September 12, 2021

From small town life to mid 80's outback opal boom town. Excerpt from the upcoming book, "Pillarbasher"

The author at 13 years of age down Dad's mine in Coober Pedy.

My earliest memories apart from visceral infant vaugeties are of the old lady next door looking down at me and saying hello. I either remember from the event itself or from my family recounting it somewhere over the decades, answering, “got any biscuits?” Apparently she did have biscuits, along with milky ways, ice cream, various lollies, meat pies and steak.. Being the youngest of  seven kids who didn't get a lot of sugary treats, I began to escape the frequent adolescent melees to become her ‘pet’ by default.

Now being the 'pet' of the old lady next door had its advantages, like lollies, and somewhere to escape to when your big brother is after you to 'smash your face in' and somewhere for a young man to grow soft and fat.. Well the latter is an obvious disadvantage, and every kids needs a heroes adventure, I never imagined how mine would manifest.

Saddleworth Primary school was a typical nineteen eighties Australian country school, although whenever I said something stupid, Grandpa would joke “you can tell you went to school at Saddleworth”. It wasn't funny.

On reflection it seems to me that small town and school life was essentially utopia for the average kid, and after a 1985 family trip up to Alice Springs with a stop over at Coober Pedy, our class watched the film based on the Colin Thiele book ‘Fire In the Stone’ back in Saddleworth.

I was mesmerised.. The character of the 12 year old boy, from a broken home with an alcoholic father, coupled with the mystery and lure of opal field legends of fortunes won and lost, was just too much.. I was taken, hook line and sinker, a profound fascination with the outback opal fields and with opal that as it turns out, would last a lifetime.

In 1986, another trip up to the red centre. Seemingly infinite, heavily corrugated roads with huge puddles of bone dry bulldust that would swallow half the car, throw us around like rag dolls, then fill the back seat with superfine red dust that mixed with Dads cigarette smoke to choke us all the more.. It was like hell, and heaven all at the same time.

 The three of us brothers still living with Mum and Dad would be quietly provoking each other in the back seat. Spit, thump, kick, smile.. repeat…

If the shenanigans got out of hand, there was the obligatory “Cut it out!, or I will pull this car over and bang your bloody heads together!” 

Then at least once, after a stern warning and a lull in the back seat scrimmages..

 “Daaaad… Lachlan smiled at me!” the baby brother would complain.. “ Smile back at him” Dad would furtively retort in his dry, smug manner. 

Above mentioned siblings, Shannon (7)in the foreground, Lochy (13) sitting in the back near Dad (Kev) in an extremely rich claim that we missed the opal in because we had no idea how to read the signs, details to follow in upcoming posts! 

To be continued....

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