Saddleworth was the archetypal shire, only largely bereft of the whimsical characters and warmth depicted in Tolkien’s work. Although to be fair, it did have its share of wonderful people.
It was a post war relic, steeped in religiosity, but not all that spiritual. Really just a small village that existed to support the surrounding farming community and to otherwise navel gaze, or to gaze over the fence to criticize the neighbours, for little else to do.
The judgemental gaze of so many old Methodists and Church of England parishioners is indelibly seared into my mind. In hindsight, it was probably well deserved disapproval as I was a well known terror around town.
Around 1986 I was staying with my much older sister in Glenelg, a beach side suburb of Adelaide.
My two slightly younger nephews and I were madly exploring the nearby area, searching desperately for some mischief, and found the patawalonga river channel.
The Patawalonga is a fully concrete river channel running for several kilometres where we roamed and found drain pipes to climb in full of spiderwebs and rubbish and several inches of water flowing.
I clearly remember balancing on the edge of the concrete slope trying to avoid slipping into the water when I spotted a white stone by itself beneath the 3 or four inches of flowing water. It had a familiar ‘opalescence’ to it. Drawing closer I detected a fleck of red, then green twinkling at me… ‘that's opal!’
I was incredulous, wading in, I picked up the stone and marvelled at the large almost golf ball sized chunk of white based red and green opal. I didn't know it then, but it was what we call ‘pinfire red grey’ Although its name is inaccurate for much so named Coober Pedy material, as it is often not ‘grey’ at all, but porcelain white in base colour. Although not the most expensive of Australian opal, it is still very highly sought after for jewellery.
Standing amazed, looking around, I spotted another stone a bit farther upstream, and again, a decent chunk of the same opal! And another! and yet another.. Soon we were in a ‘patch’ where there were close to fifty or so decent size pieces of the opal scattered all around. My nephew recalls me demanding he find a container to fill up.
The opal was scattered 50 metres or so downstream from a footbridge, we assumed someone must have thrown it over the bridge. We will never know why, but certainly as kids, we didn't really care either..
This experience was to cement my fascination with opal.
I had previously wondered if my destiny lay in the opal fields, now I knew it.