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V

Of all the rushes, genuine and bogus, the most talked of was that occasioned by Father Long's reported “Golden Sickle” nugget, or, as it was sometimes called, the “Sacred Nugget.” He was a young Irish priest, twenty-six years of age, stationed in Kanowna. I knew him well, and for that reason followed with interest all the developments of the mysterious affair.

Kanowna had been an alluvial field, and the surface alluvial was worked out. It had developed into the stage of working several promising reefs on various leases when it was discovered that there was a rich deposit of deep alluvial from which claim holders obtained considerable quantities of gold. Thousands of men flocked to Kanowna, which soon became a busy and prosperous centre where men dug the ground with feverish energy and lavishly spent their easily acquired wealth in hotel bars.

At this time Father Long visited Coolgardie, and


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when speaking of the Kanowna field said that he had seen a nugget which had been found there and which was over 1,000 ounces in weight. The statement got into the papers and aroused intense excitement.

When further questioned Father Long adhered to the statement that he had seen the nugget, but added that he was pledged to secrecy not to divulge the names of the men who showed it to him nor would he say the exact spot where it was found.

After that, the interest in the Sacred Nugget grew.

The rush to Kanowna became greater than ever.

Father Long's life was a misery to him through men questioning him in the hope of getting some clue. They followed him about, watched everyone who went to or came from his house. Many of them said the secret he held was of such public importance that it was his duty to tell everything. Finally he announced that he would declare the exact locality where he was told that the nugget was discovered, and that he would reveal the secret publicly from the balcony of a two-story Kanowna hotel at 2 o'clock in the afternoon of a certain day.

At the appointed time a crowd of many thousands was gathered in front with all kinds of conveyances in order to rush to the spot. Some were on horseback, others in buggies, several were riding camels, and many had bicycles, but the vast majority were on foot. It was evidently going to be a wild, mad race.

When Father Long appeared on the balcony he asked those present to promise that after he told them where the Sacred Nugget was found they would not ask him anything further about it. He desired them to show that they made the promise by holding up


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their right hands. Immediately thousands of hands went up.

Every person in the immense concourse was silent. All eyes were fixed on the young, pale-faced, handsome priest. On each of the sea of faces there was an eager, strained look. There was a tense feeling in the still air.

The priest raised his hand.

Two dogs began a fierce, noisy fight. There were loud cries of canine pain as they were kicked apart and ran away howling.

In complete silence, in a clear distinct voice, he said:

“The weight of the nugget was between 95 lbs. and 100 lbs. It was found at a depth of five or six feet a quarter of a mile on this side of the nearest lake on the Kurnalpi road, not far from the road.”

Before he had quite finished speaking there was a rush. Bicycles, horses, camels and buggies were mixed up making for the spot indicated. There were several accidents, none of them of a serious nature. A bicycle rider was the first to reach the place. Pegging at once began. Hundreds of claims were pegged in the vicinity.

After working the claims for some days no gold was found. Before a couple of weeks they were all abandoned as worthless. That was the only information that Father Long ever gave about the nugget.

For years old diggers talked of the affair. Various opinions were held. One was that there never was a nugget and that Father Long was hoaxed by a faked nugget painted with leaf gold by those who wanted a rush to Kanowna in the interests of the hotels.

Another theory was that Father Long had talked extravagantly in Coolgardie and had made an exaggerated


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statement without realising the effect it was likely to have. When it aroused a furore he lacked the courage to admit that he had been guilty of what he thought was only a harmless taradiddle.

There were hundreds who contended that a mass of gold had been melted and thrown when hot into water and thus had the semblance of a nugget. It was really (unknown to the priest) stolen gold, and that was why he had been pledged to secrecy.

Others were convinced that the nugget was found and shown to the priest, but that the finders wished to conceal their identity. Perhaps they were in debt to storekeepers and others and so wished to escape the payment of their just debts, but of that the priest would know nothing.

Father Long was of the cheery type of cleric, a man experienced in all sorts of country sports in Ireland, an excellent conversationalist and a bright companion.

One day, when the public excitement was at its height, I met him and could see that he was terribly worried. It was before he had made the announcement from the hotel balcony. I asked him to dine with me. He accepted. There were but the two of us at the dinner. We talked of Ireland, of its trout and salmon fishing, its game shooting, its old legends, wonderful horses and fine hunting. I did not refer to the nugget. When he was leaving he was excessively cordial in his expressions of gratitude for the hospitality extended to him.

Some months after he had announced the spot where he was told the nugget was found he again dined with me. The conversation between us was chiefly about Irish history and Irish politics. The nugget was never


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mentioned. As he was saying good-bye he turned to me and said: “Thanks very much, but especially for never questioning me about the nugget. It was kind and thoughtful. I hope some day I will be able to tell you more about it than I have told anyone else. I cannot do it now.”

That was the last time I saw him. The puzzle of the Sacred Nugget was never solved. He carried to the grave what further he knew about it. A year or so after the furore he had aroused had subsided he died in Perth from typhoid fever.

Photograph Facing Page 80: The Meeting of Diggers at Kanowna. A section of the huge crowd which assembled to hear Father Long tell them where the “Sacred Nugget” was found. The photograph shows them raising their right hands to promise that when he tells them they will ask nothing further about it.



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