MY FIRST DAY AT THE RIDGEI woke up rather late next morning soaked in sweat from the heat that seemed to come from a furnace, staggering out of bed I slipped into a pair of shorts and grabbed a towel out of my bag then went hunting for a shower. The shower when I found it consisted of corrugated iron sides that lifted the skin off your body if you brushed against it, there was a tank set overhead and only one tap that boasted the sign ‘hot water’ and boy it sure was. It seems that in summer all you get in the way of water is hot and in winter cold. As I walked in I bumped into a tall dark haired man in his thirties coming out.
“Hi.” I said. “What’s it like?”
“Pretty bloody hot mate.” He answered as he lit a cigarette." You new around ‘ere ain’t yer?" He queried.
“Yeah, just got in last night, you mining or just looking?”
“I’ve been ’ere a couple of years, got a claim at ’atters flat just out of town.” He said pointing to the east. “Are you stayin’ or just ‘avin’ a look?”
“Depends if I can get into a claim anywhere, I havn’t a clue what to look for but.”
“Well listen mate, my names Johnny, why don’t you ‘ave yer shower an’ look round the joint, then come out with me after lunch an’ I’ll show you a few things about opal.”
“Thanks mate, I’d sure appreciate it. Oh by the way my names Bob.” I said offering him my hand.
“Glad ter meet yer, well I better get goin’, see yer at one o’clock, you’ll find me in the blue van round the other side of the shop. Ok?”
“Right, and thanks Johnny.” I said as he walked towards his van.
I had my shower and decided I didn’t want to cook in this heat, so I headed down town to see what the shop had to offer in the way of food. The shop was a cafe really with tables and chairs, so I sat down and ordered breakfast. After I finished eating a great plate of bacon and eggs, I paid and went for a walk to a hill just behind the town where I could see what appeared to be opal mines.
When I got closer half the hill seemed to be covered by cone shaped piles of clay with a grave sized hole in the middle of each cone. I worked out roughly how deep they were by dropping a stone down one and counting the seconds till it hit the bottom, I worked out they were all around fifty feet deep and hoped that they were shallower at Hatter’s Flat. A number of aborigines were sitting on the heaps carefully scraping the clay down with a pair of old hand-shearing clippers. I found out later that this was called ‘noodling’ and to my surprise I was told quite a few good stones had been found in the dirt. It seemed as if opal was pretty easily missed by candlelight down below, looking at my watch I decided to head back to the trams as it was getting pretty close to one o’clock.
I fixed myself up a cup of tea, and then I went around to the caravan where Johnny was busy bending over what appeared to be a grinding wheel.
“Hi mate.” I said." What are you doing there?"
“Rubbing down a couple of mug stones. I thought I ’ad a few quid in one but the sand beat it.” He replied showing me two bits of what looked like black glass covered in clay, that is except where he had been grinding the side of them.
“Is that opal?” I asked surprisingly." I can’t see nothing in that, no colour at all."
“Lick where I’ve been rubbin’ an’ you’ll see what’s left of it.”
I licked the stones and felt a salty taste on my tongue; looking at them I could see colour dancing in the sand and potch.
“Beautiful, why there’s blue, green and nearly every colour right up to red.” I said moving them in the sunlight." I bet there’s a few bob in these."
“Naw mate, not worth a plugged nickel, the sand buggered them up.” He said." If they never ‘ad that bloody sand in there they’d be worth a few quid."
“Boy, they sure look good to me.”
“ ‘ave yer ’ad anything to eat yet?" He asked.
“Yeah mate, all ready and rearing to go.”
“We’ll take you up to ‘atters Flat with me, you got a candle an’ pick?"
“No. I really haven’t seen any for sale anywhere.”
“‘ere you can borrow my spare pick an’ we’ll get some candles at the shop, come on.”