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III

There were numerous prospectors in the community. They always interested me, and I had many friends amongst them. Most of them wandered extensively through the bush. Often they were short of water and food. Occasionally they had fights with the blacks. Now and again they made sensationally rich discoveries. Usually secretive as to their movements and as to the results of their efforts, when they made a good find they concealed the fact until they were ready to make it public. If their shows were worthless they were sometimes equally uncommunicative.

A few years after Paddy Hannan had found gold at Kalgoorlie, he was financed by a few of us to prospect. An agreement was made with him by which we would share what he would find. We were always in hopes of his finding another Kalgoorlie and enriching us beyond the dreams of avarice. He would disappear for


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weeks and then report. We heard of his prospecting in the Menzies country. It was rumoured that he had made another valuable find. No news reached us from him, but the rumour was circulated by men who had come from the locality where he was working.

Late one night Hannan came to my office, travel-stained and looking mysterious. I was alone. He shut both doors and asked in a whisper if anyone could hear us. I assured him that we could not be heard. He again looked all round to make certain that we were alone.

I was on the tip-toe of expectation.

I felt convinced that he was going to startle me by announcing some wonderful find he had made.

“What have you found?” I inquired eagerly in a whisper.

He crept close to me, and in a scarcely audible voice solemnly said, “I've got nothing at all, at all.”

What original characters most of the prospectors were! How curious were their place-names. True, many localities retained the aboriginal names such as Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie, Boorabin and Goongarrie. Other places were called after the prospectors who discovered them. There are, for example, Cue, Menzies, Laverton and Cashman's. Much more picturesque is the nomenclature of the majority of towns and prospectors' finds.

What strange names are “Broad Arrow” and “Black Flag”! Even more interesting are “Hit or Miss,” “I.O.U.,” “White Feather” and “Hard to Find.” Amongst others are “Golden Pole,” “Last


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Chance,” “The Hidden Secret” and “Queen of the Earth.”

The origin of these names is unknown, except in a few instances. It was obvious in the case of “Golden Valley,” the scene of an early gold rush. When I visited it in early spring, years after it had been found, the prevailing colour was gold from the wealth of blossoms on thousands of trees and shrubs. The masses of yellow flowers, lighted as they were by a brilliant sun, made it truly “a Golden Valley” apart from the riches that were hidden under the surface.

The prospector of “Roaring Gimlet” told me it was so named because he set alight a gimlet tree and the flames made a roaring sound.

Southern Cross was discovered by a prospector who one night in camp was shown by an aborigine a yellow stone, a nugget. When asked where he found it, the native pointed to the sky and let him know that it was in the direction of where the great southern constellation was to be seen. With the Southern Cross as a guide, the native brought him to where the nugget was found. To-day all the streets of Southern Cross are named after features of the heavens. Antares Street is the main thoroughfare. There is a Sirius Street; also a Procyon Street. Other streets are Polaris Street, Achenar Street, Altair Street and Orion Street. The list of streets is lengthy, but the names of heavenly bodies is almost inexhaustible.

A mine called “The Flying Pig,” which produced a good many thousands of pounds' worth of gold, had a haphazard beginning. Two prospectors were travelling in the bush when they came to an outcrop. It was not what is called “likely looking country.” The prospects


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appeared worthless. One of them said, “I'll have a try at this outcrop.”

“Why waste time, Tom?” remarked his mate. “Let's get on.”

“I'm not going on until I see what this is. It may have gold in it.”

“And pigs may fly,” was the response.

Undeterred by the remark, Tom struck the rock with his pick. The broken pieces showed gold freely, and they saw they had made a valuable discovery.

“We'll call the show ‘The Flying Pig,’ ” remarked one of them.

And they did!

He was tall, nearly six feet, thin and without an ounce of spare flesh on his bones. His eyes were bright and sharp, his skin brown, his face full-bearded and his dress rough, just trousers, singlet, boots and a much-faded old soft hat. He was dusty and tired, and I first met him between Hannan's and White Feather in 1895. He and his mate were returning from a prospecting trip in the Kurnalpi country.

It was a broiling hot day and they were camped under the shade of a gum tree.

With a companion I was driving to White Feather—to “The Feather,” as it was called, though afterwards it was generally known as Kanowna. We pulled up for a talk. A bottle of cool beer that we produced established friendship and helped conversation. The man I have described was a vigorous talker. His mate, who was less communicative, called him Bill.

“Had any luck?” we queried.




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“Not a stroke,” said Bill. “People say prospectin' is a fine life. It's not. I 'ave bin at it for twenty years an' more an' I'm dead broke. I've had a few rises. I got 50 ounces at Hall's Creek, I picked up some good nuggets at Nullagine and I did well at Golden Valley, but I lost all I made looking for more.”

“Bayley and Ford and others made fortunes,” I remarked.

“About one in every couple of hundred is successful,” Bill answered. “Think of all the men who fail.”

“It is a healthy open-air life,” I replied. “There are wonderful chances in it. Any day a man may make a find that will make him wealthy. Besides, a prospector is his own master. He is free and can go where he likes.”

“I'll grant you all that,” answered Bill. “But think of the drudgery. Blokes who know nothing about prospecting say it's fun. They wouldn't say it if they lived for months on ‘tinned dog’ and got Barcoo rot for want of fresh vegetables.”

“They wouldn't say it if they had to do a perish,” remarked Bill's mate.

Then the talk drifted to what prospectors most dread—failure to find water. Thirsty men suffer agonies in the bush. Most of those who die from want of water endure torture before the end. They become delirious, leave well-beaten tracks and wander into the bush, travel for miles in a circle. The last stage is for them to shed their clothing, and when found dead their bodies are commonly quite naked.

Bill told us of a “perish” he had endured about a year previously. He was doing a twenty-five mile walk from where he was camped. It was summer and the


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weather intensely hot. He covered ten miles to a camp where he expected to get water, but found the place had been abandoned and no water available. As he had relied on getting water there, he had taken no water with him. His mouth was parched, but he decided to complete the fifteen miles. The sun grew hotter and hotter as the day advanced. His need for water became greater.

“I found,” continued Bill, “my tongue had swollen till it touched the roof of my mouth. I could scarcely breathe. With a knife I was able to somewhat loosen my tongue. In doing so I took off some of the skin. I staggered on. Somehow I got off the track. I gave myself up for lost. In a demented state I was fortunate to come across the camp of a couple of prospectors. They knew what to do. They would only give me spoonfuls of water. I tried to fight them for more, but they overpowered me. I remained with them several days. They nursed me till I recovered, but until my dying day I'll remember the agony I suffered. It was months before I was my proper self again.”

More than once it happened that men found themselves short of water whilst natives were in their vicinity. The natives had to have water and so there must be water somewhere near. Goldfields aborigines were secretive about the location of water supplies. They feared that Europeans would use all the water, especially as they ordinarily had horses or camels.

Native supplies of water were mostly in deep, narrow holes in rocks. Gnamma holes, as they are called, are difficult to find. The opening is narrow, but below the surface the hole often widens out. Sometimes it is quite deep and holds a large quantity of fresh water that,


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even on the hottest day, is quite cool. These holes are filled either by underground springs or by rain-water flowing into them down a channel fed from a natural catchment.

“The last time we were out in the Never-Never,” said Bill's mate, “we had no water. We were feeling anxious. We happened to see a few blacks. They ran away and we went after them. A big black fellow Joe was chasing turned and threw a spear at him. Joe saw it coming and dodged it. He was a good runner and was abreast of the black in a few seconds, seized him by the long hair he wore and threw himself on the nigger, who fell under him. We tied him up and made him know that we wanted him to take us to water. He was sullen and would do nothing. We gave him salt beef. We had a bag of salt and we made the beef extra salt and he ate it greedily. Then we gave him more salt beef, and it was as salty as we could make it.

“We sat down and watched the result.

“Presently, we saw his mouth was getting parched. He tried to moisten it, but failed. He began to suffer.

“I felt sorry for him, but our lives were in danger.

“He got worse and made it clear that he would take us to water.

“Joe, who held on to the rope that bound his hands, found it hard to keep pace with him. He brought us a couple of miles to where there were rocks. Coming to a small gnamma hole he threw himself down and plunged his hands, tied up as they were, into the water, which he drank greedily.

“We let him go. He disappeared. We never saw him again.”

It was about these things we talked as the four of us


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rested for a couple of hours in the shade. Many prospectors perished in the bush in those days. Years before Bayley's discovery at Coolgardie men had died there for want of water. A couple of miles from where he made his find there were posts in which was nailed a tin notice that was dated 1888. Close by were the bleached skeletons of two Europeans whose names were never known.

Bill's summing up was: “Prospectin' is a rotten life. Yo're ever following a gleam of light that eludes you just as you seem to have reached it. Still, I am restless and no good for anything else. I couldn't stay in the same place for long, and so I expect I'll be all my life chasin' the weight.”

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