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 www.ParchedEarthOpals.com and www.outbackgems.com

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 www.ParchedEarthOpals.com and www.outbackgems.com 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 www.ParchedEarthOpals.com and www.outbackgems.com 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 www.ParchedEarthOPals.com or www.outbackgems.com

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 www.ParchedEarthOpals.com or www.outbackgems.com

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:http://www.parchedearthopals.com/or www.outbackgems.com

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 www.parchedearthopals.com or www.outbackgems.com

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 http://www.parchedearthopals.com/ or www.outbackgems.com

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 www.ParchedEarthOpals.com or www.outbackgems.com

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 www.ParchedEarthOpals.com or www.outbackgems.com

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 www.ParchedEarthOpals.com or www.outbackgems.com

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 www.ParchedEarthOpals.com or www.Outbackgems.com

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 www.ParchedEarthOpals.com or www.outbackgems.com

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 www.ParchedEarthOpals.com or to www.outbackgems.com 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 www.ParchedEarthOpals.com and www.outbackgems.com