair of jersey pirate pants and grey tank top, that she kept stashed under the pillows. Comfortably attired she riffled through the vegetable drawer in the fridge for a handfull of mini carrots. Next came the handful of vitamin pills that were pre-counted and bagged in little plastic baggies. She kept the baggies in a golden yellow makeup pouch along with a handful of 357 magnum shells on top of the fridge. A quick cup of water and she had downed the collection of vitamins, Centrum Silver, even the name made her feel old: all silver-haired and a century old! Nell clambered onto her high well padded stool in front of the computer, popped a tiny carrot into her mouth and clicked online. She'd been working on a list of items she felt should be put into her "backpack for the homeless" backpack. To see what I do and why I do it, go to my website or

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Cartoon Me Aka Eskimo Nell
I cartoon and caricature the opal people and pipeline people I have worked with along with writing my snippets of personalities and exploits in the opal fields of Lightning Ridge and Yowah and Koroit. Since I had come from the pipeline of Alaska to Australia, the Lightning Ridge, New South Wales opal miners nicknamed me Eskimo Nell. The real joke was I didn't understand that there is a very nasty bit of poetry about her. My naievity made it all the more funny. They apologized to me later saying, "Ah Nell, we didn''t know you were goin to stay. We thought you was just a shiela shootin. thru." (but they were never really sorry) So tis my nickname and I''m stuck with it so I wear it proudly even today.( Hell, I can't get away from it anyway) To this day I feel I am two personalities and I draw upon each to get me thru the stuff of life. Some times the business woman Barbara answers questions one way and then my alter ego Eskimo Nell then repeats the answer with a bit more attitude. If I whimp out at times, I remind myself that Nell wouldnt be this way and the change in attitude amazes. If you want to see what I do and why I do it go to my website at or to my son's website

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Fear Happens in Lightniing Ridge & at Home

I was feeling a little fearful today...of my health, several family members life and death struggles with their health, what kind of country were my grandchildren going to inherit, my finances, the terrorism threats etc. It brought to minde when I was forty and first camping in Lightning Ridge, 3 kilometres out of town alone in the scrub. there were camps out there in the scrub with me but few and far between. I had fears then, and yet they turned out to be naught. I wrote about my feelings and circumstances one day back in 1984 and will share this bit-------Now and again something alive would scurry across the roof: a goanna lizard, a huntsman spider, and an animal that sounded like a cross between a pony and an orangutan as he leapt from the tree to my roof and galloped from stem to stern. He then used the water tank cover as a spring board to the ground. The latter nocturnal visitor was a large possum. I grew to look forward to these sounds as companionship and comforting. It was the furtive- sounding crunch of footsteps in the dark approaching my camp that stopped my noisy breath and started my heart booming like the guns of Navarone. Late at night on weekends was the worst; after the pubs had closed. Many a drunken shadow could be seen staggering through the scrub taking the shortcut home and ending up who knows where. Without a dog to validate the presence of an intruder, I was jumping and thumping at every scratch of twig on the roof of the bus and every groan and creak that the wind induced out of the old hollow box tree limbs. The limbs eventually snap and crash to the ground. That sound alone could finish off a strong heart in a jif. When I had to answer nature's call, I'd venture out away from my tin hut to the middle of the driveway (all the better to spot a snake) stomping my feet to send such reptiles slithering out of my path. There, squatting vulnerably in the middle of my circle of magnificent old trees, the faint light of a thin moon began to make familiar my surrounds, but the pitch black darkness that wrapped around my now piss marked territory always seemed to hide watching eyes. I never could shake the feeling that I was not alone. I learned quickly to, although afraid, after making routine checks and safety precautions, fall immediately asleep. I kept a hockey stick and a piece of pipe under my bed. . The camp by day always felt so friendly and caring and safe. It was a healing place in the light of day. Jenny Molyneux picked me up from the bus depot in the dark of the evening one year when I was returning after a three month stint in the USA. She dropped me off at the Pig's Hill camp, and exhausted I crawled into my dusty blankets, noticing that someone had at some time been using my vacant camp in my absence. Jet-lagged-tired I crashed immediately anyway.My bush warning device, hurriedly rigged before retiring, awoke me suddenly. It was the sound of the metal door grinding and vibrating on the gravel I'd strewn in front of it. It was a terrifying alarm. I was up with my flashlight and metal pipe in a flash screaming angrily , "GET OUT OF HERE! I'M BACK. THIS IS MY CAMP AGAIN." I watched an Aboriginal male retreat, more in tired resignation than in fear, from my camp and drive away in his beat up red truck. The adrenaline kept me awake for a long while.

To see what I do and why I do it go to and

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

I Used to Live Under a Tree In Lightning Ridge

Then I moved up to a shack made of sheets of corrugated iron tacked to tree trunks. Homeless? Not really. I was in the opal fields of Australia digging for black opal gems. I did it for ten years, 4 to six months out of every year. Extended and extreme camping. Today we have American families doing extended urban camping called homelessness. I was on an adventure; they are fighting to survive. We all would like to help. I see piles of blankets and pillows and thick fluffy towels stacked high waiting to be distributed to the street people. I have watched tv coverage as the blankets and towels were distributed. Gaunt sooty looking fellow human beings had them clutched close as they staggered away with their burdensome booty. I do not want to discourage these honorable deeds, but I question if this is the best plan for all the homeless. Those I see have no bed, no cot, to use. They are transient, traveling light. I do not see them hauling their beds about. Many leave them at a "camping" spot under hedges, in abandoned buildings, and beneath bridges. Some are assaulted by others seeking to have that bedding. Having possessions of any sort often marks the homeless for attack. I wanted to help. I thought I could use what I learned about living under a tree without water, electricity, or modern comforts.For the past five years I have practiced a new Christmas tradition. I make up a Christmas backpack for the homeless. I shop over a couple months buying a bit with each trip to the supermarket. I look for lightweight and inexpensive nourishment, medications, and sundries to make life more comfortable on the move. Maybe this blog will spark others to do the same. Who knows. Cast a pebble into a pond...

To see what I do and why I do it go to and

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

While Selling Yowah & Koroit Opal I Was Bear Bait

This was a terror-filled Yowah and Koroit opal sales trip to New Mexico. !Upon entering Taos, New Mexico, one faces the sweeping vista of a sloping valley framed with high pinion pine flocked hills. The towering mountain range draws winter skiers in droves. The isolation and poetic beauty of the area also draws artists and jewelers who buy opal. The town has a sleepy look of a village working hard at growing; at least lengthwise along the length of the highway and intermittently upward onto the forested foothills. Northern New Mexican style pueblo/hacienda homes dot the gradually climbing upward hillside. One of the four topmost homes was to be my bunk for the night. Little did I know that this was to put me in harms way.My gracious hostess loves her nightly u-the-mountain walk and invited me to drop my albatross-like burden of gem and rock laden sales luggage to walk with her. I thought a brisk walk along the roadway would be refreshing. Roadway? Heavens no. Straight up the very steep hillside through rough brush and scratchy pinion needles. We STRODE with quick ardent steps accompanied her two dogs and my wheezing and gasping sounds. We were over 7,000 feet above sea level. I tried to hide these obviously out of shape pantings with a bit of opal banter. The good hostess she was, Jeanette joined in the effort to hide my embarrassment with plenty of volume and syllables. There was another more distant sound that caught my ear as I huffed and puffed my way valiantly a few strides behind her. It troubled me. It twigged a tingle of fear and recognition from my memory of years in Alaska. I wanted to ask if there were bears about these hills but was so determined to keep up with her athletic and practiced pace that in an instant, my short-term memory circuits emptied the question from my belabored mind. My body cried for mercy. I admitted to the obvious and suggested she continue on at her own pace while I caught my breath and enjoyed the view. Jeanette showed me to a sort of half way summit, and said she'd be back in twenty minutes and jogged off with her canine friend sprinting along by her side. Three minutes of a splendid sunset with an increased oxygen supply that I gained by drawing long deep breaths, and I became aware of my circumstances. I would have a devil of a time finding my way back to the house without Jeanette because I could see that the path we took crossed many other trails made by horses and paths beat out by fit hikers (I was convinced I was the only unfit hiker that had ever attempted this slope) had worn into the hillside. I was musing that dusk would be here in no time when. what was that horrific WOOOUGH!? So base and vibrating? So CLOSE! Much closer than when I'd first heard it while hiking earlier with Jeanette.I froze fully aware of the adrenaline rushing through my limbs. The bear story that Kay, my new Santa Fe friend, had so vividly described to me two days ago came flooding in along with the adrenaline. My 57-year-old eyes strained to see into the scrub below me. A bird was circling above something to the left further down the mountainside. I looked around and called with mock calm for Jeanette. The only answer I received was another WOOUGH like a question and this time a little to my right, still below me, and closer still. I started to sprint under and between a couple pinion pines back the way I had come, and found I couldn't choose between three trails and that my legs were quivering with exhaustion from the earlier "ego effort" I'd made to keep up with my younger companion. I refused to panic. "Stop this nonsense and calm down," said my inner voice with what I thought was a tremor of fear in it. I re-evaluated the situation. I bolted toward the tallest tree and tried to use the adrenaline rush to spur my jelly legs into the strength they needed to boost me high into the tree. They failed. My butt was hanging low and my emergency inspired calf muscles were dead. Wait a minute. This is not how it is supposed to be. Fear was supposed to spur you on to great physical feats to save yourself and it wasn't happening! The brittle branches were breaking under my weight and on second look the tree was awfully damned short! I dropped to the earth from that tree (it wasn't hard as it was only a three foot drop) and bounded (I wish!) more like stumbled, to the next taller tree. My vision was tunneled and focused and all around me seemed surreal and dreamlike-just like in my nightmares but the pain of the sharp branches scraping my skin and the pounding of my heart kept me aware this was the real thing. Whatever I decided to do at this moment would determine my fate: death by bear attack or safe return. I opted to climb the tree.I made it up pretty far. Now what? I yelled for Jeanette. I figured maybe her approach with her two dogs would scare off the "bear". The shout didn't get Jeanette's attention but it seemed to put a note of anger into the next immediate WOOOOOOOUGH! The bird was still circling something and by watching the bird I could see that "that something" was making a zigzag accent towards my perch. I could tell by where the bird was and by the direction the nightmare sound came from. I began to test the wind, wondering which way my scent, my full-of-fear scent, was wafting. That's when a good strong breeze, and it was a breeze only, swayed my now fully perceived as scrawny bush-like escape ploy. This wasn't a tree; it was a spindly big bush. What a sway. Nothing solid and sturdy about these limbs. If this breeze could bend my perch, fancy what an angry, probably hungry bear could do. Why, it was gonna snap in a heartbeat, my last heartbeat! Or, I would be catapulted out of the branches like a slingshot. To avoid the latter I entwined my legs and arms around several branches to reinforce my hold. The tree and I were one. I was unable to pull myself any higher up and cast a hopeful glance at the dim trail behind me before I screamed JEANETTE again. I felt my only hope was that her dogs would dissuade the attack. Or perhaps the bear would be confused as to which bit of dinner he should grab, the tough old scared bird in the tree or the dogs or (yes, I even would sacrifice Jeanette) my younger, more tender, hapless hostess. I prayed for the bear's indecision in menu choice, panic at being outnumbered, or the dogs, something, anything that would confuse the bear and change its present course. I vaguely realized I had my cell phone hooked on my denim loop and could envision me calling 911 hysterically yelling that I was on the hillside somewhere in a pinion tree. I loosened my right hand so I could at least use the phone like a metal club on the bear's nose once he took my right leg that was hanging much lower than the rest of me. I practiced a kick and didn't dislodge myself from the tree. Then I practiced being very, very still. I thought of my grandchildren. They shouldn't have to know how their Grandma Barbara exited their lives. I tried to still my thinking, too, so I would have a fighting chance. I was listening for the sound of a very mismatched combat coming and thinking that I didn't know if I could feign death as he mauled me about like I had read and heard about so much from bear attack survivors in Alaska. No regrets about my life crowded my thoughts except one stupid mental moan about my having come all this way to possibly die by bear and I hadn't made even one damn sale all day in Taos. The bear sound was really close now and I could hear it coming directly at me, too. I grasped at all the possible straws: I said a prayer, I bathed myself in white light, and I wished it wasn't so. I gripped the tree tightly. Then came the recognition of another sound: the sound of the purposeful, fit striding footsteps of Jeanette, not a bear. I dropped out of the tree, not without tearing bits of me here and there, and assaulted her with bear questions. She had been unaware of the sound and neither were the dogs but the bear was downwind from them. We left post haste with dogs that didn't seem to sense a problem alongside and a hostess who sensed perhaps her HOUSEGUEST had a problem. Personally, I thought the paths she chose were leading us right into furry jaws but felt we had a chance if the bear attacked the dogs. I had no trouble keeping up with her now. My hostess admitted that there had been rumors of occasional bear droppings but that there had never been any incidents reported. "There are elk here on the hillside though and it is rutting season," she said casually as we entered the safety of her home. The next day my skin stung from all the cuts and scratches, one half of my $250 Designer Native American turquoise earrings was left in that pinion tree, and EVERYONE who bought from me got a discount.As I shared my story I learned that the mountain jay is a bird that always circles above coyote and bears and locals told me that there had been a couple of bear incidents recently but they were keeping it quiet because it was the beginning of the tourist season! So human nature is as we saw in the movie Jaws. Don't warn the tourists of danger. Get their money first.

To see what I do and why I do it go to and

Sunday, May 28, 2006

My First Passion Was Lightning Ridge

Opal is my passion. I live, breathe, and talk opal. I want to spread the Opal Word. It began with Australian black opal found in Lightning Ridge, New South Wales. On with some facts: The opal fields in Lightning Ridge Australia are believed to have been both an inland sea and/or a series of lagoons, waterways, and swamps. Both salt water and fresh water plants and creatures are opalized in fossil form and are found there by the miners. These fossils were laid down during the Cretaceous Period, about 100-140 million years ago. In 1995, Lightning Ridge was declared the opal capital of the world as per Stephan Aracic's book, "Discover Opal." This respectable looking modern town of unknown population (guess is 6,000 or so) is located approximately 500 miles north of Sydney in the state of NSW, near the Queensland border. Do not be fooled by its respectable new fresh face. Just a couple hundred yards out of town are the old mining "humpies" (camp), a sort of shanty town architecture. Out from Lightning Ridge about 27 km is the new Coocoran Fields. A rush started there in 1988 when my friend John Molyneux found beautiful gem black opal, some of which sold for $6,000 (Australian) per carat field price. The Coocoran is a maze of tracks and a hodge podge of tin huts and caravan trailer mining camps. It is here that the respectability fades: fortunes won and lost, partnership battles, gunshots fired over ratting (the theft of opal out of mine walls while miners are away), old fashioned claim jumping and con artists at work. Perhaps I need to introduce the other me -- the one-half of McCondra who was nicknamed Eskimo Nell by the miners in 1983 when I came to mine, fresh from the Alaska pipeline. Eskimo Nell was, and is, privy to amazing opal finds and became embroiled in many wild and wooly mining experiences. So it is these memories that season my writings on opal with a dash-and-derring-do flavor. That doesn't make it untrue, only less public relations pretty. The mines at the Ridge produce the world's finest gem black opal selling for as much as $20,000 per carat. Magnificent crystal, grey, light, and jelly opal is unearthed along with the black. The opal is found in a nodular form called "nobbies" with some seam opal formations in a sedimentary clay level under sandstone. The nobbies range in size from the head of a pin to twice the size of a man's fist, with walnut-sized nobbies being the most common. The phenomenon known as sunflash sometimes occurs in amber and black nobbies. Amber nobbies are clear, yellow, golden, or beer bottle colored potch and sometimes glassy black centered. Sunflash is mysterious and magnificent to behold. Usually, as the name implies, it manifests in strong sunlight. The rich glassy black opal showing sunflash is considered good trace to the opal miner, and is an affordable specimen to the opal aficionado. The black opal potch (common opal with no color play) varies in shade: charcoal-gray, leady-black, blue-black, black, and glassy black. This blackness forms the black base color upon which, or in which, the color plays. BLACK OPAL shows a play of color in a dark body color. CRYSTAL OPAL is clear with play of color and has no backing. WHITE OPAL shows a play of color in a white body color. The price per carat relates to patterns, brilliance, and actual colors, as does directionality of color, visible inclusions, windows and dead spots.

To see what I do and why I do it go to my site and my son's site Opal is my passion. I live, breathe, and talk opal.

My First Passion was Lightning Ridge

Friday, May 26, 2006

Secrecy at the Koroit Opal Field of Australia

In the pubs of Eulo and Cunnamulla the name Koroit has been whispered and murmured to those seeking to quench their thirst for a cold beer and wishing to slake their craving for sudden wealth in the opalfields for decades. Both Yowah and Koroit sit in the opal bearing Great Artesian Basin within an approximate area with a one hundred and fifty-mile diameter in Queensland, Australia. It is a five hour drive from Lightning Ridge, N. S. W. and a three hour drive from Yowah, Queensland. . Koroit was first mined in around 1897. Only a handful of men poked around the sandstone levels of an ancient sea that lay beneath the surface. Some prospecting, drilling, shafts, and drives were accomplished yielding little opal for the work expended. A hundred years ago, no one seemed interested in the matrix opal in the shallower levels as the market demanded seam opal and light and crystal opal not thin lines of opal running through an ironstone matrix. Today's ironstone matrix opal demand has exploded. The wondrous commas of color, in both many hued potch and of gem opal, proliferate throughout the ironstone or near the skin. The patterns they create have a very "tribal" or Aboriginal flair to them. Picture stones abound and the cross-hatching of fiery rivers of opal create a gem geometric matrix pattern to lust for. Len Cram's series of books on the opals of Australia has included Koroit opal from the very first editions up to his A Journey with Colour Special Collectors Edition but it still always seemed a more distant a place, murmured about in quiet camps, passed unseen by 4 wheel drive vehicles leaving Koroit hidden in rooster tails of dust as Outback travelers hurry to other "more important" destinations. When the dust stirred by the infrequent motorist settles, and one listens carefully on the track to Koroit, the sound of heavy equipment moving may be heard as the few furtive miners of Koroit jockey their big guns into place getting ready to go to war with dirt and lots of it. Mining camps and opal cutting operations are obscured from view on the back tracks of the homesteads. Quiet small groups of miners seem to be covertly at work building accommodations for miners and their equipment. Perhaps it is just the lonely look of the area that shrouds our neighbor Koroit in an air of secrecy. I get the feeling of a great preparation for a concert. Silent shufflings about and whispers, just before the music begins.

To see what I do and why I do it got to

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Opal is a Time Altering Drug As Is Mining

To we opal junkies, opal is a time altering drug and eventually it dawns on us that there is more opal in the dirt to be dug, and in the "rough" buckets to be processed and cut if a new batch is to be here to enjoy tomorrow morning. My Parched Earth partner and I sort and price the opal and she then retreats to her cutting room with a shout to remind me to sign up for an appointment with the flying doctor on Friday, which is his usual day to fly in from Charleville 400 miles away. I march off to my truck with the pick and shovels we'd gathered back from her mine the day before in my arms quoting loudly my marching verse, "I hurt in the dirt as I flirt with Lady Luck. More for the love of the opal than a chase for a buck!" This I chant in sing song instead of Disney''s Seven Dwarfs song, "HI Ho HI Ho" which I grew tired of years ago when mining black opal in Lightning Ridge, Australia. I spend the next couple hours shoveling dirt into a trommel that turns using a little Mitsubishi motor. The trommel is made of heavy duty metal mesh and the dust flies as I process the dirt to shake the dirt off the nuts (ironstone concretions) that are in the old stow dirt that has previously been pulled out of and open cut mine. I empty the nuts, sticks, gravel, sandstone chunks and whatever other rubbish that couldn''t pass through the mesh into old used 20 gallon grease buckets. The buckets are hefted onto the back of the truck, the fine dust that has built up under the trommel has to be shoveled off to the side and a new batch of dirt shoveled into the trommel once again. If the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, even the hardy, persistent black bush flies that annoy all my facial orifices gives up in the onslaught of choking dust.. The buckets of nuts need to be washed clean of dirt that has caked on it and wasn''t knocked loose by the trommeling. This is done back at camp in one of several methods. I could spread the contents on an old bush bed frame (consists of frame and metal mesh) and hose down before sorting, sort out the nuts without washing and perhaps miss some, or do a thorough wash in a cement mixer, garden size, for ten minutes, then hose off and shovel onto a sorting table that has a trickle of water running over it to facilitate sorting out the rubbish and beginning the pre-sort of the actual nuts. This sorting process takes another couple hours depending if you have help or not. It is the custom in Yowah, that if friends stop by for a visit that they help sort while talking (similar to a quilting bee). Then I break for a cuppa or at lunchtime, "tea" which also stands for a meal. The hospitality in Yowah knows no bounds. The town is only about five blocks long and we all know each other or soon will. The population runs from forty to two hundred depending upon the time of year and the number of regular tourists that return each year camping and fossicking.

To see what I do and why I do it visit me at

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Yowah Treasure With Breakfast!

Brekkie (breakfast) is often a couple of googs (eggs) and a snag (sausage) or bubble and squeak (leftovers from the night before fried in with a lot of leftover mashed potatoes on toast) or low fat stewed tomatoes ( pronounced tomahtoes) on toast. I buzz over a half block to have a morning cuppa with my opal cutter friend, Gwen. She shouts to me from the backroom of her camp to have a look as she flips on the halogen lights in the opal sorting room and spreads out the gems she has freshly popped off their dopsticks (the small sticks that roughly shaped opals are waxed onto in order to handle the opals with deftness in the shaping and polishing process). As usual their variety, color, and personality keeps us gasping with delight and surprise. These Yowah nut opals, a form of ironstone boulder opals, capture our interest as we move them around and make their colors and patterns dance in the light. Just the day before they were buried in the brown ironstone rock and looked only like brown rock. Hence I named my book on these opals, Fire in a Plain Brown Wrapper . Now they are gems with every color of the rainbow twinkling back at us, displayed in never ending every changing patterns; little apostrophes of bright electric color, swirls in concentric circles, speckles of fire, and bubbles of crystal opal. There's nothin' like a cup of coffee and opal in the morning.

To see what I do and why I do it visit me at

Monday, May 22, 2006

Missing the Australian Opal Wild Life

I used to live under a tree, up a tree, and in a tiny tin hut with a screened window but no doors so the mosies (what they call mosquitoes in Australia) dined on me nightly. When the Australian desert night got cold it was rrrreally cold and I wore seven layers of clothing plus three blankets and a space blanket, too to keep warm. At least, when it was that cold, there were no mosies. I had two separate friends give me old kerosene heaters to keep warm by but the fumes were just too much to tolerate. Plus I wouldn't dare to keep one running while I was asleep for fear of fire. In the warmer times, I would sometimes give a good mosquito poison spray upward in the camp, pull the covers over my head and listen to the rain of thousands of tiny mosie bodies falling dead onto my blanket. I lived like this because the opal fever had me. Dig by day for the treasure of outback Australia and sit around a campfire at night and swap stories of digging and finding opal. Maybe I should mention here that some black opals sell for $10,000per carat and more. I sold one of mine once for $6,000 per carat and it was a six carat stone. I erected a makeshift type of portable camp out of corrugated tin. This was the norm at Lightning Ridge, NSW Australia. That was the camp at Pigs Hill to which later a 1948 bus that used to store pig food was converted into sleeping quarters. I did the converting. During the big new rush known as The Coocoran I actually just camped under a tree sleeping with mosie net in the back of a nearly derelict old station wagon. The back down and head lay on it with the netting draped over and the darndest view of the southern hemisphere's starlight sky. Mining tools like pick and shovel and some spanners held the netting down as they lay upon the roof of the car. At another point in time of my 24 years in Australia, I lived with a love for a few years in his sort of like a tree house camp. I started this lifestyle when I was forty years old. I felt twenty. I am yearning to make my yearly trip back to the opal fields so I can feel twenty again because it always works that way. To see what I do and why I do it visit me at

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Treasure Hunting Runs in the Family

Scintillation counter(fancy geiger counter), geologists picks, and dry rockers for gold is what my dad played with and he dragged his wife and four children along with him. We scoured the Missouri creek beds looking for fossils (Indian beads). He collected heaps of books on The Lost Dutchman Gold Mine. We even looked for the Lost Dutchman Mine in The superstition Mountains of Arizona. His awe and delight in treasure found included the usual gold and silver ( he had some original silver bers stamped with Father Kino''s brand from early Arizona days), all kinds of antiques, or his many outlandish character friends. We were entertained by one friend of his who moved the butter dish with his mind and we had old codgers with huge horns on their truck and an Indian squaw in tow come rapping on our door. We had Lebanese Mafia childhood friends come calling too. How could I ever be satisfied with so called "normal" friends. These amazing characters are the treasure I seek still today also and of course The Opal! Dad died in 1983 after a visit to check up on my safety in the town of Lightning Ridge, Australia a black opal mining field. He came to me on the day I was hiring the Caldwell bucket auger drill to drill my very first shaft with his checkbook in his hand asking if he could pay for the drilling and be a kinda partner in my mining. He prefaced it with "You probably want to do this yourself but can I...?" To this day I am soo happy that I said yes. Dad passed away three months later having had three months to brag to his friends and anyone in earshot that he was partners in an opal mine in Australia. My mom always supported me in my adventures and never said it but I am most positive that she thought it when thinking about what I have done with my life...."It was all Dad''s fault."
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Friday, May 19, 2006

Yowah Opal Field Goanna is Huge

I failed to mention in my last post that the goanna lizard is nearly three feet long. My last house guests during the Yowah Opal Festival told me they suspect he has a girlfriend too as they could hear slithery movements in the ceiling of their back bedroom same time I could hear movement in my bedroom up front. I like the goanna there as he is a snake killer and the Australian outback has many of those ie: Western King Brown, Taipan, red bellied black snake, and Fierce snake plus a couple others I can''t think of right now ( altho there is rumor of a death adder or two) and all of them highly venomous. So I love Mr. Goanna and hope he and his missus have a few babies and keep my house snake free. He ads a bit of bushstyle interest for the tourist guests.

To see what I do and why I do it visit me at

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Yowah Opal Festival and Varmit Poo

The opal festival in Yowah, Queensland is getting close (the middle of July) If I get my ticket to Australia in time to get there I will need to clear out the varmits that take up residence while I am gone nine months or pay someone to do it for me if I won't make it . I do that as I open the place to be used by one of the judges of the Designer contest I started about ten years ago. Her name is Barbara Gasche and she lives in the opal field of White Cliffs. Also there are usually three others that need a place to sleep during the festival as the town with only six units that are motel accomodations opens its private home's doors to tourists and buyers coming for the event. The cleaning job includes ridding the place of "varmit debris".There is a permanent so far for five years, goanna that lives in the ceiling and scuttles and scrapes thru the insulation. Sounds just like a snake. Also I will need to scrub away the telltale signs of life death struggles on my walls. the ceiling is nothing but corrugated tin with thin silvery sheet of insulation on it so the insulated fibro walls stop where the tall gabled roof begins and leaves a ledge for my goanna to hunt upon all around the central lounge/kitchen room.. The blood and feces of dying mice and lizards and frogs sorta run down my white walls here and there during the ten months I'''m gone. That is the first bit of scrubbing I do after the toilet and tub. The toilet will be full of frogs if the last miners to use my camp didnt shut off the cistern water and dry it up. Also all bedding will need washing and hanging out in the sun for freshening up. as will have five guests sleeping at the camp during the festival. I wander on dont I? I dont get to be prepared for my guests if I dont get my ticket to Australia soon. The pressure is on.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

From Standing in the Dirt to Cyberspace

Out, out damn stuff! All the gear I used to use to sell rocks to the Indians is going into a Santa Fe garage sale. Oh no, even the five inch dolls one Aboriginal and the other a Bushie swagman (hobo)Tables, table covers, glass and chrome cases, velvet covered styrofoam displays. My iron skillet and lantern (I tried to show the flavor of the miner''s life in my selling displays) But wowee I found a display rock hidden away that has a gorgeous crystal blob peeking at me and it looks like it may go much further into the ironstone...if it does its worth $500.00 wholesale! IF, MAYBE and IT COULD! The gamblers chant. My laptop weighs so much less than all these cases and displays and lights and tent etc. I embrace cyberspace sales at my website! A few bucks a month for a server and a good scanner and my treadmill doesn''t weigh so very much. And good luck to the new entrepreneurs who are jumping so enthusiastically into the gypsy vendor game and buy my gear at bargain prices. Helps them and adds to my airplane ticket to the Land Down Under fund which at present stands at zero, zip, naught!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Yowah, Koroit, and Lightning Ridge Cash for Opal

I don''t mine just for the adrenalin rush. One stone many years ago I mined and it sold a number of times over from me and partner miner to dealer to dealer to collector and it ended up a $104,000.00 stone! That''s when I jumped hampsterlike on the treadmill I talk about in the blog before this.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Gypsy Hampster has Treadmill Will Travel

I love my gypsy life but when I back up and have a look I see similarities between myself and the rest of the world...the world that I turn my back on once a year for 22 years when I head to Australia. I still must slug out a living like everyone else. My fingers skitter rodentlike over computer keys while I scrunch up my eyes to read the screen, also rodentlike. I sell opals at my website so spend soooo many hours at the puter keyboard. I get off that treadmill and mount the scrabble-thru-the-little-pieces-of-rock-in-the-sunlight wheel. the opal must be sorted and graded and packaged. Hours and hours of repetitive clawing with my fingers thru rock and dirt that I hauled back with me from Australia. Then up and running back to the scanner and puter. I believe I am beginning to skitter rather than walk from wheel to wheel, too. I take this dog and pony show on the road with my laptop and cutting wheels and bins of HEAVY rocks and cut stones to sell to jewelers in assorted cities and to other vendors of opal at rock and gem shows. I take the monies grubbed from this to buy a ticket back to scrabbling in the dirt of Australia at my digs. I take my treadmill laptop with me even to the great Outback. You would be surprised at the amazing remote communication system Australia has. So inbetween scrambling in the ever faster turning wheel that bureaucrats build for us, I enjoy my two sons and my three grandchildren, my amazingly interesting friends, and drink in the panoramas that this earth offers us be it here or there. I occasionally sigh as I am sure you do too at the running running running treadmills we all seem to find ourselves in. However, I compare my treadmill with others and realize I have the variety of more than one and that I still think mine is more fun than most. I like the freedom of picking my mill.Would love to burn the one big business puts us in. They have the habit of reaching their mighty hand down and giving us an almighty extra spin making us really scramble in great frustration. I hear the Outback away run away. to see what I do and why I do it go to my website at

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Opal Mining is Almost as Good as Sex..How I Got Hooked on It

The shaft''s entry way was a three foot wide circular hole drilled straight downward by a Calweld bucket auger drill rig fifteen years before. The sides had been washed in somewhat due to water erosion during the heavy downpours that alternated between times of drought in this dry dusty barren desert of New South Wales, Australia. We had thrown an eight inch thick log across the hole and through the last two rungs of seven, ten foot sections of iron hanging ladders. The prospecting ladders were hooked end to end dropping out of sight into the pitch-black depths below. It looked like the yawning mouth of Hell to me. I just knew it could swallow this Yankee sheila and I would never see the light of day again. I heard a muffled cooee from below and knew it was my turn to scramble down the rusty, flimsy, loosely hooked ladders into the bowels of Australia. Loose pebbles around the hole threatened to fling me, butt first, down the shaft and I heard the rocks rattle their way down the ladder. My mining helmet had household lighting wire attached to an auto taillight that was riveted to my helmet at one end while twitched to the posts of the 12 volt car battery at the other. I had fifty feet of wire coiled up and hanging from my waist with the other fifty lying coiled near the car unwinding as I descended. I was going opal gouging in an old timers'' mine in Lightning Ridge. I hoped to find something valuable that they had missed. Gouging and pillar tickling sounded like an exciting treasure hunt to me.The pillars are clay and sandstone level that the miners leave to hold up the roof as they burrow like rabbits through sedimentary rock levels laid down over 100 million years ago. The light near the top of the shaft began to fade but not before I could see how crumbly the walls of the shaft were. Lizards sat in niches looking at me as though I were mad and the poisonous redback spiders scurried from my white knuckled clamping of the rungs as I clambered downward in imitation of the strength and confidence of the seasoned miner who had preceded me. Ignoring the pounding in my ears and the shallow tight breaths I was taking, I resorted to my tried and true method of handling my fear when trying something new and different and dangerous. I imitated the movements and attitude of the fearless and knowledgeable. I figure if you move-like, talk-like, and dress-like, while you do-like the real thing you become the real thing. Today I was an opalminer. (Little did I realize that eighteen years later I would still be an opalminer!) Seventy feet of swinging ladder can make your knees shake and your calves quiver. I tried peering into the blackness below me as the light above became an ever-decreasing halo overhead. I could just barely make out a form sort of hunkered down out of the way of the rattling rain of loose rocks my clumsy boots banging against rotted sandstone was dislodging and precipitating. The three foot wide shaft allowed me to stop and lean back against the wall for a rest and a moment to calm my fears as the great pretender Barbara McCondra got scared before I again assumed the stance and stride of a fearless adventurer and finished the climb. My miner guide reached over and plugged the short light lead plug hanging from my helmet into the female end of the electrical wire coiled and hanging from my waist. The mine lit up revealing rotting timbered props slightly bowed from the weight they bore on one side and what looked like an immense pile of collapsed sandstone roof on the other. I felt the cool clamminess of the mine touch my skin and the tiniest tickle of panic played across it. An Aussie with a touch of opal fever glinting out of his eyes was grinning at me. He handed me a gouging pick and said,"Let''s go knock out some gem black opal." To my horror he didn''t head down the drive (tunnel) on the right but instead crawled over the tons of sandstone heaped to our left. We were here to check out the older workings not the more recent if you can call fifteen years ago recent mining."There''s been quite a bit of pressure on this country," he mumbled. I hurried to not lose sight of him. We turned left and found we were standing beneath another shaft that was blocked up top by thick logs laying side by side across the opening. The pattern made by the sunlight filtering through was eerie and wonderful at the same time. I felt myself step through some time altering place. In my heart I felt that this is what time travel would feel like, dark and heavy with silence and the smell of ancientness. The scents that assailed my nostrils were of the moist earth, the damp clay, and the mildew of quiet, undisturbed time.This particular shaft was of another time. It was rectangular in shape and you could see the niches the old timers had gouged out along both sides of the shaft all the way up. They used these for toe and hand holds to climb into and out of the mine. The old boys sure did it a lot tougher than we were. The shaft we''d descended down via the hanging ladders had been made with a drill rig. We were heading into the area mined nearly a hundred years ago. You could see the hand pick strokes and pokes in the walls and roof whereas the area at the base of the circular shaft showed jack pick marks made with either electrically run or compressor air driven jackhammers. The area we were exploring had had a lot of years to dry out and the clay walls of the drive (tunnel) showed it. They were fretted meaning huge chunks had dried and split away and fallen into the walkway making our path more difficult and dangerous. A very large piece could wedge you so tightly that although not crushed, you would suffocate because your lungs could not expand. That''s why I prefer to go gouging with a Mate as they can pull you out of strife. The roof overhead showed a lovely pinkish sandstone under the lights provided by the car taillights in our helmets. In the opalfields, pink sandstone is considered a good sign of a chance for gem opal. Of course, so is a wavy roof, a hard flat roof, or a rotten sandstone (meaning soft) roof. Contradictory? You bet. That''s the way of the opal game. Opal is where you find it. My partner chose the nearer of two tunnels radiating from the shaft to enter. We now had to stoop. The old boys had to move all dirt by hand shoveling backwards a number of times and hauling the discarded dirt up the shafts hand over hand or using a hand cranked winch called a windlass. The less dirt they shoveled the less to haul away so the drives were short and tight. We were looking for what the miners before us had missed. Black opal nobbies are little nodules that are like raisins in raisin bread with a whole lot of dough to be moved. Gougers use flat- honed, blade-like picks not pointed ones for chip chipping away at the clay. We all wait to feel and hear that special chink that tells us a nobby has been hit. "Thinking about it gets you nothing," snapped my gouging partner and the truth of this was hit home with ring of his pick on opal. Firing electric green color at us was an eye of opal chipped open by his pick. It was with that spark that the lust for opal was kindled in me and that craving, that need to hunt and unearth for myself, the Queen of Gems, to this day still burns in my breast! The heightened sense of being alive, the rush of blood to our heads, the quickening of our breath, was an addictive thrill. As we pried the fiery gem out of the wall with a screwdriver and fondled it in the light of our helmets, we speculated on what others may have found before us. We hoped there were more stones to be had. We pondered whether we dared move much dirt to find this one''s bigger brothers, and we shared a newly rolled smoke.We turned off the lights and sat in the darkness listening to our hearts beat and trying to hear what the mine was saying as the glowing tip of our cigarette was passed between us. We could hear hunks falling off the walls, a popping sound as clay moved suddenly due to pressure from the seventy feet of sandstone above our head, and an explosive thud as a bit of roof faraway down other tunnels peeled from overhead. These were not good sounds. Should we go? Should we stay? How hot was the opal fever burning? How lucky could we be today? I know I cheated and put one of my writings that is in the archives on my website but it explains why I did what I did for 22 years in case you were wondering.

Friday, May 12, 2006

True Security or a Dog collar Hooked to a Nail?

Security often is a frame of mind. Precautions can be taken, awareness made a priority, and then dumb luck enters the picture. I don''t mean to belittle our country''s security sector. There are a lot of serious responsible participants trying to make our country safe from criminals and terrorists. However, as I watch security measures at work (and bear in mind I am privy to very little security insider information) I feel there is a correlation between our security measures (that I am privy to) and the pathetic little dog collar and a nail that was my "lock" to my outback camp in the Lightning Ridge, Australia opal fields. I camped three kilometres out of town in the scrub alone with no dog to warn me of intruders. My theory was that the collar ripping out the nail would have to make a noise if the door was forced open and give me time to grab my hockey stick. There are many operations at work to secure our country no doubt. Well, I also had a tin door in front of which I sprinkled large gravel so that if someone pushed that door open to enter, a loud resonating grating rattle within my tin hut gave me alarm before they ever reached the dog collar door to my bedroom (which was an old 1948 bus by the way) the tin shed was the annex to my bus camp. I used to laugh at my so called security but still felt comforted and more safe by hooking the dog collar every night before I retired to my bed at the back of the bus. I think we all feel better about our "security measures" in today''s terrorist climate but in the back of my mind there niggles a thought that perhaps it is only dog collar and nail security.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Civilization Turns Me into a Weenie

As I chopped the onions for the stuffed bell peppers, I wondered about pestisides, as I mixed them with the hamburger meat I wondered about mad cow disease. It made me glad that at least in preparation to cooking I not only washed my hands but then used the antibacterial hand wash. Whaa... the....? In the Outback of Australia I scooped water for my tea out of bilibongs that the local kangaroos, sheep, wild goats, and cattle stood into to drink, too. Never gave a thought to it (I do boil the tea water afterall) When hunkering down around a fire eating a tin plate of something unidentifiable that some old codger of the bush had been simmering for a week I gleefully stuffed my cake hole while exchanging stories of lost mines, found bonanza strikes of opal, and the skulduggery that surrounds such events. Tearing over deeply cut rough old dirt tracks winding thru opal fields with open 75 foot deep shafts alongside never worried me much but the city freeways surely do. In the bush I''m not worried about my speed limit, whether my insurance is paid, or whether my car is registered or not. The road conditions and the fact I am utterly alone with noone for miles around keeps me careful not fear of a traffic ticket or a radar gun or a stoplight camera. It rains a bit and I hesitate to drive 30 miles to cold call on art galleries and sell a few opals. In the bush you run out naked in the rain if its been hot or stand with hands on hips in middle of the downpour giving yourself and your old dusty work clothes a good rinse. There isnt a tv to distract you from the real and alive wonders of being in the thick of Mother Nature. I timid-up here in the city. Here there are rules and the brainwashing of television begins to get to me I guess as much as I hate to admit it. They talk of allergies, deadly molds, rampant cancer, pains of arthritis, and the dreaded clogged arteries. It can turn anyone into a hypochondriac and a customer. I must be very wary of these personality rearrangers while in the USA. I have to fight the wimp syndrome daily.Hmmm wonder if I dare run naked in the back yard this next upcoming downpour?

Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Book that Ruined Me

When I had left my elementary school teaching career behind to seek adventure plus make better money working construction on the Alaskan oil pipeline, my mother mailed me a zebra striped book titled, I Married Adventure. She said, "Here is the book that ruined you." I read it you see at age six whilst recuperating from a bout of measels and mumps and it put a yearning in my heart that still to this day leads me to get involved in wild and wonderful doings.I followed my dreams and my family members each cocked one eyebrow, shook their heads, but wished me Godspeed.This addiction to adventure has not always been a frolic but with youth and beauty and the belief that Life is grand, I sailed thru relishing every moment. Now that I am older it is harder but the addiction is still so rewarding I continue the life.I must sign off now to once again sell off the rest of the "stuff" that even we gypsy types begin to acrue.I sell now on the net as so I no longer wish to sell Yowah opal at rock and gem shows and am selling the cases and tables and cloths and lights and props that go along with the opal vendor on the road lifestyle. 'Till later

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Waht a Crap Shoot

Dressed like a chain saw massacre killer type, in garbage bag slipover and knitted wool cap, I am covered in brownish red ironstone stains splashed from my saw job. Four days of sawing these Yowah nut opal concretions in half in the blowing cold wind of Santa Fe, New Mexico at my sons home. My hands froze in the cold water that I use while using the rock saw. Maybe I found a hundred dollars worth of opals? This mining game is not easy and never was. I am almost positive now it is a gambling addiction that keeps me in the game. I do not go to casinos. This outdoor casino in the opal fields of Yowah, Koroit, and Lightning Ridge in Australia is all I can afford. Whew...maybe tomorrow I will open one of the splits and be rewarded with a dazzling crystal opal fiery beauty...To see what I do and why I do it go to my website at

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Treasure with Breakfast in Yowah Opal Land

Brekkie (breakfast) is usually a couple of googs (eggs) and a snag (sausage) or bubble and squeak (leftovers from the night before fried in with a lot of leftover mashed potatoes on toast) or low fat stewed tomatoes (tomahtoes) on toast. I buzz over to have a morning cuppa with my opal cutter friend, Gwen. She shouts to me from the back to have a look as she flips on the halogen lights in the opal sorting room and spreads out the gems she has freshly popped off their dopsticks (the small sticks that roughly shaped opals are waxed onto in order to handle the opals with deftness in the shaping and polishing process). As usual their variety, color, and personality keeps us gasping with delight and surprise. These Yowah nut opals, a form of ironstone boulder opals, capture our interest as we move them around and make their colors and patterns dance in the light. Just the day before they were buried in the brown ironstone rock and looked only like brown rock. Now they are gems with every color of the rainbow twinkling back at us, displayed in never ending every changing patterns; little apostrophes of bright electric color, swirls in concentric circles, speckles of fire, and bubbles of crystal opal. There's nothin' like a cup of coffee and opal in the morning.To see what I do and why I do it visit me at www.parchedearthopals

Outback Yowah Opal Adventures Cheating

Okay guys, I used to be at another blog site and am going to cheat now at this difficult time for me with putting up past blogs written there onto this site...

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Yowah Australia Opal Field Sunday Last November

Out of bed. I was expecting some blessed relief from the 120 degree heat today. Peeked out door to see how wet it was outside. No problem. Hardly a spit. All that thunder and lightning last night and there was only enough rain to wipe out the tracks in the dirt. Just like me sorta. All that talk about opal and hardly enough opal yet to fill one jam jar. After brekkie, (breakfast) I sorted two sand bags full of dirt from my mine that Cliff and Pat and I had trommeled together a year ago. No flashes of opal fire that we call “free color” came of it. We call “free color” because the nut in some way has been opened and the inside shows opal as opposed to full nuts that still need to be sawn open to check for opal. I've got to go to the shop this morning to order my fish and chips, a regular lunchtime Sunday event and special treat here in town. Fish and chips didn’t used to be available at any other time. I met some friends there who had been celebrating with a rare visiting chum last night. They were very hung over and sooo quiet I said, “The girla are so quiet that they are invisible!” Everyone barely laughed, more like a whimper actually. We all left the kiosk store/mail drop/snacks takeaway to meet at the JoJo mining area to show their visitor the dirt we have been removing and processing. At this stage in the mine, I consider it really mining “hopal” (as in hope) not opal. Traff was in the mine removing the huge rubble pile of overburden with his excavator so we can begin to tear up the two feet left that is over the opal bearing level tomorrow and hunt through that patch of rubble for full nuts and color. We still have to rip out the remaining old shaft full of backstow that is sticking up proud in the air tantalizing us. We left the backfilled shaft standing up surrounded by four feet of sandstone level so as to keep it separate from the plain non-opalbearing sandstone level overburden around it. Backfill from a hundred years ago usually carries a few good opal bearing matrix nuts that the old timers used to throw away as only the gem centers were marketable back then. When the tower comes down, that truckload won’t go to the other side of the open cut where the overburden is being dumped to fill in that part of the finished with mined mine. That truckload of tower and shaft dirt will be piled up top nest to the trommel to be further processed and all the ironstone nuts removed. Went home for the fish and chips and sent email to m sons in USA by using the RTC (rural transaction center) cyber café which costs 2.00 per fifteen minutes then went back to mine just in time to help spot ironstone for Trafford while he digs and to again check out some more of the clay that carried the pretty pipe opal on Friday. Two hours in the now muggy heat for nothing. Anyway left Traff to go for second time today down into my tiny cut at the other leg of my boomerang shaped mine to tear out a nutband I found near a slide that is carrying color and silica. Using my pick, as the nutband is close to the surface, I got one stone out of all that I ripped out and took it home to hatchet open. Took an exhausted shower and dressed up a bit. It was four o'clock so went to check on how Pat and Cliff were and had a glass of water with them. Left them to rest up while their grandkids were away at a birthday party. Caught Kaitlin and Geoff at home and they want me to consider having Gerawin stay in my home for next six weeks at thirty dollars a week and she pays electric …. Well I guess as I usually turn the electric off as well as the phone. I must think about it. I drank water with them too in their new brightly colored TALL plastic glasses. Aussies love and use many different wildly bright colors in their home décor. It is important to stay hydrated here in the heat. They gave me a heap of tiny tomatoes from their garden and two zucchini along with a can of three beans that they got for twenty-five cents at Crazy Clarks in Charleville. I went home and fixed a cold lamb chop sandwich for diner. I threw away my bread as it tasted moldy although I couldn’t see the mold. I made a microwave lemon cake and tried to read the murder mystery Kaitlin had lent me tonight. I proceeded to write this in my onagain-offagain diary instead. Tomorrow will be exciting so it was hard to fall asleep. It didn’t help that I am sick and tired of all the insects dropping into my cooking, my drinking water, and on me while I try to sleep. It’s so warm the sweat is trickling down the back of my skull and I can feel the dropped insects crawling UP the back of my head in my hair.. I have the fan on high and pointing directly at me. Only way to feel semi-comfortable. The fine hair I have is tickling me about my fan blown face. My insect bites are itching me, my fingernails are worn down by the sandstone rocks I have been sorting…just like sandpaper. Hope I can sleep tonight. I rub myself down with insect repellent and spray my bed. I direct the fan on me as it helps blow away the weaker mosquitoes. I hear the winds caused by the sun having set and the dark cool of evening. We will need good sunlight tomorrow to spot the ironstone in all the dust coated rubble. I saw some gem opal someone else found today and it blew my mind. If only….

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Yowah Opal Field Life Written Last November

Someone today at the coffee shop said about me, “she’s not interested in a man, only opal.” Is it that bad? Perhaps. I used to have both but there just aren’t many here that are single and are my age and mining. Simple, I am here only three months out of the year after all so put all my energies into the mining and processing and buying that I must do. I feel frozen with so much to do before I head back to USA again for a year. Only twelve days till I leave…eeek. What do I do first? I'll have to bag all the bedding in plastic garbage bags, and tip the mattresses and cover to keep clean of all the varmit poo that will acrue while I am gone ten months. close off the water out of toilet to keep the frogs from taking up residence and again, filling it full of poo. My mind is full of thoughts about poo and lovely. I better start getting my “ Yowah and Koroit nuts” in a row. Day after tomorrow I ride into Eulo and Cunnamulla with Kaitlin and Geoff. I need to pay on my back rates and pay the Eulo store on my grocery tab. Perhaps there is something there among his opal for sale that I would like to take to the USA? I need patterned rough stuff for Ron. I need partnership rough opal for Jim. I better take a few finished stones too but I see the locals are charging more for their stones than I do in the States! Guess they look at the internet opals and think they can get the same prices on the field in Australia. The market is always changing and everyone trying to find what works for them. I need to also pay Gwen her share for that opal in the book in Hunter’s jewelry. Cheesh. I need to get a book for Lyle too. He welded the new gidea handle for me on my pick that Des cut from a branch for me. It’s my favorite lucky pick that I used for gouging underground for ten years in Lightning Ridge. I used it to knock out some nuts in my small open cut today to see if the luck was still working…NOT. Lyle was doing welding repairs today on the trommel. Traff and Val put in more pipe for the water and set up at the agitator site. I did two more loads of laundry by hauling eight buckets of water twice for each load and pouring into the washer (need to get the hose connectors in Cunnamulla Wed so won’t have to do that anymore). Ate lunch at Traff’s and Val’s today…fresh slaw salad minus dressing as the Aussies like it, two huge slices of homemade bread and juice cordial (similar to our kool aid). Lovely, and of course, we talked of mining and opal our favorite subject. I got a saw blade from Therese today (you go thru one ten dollar blade a day when sawing) and need to give it to Des to start sawing some nuts. I brought some peanut butter cake I made in the microwave (in this heat, sometimes 120 degrees and more a day I prefer not to use my gas stove and the propane bottle is running low anyway) to Therese and Charlie for a snack in the mines. They broke thru another drive right into my wall of solid ground. There was backfill there, too. Very good. More stuff to process for next year.

To see what I do and why I do it, go to my website at

Thursday, March 09, 2006

I'm Baaaaack

Have been VERY active over at for some time and realized DUH that I could have been doing both blogs all along ...right. So for anyone who cares I will again give blogger a shout, a rant, a visual etc.