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

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?