Interview: Machine Man
Unions: Testing Times
Bad Boss: Freespirit Haunts Internet
Unions: Badge of Honour
National Focus: Noel's World
Economics: Safe Refuge
International: Global Abuse
History: The Honeypot
Review: Death And The Barbarians
Poetry: Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
The Mouse That Roars
Justice For Victims Denied
They all came, the small prospectors, the drifters, the dreamers, the gamblers, quickly followed by mining companies and experienced miners, all anxious to dip Into the honeypot
Some of them moved on, but others stayed and from their courage and endurance the city of Broken Hill was born.
When Torn Polgood, a young miner working at Silverton NSW, sets out to try his luck in the new mining fields of Broken Hill, he stays at a boarding house in Crystal Street. There he meets Daisy Kelly, daughter of Hortense Kelly, the proprietor.
Daisy and Tom marry and start a family. Their story, with that of their son Jim, begins in 1886 and spans a period of forty-four years.
Set against the background of one of Australia's greatest mining fields, it portrays Broken Hill's turbulent and colourful history and provides a curious relevance to today's economic problems.
Irene tried to sound enthusiastic, "Nothing much wrong with you. When do you have to report to the mine?"
"Soon as Dr George says I'm fit."
The following week George started on the day shift at the South Mine.
Irene got up early and cut his crib, then at 6 a.m. he jammed his hat on his head, put bike clips on his trousers and cycled quickly away from the house.
Ho rode along Oxide Skeet, crossed over Argent Street and turned into Crystal Street passing houses on his right and the huge residue skimp dumps on his left.
The road eventually turned left into Bonanza St. and on to a short steep hill. At the crest of it, on the left, was the South Mine. He rode on to the lease and propping his bike in front of the office, walked inside, trying his best to appear self-assured.
"I'm George Hawkins and I have to report to report to the Shift Boss to start work to-day."
"Got a letter?" the man behind the desk asked. George handed it to him, "Come with me and I'll take you to Harry Benson. He's the underground shift boss."
It was a lovely morning when Irene Hawkins heard the postman's whistle and welcomed the chance to go outside in the flesh air for a few minutes.
She took a letter out of the box and glanced at the address. "Funny," she thought, "who on earth calls George, 'Mr. George Hawkins'?"
She went back inside and called out to George, "there's a letter for
you, it looks important."
George hurried along the passage, took the letter and opened it, his hands shaking With excitement.
"Mum, I've got a job at the South Mine. I have to report to the Medical Bureau on Monday."
Irene was afraid of the mines and privately hoped that Bob could find work for George in the town, But she couldn't spoil this moment, so she disguised her dismay with a question. "Why do you have to go to the Medical Bureau first?"
"Mum, haven't you heard about the twenty-one diseases?
"What twenty-one diseases?"
"Oh, there's a helluva lot of different things they check you for. Things like consumption and heart trouble. I have to see Dr. George and if I'm all right they give me a certificate with my photo on the back, I have to take that back to the mine.
Harry Benson was an experienced miner, a tall quiet man who took his job seriously. George's first impression was that he wouldn't like to get on the wrong side of him. Later he was to knew him as a fair minded man, worthy of respect, who never picked on anyone for the sake of it.
Harry walked over to two men talking together "G'day Fred. This is George Hawkins. He'll be labouring on the 1100 level. Keep an eye on him, will you?"
Fred was a middle aged man, short and stocky with a slightly receding hairline and a ruddy complexion. His manner was easy-going and cheerful.
"She'll be right Harry,"
"G'day George." He turned to the bloke beside him.
"This is Perce and if you know anything about football, you'll be a friend for life."
Perce would go well on the football field, George thought. He was taller than Fred, probably in his early thirties with a lean and muscular body.
"You play football?"
"No I go in for cycling"
"Well I don't follow that." His manner suggested that he wasn't missing much.
George looked around him. Men were standing around waiting for the cage to take them underground, but he was more interested in the horses tethered nearby.
Fred followed his gaze, "The horses are used underground for hauling trucks. See those leather hats they've got on? That's to protect their heads. There's a lot of pipes underground."
"How long do they stay underground?"
"'They go down after the men and they come up first at the end of the shift, then they're stabled across the road."
"How do they get them under?"
"They travel separately. They fit into a cage quite comfortably and they can't get their heads over the top. They're quite smart and they back into the cage by themselves."
George couldn't take his eyes off a large draught horse. Its coat was steel grey and its physique was magnificent. Fred gave the animal a friendly pat. "This is Silver. She's the boss of the gang. Mario's her handler. You'll meet him later."
George walked towards the horse but he wasn't sure if it would bite, so he hung back. Fred noticed his hesitation, "Go on, pat her, she won't hurt you. The only thing Silver does wrong is if she's not tethered properly, she'll mooch up the drive and pinch your crib out of your coat pocket. She's a bloody thief."
The whistle blew and the men started moving into the steel cage at Number 1 shaft. George followed Perce and Fred. Fred called out to the man behind him. "Hullo Mario, y'ole bastard."
Mario grinned. He was Italian, a handsome young man of slight stature, with wavy black hair and warm brown eyes, probably in his late twenties. He looked enquiringly at George.
"On his first shift Mate," Fred commented, "he'll be working with Alby. Mind you, Alby is so bloody talkative, he wont got a word in edgeways."
The thin young man next to Mario said nothing but smiled shyly. The cage door shut and the big steam winders in the Winder House across from the shaft lowered the steel ropes. The descent was fast. George tried to act as if he had been doing this all his life but he was scared stiff. When the cage stopped at the 1100 level, they got out on to the plat. It was a large flat area with railway lines branching out from it, going north, south and west. The men went to the magazine first and collected drilling steels, barring down bars and shovels. They stopped at the crib cuddy, took off their coats and hung them up. Perce and Fred rolled a cigarette and had a smoke before starting then grabbing their carbide lamps and two extra candles, they walked along the main drive with George and Alby. There were crosscuts along the main driv0.
"Cut into country rock," Perce explained.
George looked puzzled.
"No ore there mate."
They moved along the drive and stopped at a ladder. They all climbed up. George got the surprise of his life. The stope was so much bigger than be expected. A hell of a lot of work must have gone into making it that size.
Perce and Fred hung their carbide lamp onto a shaft hook, then they put a couple of candles on to the ore chute. George heard a faint clicking noise and asked Fred what it was.
"That's the air getting in between the rooks and they're just sort of snapping away from the parent body. That's the warning of a fall and we'll have to clear out for the time being. We don't take any chances, but if a rock doesn't fall, we'll come to back later and bar down."
When the area appeared to be safe Perce and Fred began work. The fixing had been done on the previous shift, so they got into shilling dirt.
Alby and George were sent to stack waste timber and tidy up an empty stope. As they walked into it Alby explained to George. "See that timber structure over them? It's called a bulk. They put it over near the hanging wall. It's a safety measure. See, it goes tight up to the back of the stope."
"You mean the ceiling?"
Alby laughed. "They call it the back and you've got to watch it First thing they do is bar down. You know that thing that looks like a pinch bar? They use the chisel end of it to check the back. If it rings it's safe. If it doesn't they try to prise out any loose rock. But you've got to keep your eye on that hanging wall. It follows the natural line or the rock and rocks can wind off."
George looked blank.
"Oxygen can get in behind a rock and it comes out fast. Men have been killed that way."
"What are Perce and Fred doing today?"
"Shifting dirt. That's the ore. They're contract miners and they work damned hard. The ore goes down the chute to Mario and he trucks it away."
George knew how hard the men worked. Old Silver worked hard too. The patient beast plodded backwards and forwards from the chute to the pIat. Mario loved the animal. He'd worked with horses in his village in the south of Italy.
Guided by the light from the front buck and Mario's carbide lamp, Silver huddles the trucks along, walking between the loco rails as sure footed as a mountain goat. When they reached the plat Mario spragged the trucks to slow them down. Then he unharnessed Silver. The trucks were then manhandled on to the weighbridge and finally sent up the shaft.
At noon the whistle blew so George and AIby went along to the crib cuddy to join the others. This was an area cut out of the side of the drive, big enough to accommodate twenty men. A table and stools were prowled. George was very hungry and he hoped his mother had packed plenty of food. He ate next to Alby and listened to the conversation of the others.
Fred was complaining loudly about his sandwiches. He viewed them with disgust and said to Perce
"I'm bloody sick of jam sandwiches."
"Why don't you have a word with your missus?"
"She's on holidays. I made the bastards meself!"
"They all roared laughing. "Put up with it then," Perce said, as he produced a tattered pack of cards.
Fred and Perce played Euchre and George had a yarn with Alby. George had heard Jane mention Alby's family. She was friends with the older girl, Aileen and there was a little kid too. The mother was a widow. They lived in Williams Street not far from his place. At the other end of the table Mario was arguing loudly about union matters. George was impressed, "He's not bad with the language, is he?"
"He does all right," Aby agreed. "He boards with some relatives out the South. They read the paper to him in the morning and explain what's going on at the South mine. He doesn't forget a bloody thing."
After the crib break it was back to work until the three o'clock whistle blew. The men made their way down the ladderways and walked back to the plat to wait for the cage. Silver heard it coming and cocked her ears. As soon as it stopped she was ready. She backed into it and was sent up to the surface. Then the men went up.
George stepped out of the cage. The sunlight seemed unusually bright. He walked over to the change house with the other men, showered, dressed, then went over to where he had left his bike.
He felt a lot older than when he had left home that morning.
Extract from the Honey Pot by Grace Hawes
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