We found him sitting in an experimental shaft dug into the wall of an opal mine. It was just above the water level of an abandoned cutting that had filled water when the miner excavated for opal. The hydrologist was reading the paper, several books lay strewn beside him.
Above the cut, the opal field shimmered under fifty-degree heat. I was gasping, longing for a cool place. We heard about a flooded mineshaft used as a swimming pool and went in search. We found not only the pool but also a man who had found the ideal spot to while away a few hours on a Sunday. We swam and played in the water thanking the miner who excavated the mine only to lose it to the rising water table. We speculated about the fortune he might have lost.
The hydrologist was a quiet man, his greeting lacked enthusiasm. My husband, Bruce, is a hail-fellow-well-met kind of person. Eventually, the hydrologist thawed and related something of his story. He had begun life in Europe studying hydrology and gaining a degree. He decided to immigrate to Australia hoping for a better life, settling in the north of Western Australia.
Poor English made him a laughing stock among his Aussie workmates. He became more isolated and hurt and withdrew from society. He discovered the opal field and became a miner.
He became the unofficial keeper of the swimming pool, cleaning up the used nappies, empty hair shampoo bottles and other debris left by careless users of the swimming pool. The area was so degraded with rubbish that one felt sick at the sight and did not want to swim. When the place became too bad the hydrologist would set off some dynamite and blow the pool out. It would be clean again for a while.
The hydrologist found many nationalities on the opal field he no longer stood out as a freak. He found a niche where he was accepted. He was able to be himself and so he quietly settled into the community. Many people seeking a different lifestyle made up the community and nobody bothered him. He was prepared to forgo working as a hydrologist to be able to feel safe and even part of a small community where the people represented many nations of the world. Bruce felt privileged to hear the hydrologist’s story.
We were misfits ourselves, arriving on the field to mine not knowing a soul and even less about mining. We were the laughing stock of the community. To make us more of a misfit our three co-miners were Aboriginals. Racism on the field was alive and well, we became the butt of many jokes.
As for us, being shunned was no big deal; we would only be there a short time, then we would leave. Like many others of our ilk, we were in search of a fortune, so being a misfit was a small price to pay. THE END
Jake and Annie Winters sat astride their horses on a high rocky outcrop. From this point, they could survey Winding Rivers Station, a quarter the size of Tasmania.
‘It’s been a good year, Annie,’ Jake enthused. ‘You can plan an overseas itinerary for next year.’
‘I don’t think I’ll get too excited just yet,’ Annie said. ‘Anything can happen between now and then. We’ll just wait a while to see how the season turns out.’
‘You are right Annie. We still have the bank manager to appease and it depends on how the prices hold up.’
Annie’s eyes rested on the homestead, she loved the old homestead. Green lawns surrounded the colonial style house. Tall gums sheltered the house from the hot northerly winds. Jake hired a landscaper who planted native shrubs to line winding paths, secret gardens, and secluded corners.
A look of horror crossed Annie’s face,
‘Jake, look, the house is on fire.’
‘Don’t tease me, Annie’, Jake turned to remonstrate with his wife when he glimpsed smoke billowing from the homestead.
‘What the -,’ Jake exclaimed, spurring his horse into an instant gallop, Annie right behind. They pushed their horses beyond kindness to cross the several kilometers to the homestead.
The couple slid to a stop amid dust and smoke the horses in a lather. Jake and Annie watched, stricken, their beautiful home engulfed in flames. Water gushed into the heart of the flames from large hoses attached to the station fire truck. The old house tinder dry; the flames hungry; would soon be a blackened shell.
‘How did this happen?’ Jake yelled but nobody was listening. Men were running to free horses, dogs, calves, chooks, and geese.
‘Jake, come back,’ Annie screamed, ‘You can’t go into the house it’s too dangerous.’
‘I’ve got to get the hard drive,’ Jake’s reply was muffled by the roar of flames.
Jack tied a hanky over his mouth as he ran onto the veranda and through the French windows always left open. He stumbled instinctively to the safe in the wall. Uppermost in his mind, the all-important hard drive. If only he had listened and made a backup. All the station business and data about his breeding system and genealogy of the stud cattle he ran on Winding Rivers was on the hard drive.
Unable to see for heat and flames, he fumbled the combination squinting to see if he dialed the right numbers. What was the number? 57 10 – no 11, yes that’s it 11 20 000. The skin on Jake’s hands was peeling off onto the hot knob too intent on opening the safe he didn’t feel a thing.
The safe door swung back and Jake grabbed the little box, just as he turned an inner wall caved in, clothes alight Jack raced for the door.
‘All our business is on that hard drive.’ Jake collapsed at Annie’s feet.
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6: 19 LB)
The station foreman and a jackaroo threw blankets over Jake to put out the flames and carry him to the sick bay in the shearers quarters. They put out a call for the Flying Doctor fearing the worst for Jake.
Jake was flown to Alice Springs Hospital, his burns treated. Annie stayed at his side. It was several weeks before Jake could return to Winding Rivers.
‘This is the last straw, Annie; the bank will not stand us finance anymore.’ Jake stood looking at the blackened skeleton of his once beautiful home. The boastful pride that cloaked his outlook that day at the outcrop was gone. Jake was a broken man. ‘What are we going to do, Annie, we have nowhere to live now.’
‘There are the shearer’s quarters,’ Annie suggested, ‘Remember we lived there when we were first married. We can do so again until we rebuild.
‘Rebuild?’ Jake snorted, ‘What with?’
Annie laughed, ‘Jake, as you know, my Mum passed away a few months ago and left her estate to me. I’m the sole beneficiary because I’m an only child. We aren’t finished. Winding Rivers will be free of debt. We can make Winding Rivers the best tourist destination ever. Even better than El Questro.