Waggs Walkabout

Sunday, November 15, 2009


A while back, we headed south on the Stuart Highway to do a bit of opal mining. As with any trip outside of Alice Springs getting there is half the adventure. We left town through Heavitree Gap and turned right on the Stuart Highway and drove south for 4 hours to cover the 274 miles to Marla. We then took a left turn off the paved road and went the last twenty miles, which took almost an hour. We entered Mintabie at the leisurely pace required to prevent our teeth from rattling out of our head from the corrugated road surface.

We were in Mintabie to visit our friend Gary Jesser who recently retired from a job in Alice Springs and now keeps himself entertained and his wife appropriately jeweled by mining for opal. This weekend we got to know my favorite opal supplier much better, met some amazing people, got to blow some stuff up, had several gin and tonics and had a big bowl of fresh mulberries with ice cream. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Mintabie is a hard place to describe. I’m not sure it’s technically a town even by Australian Outback standards. It has a post office, pub, store, gas station and a school with 19 students. There’s a junk yard, a second hand cloths store, a golf course (without ANY grass), a pistol club and an airstrip. There is a medical clinic but no staff at the moment. The official road ends at the pub the rest of the area is a network of dirt paths, without any road or traffic signs, no house numbers. Gary met us at the store because there’s no way to give directions to his “camp”.

The rutted dirt tracks spread out from the pub. There are no few landmarks and even less signs. One pile of rocks looks a lot like the next and sometimes it’s hard to accurately describe which wrecked and rusted out ute.

There is one sign on the way to Gary’s place but I think it’s more of a social statement than a directional device.
As far as mining “camps” go, Gary’s place is pretty flash. I’m guessing that Gary’s wife may be the reason for all the extra special bits – like flush toilets.
We went to help mine opal and just to get away from Alice for the weekend. We had a great time and one of the most relaxing weekends on records. Clocks don’t serve much purpose in Mintabie. You start mining after breakfast when you get everything ready. You stop for lunch after awhile. You go back to the mine after you eat lunch and do a few other things. You stop work for the day when you decide you have enough done, then you have a beer or two then take a shower and think about dinner. After dinner you sit around for a while, then turn off the generator and enjoy the silence and the night sky and then you go to bed.

When you mining truck/ute is a World War II vintage Toyota Land Cruiser, tinkering and maintenance are a big part of your day.

Mining was a blast – literally! Gary did the mixing of the special ingredients (diesel and ammonium nitrate).

After showing us how, Gary let Dave and I both have a go at drilling the holes.

I got to assist in the high tech wrapping and fuse making and I even got to hold the sparkler to light the fuse. That was my favorite part of the whole weekend!

From atop the hill at Gary's camp we had a great seat for the storm. In one hours time we watch the rain come in from the west.

Rain in the desert is an amazing sight to behold. The pictures don't do it justice.

We only got one day of mining in, because of the rain on Friday night (it a place that almost never gets rain) and the mine took on a bit too much water. It was bummer that we couldn't blow more stuff up on Saturday, but Gary had a couple of little projects to keep us occupied.

But think he abused us too badly; we got plenty of quality time with Gary’s fearless companion, Smokey and a big bowl of fresh mulberries and vanilla ice cream when the project was done.
Dave with Smokey.

More pictures soon of the lost world of Mintabie.

1 comment:

Alasdair M said...

Holy crap, that house that Gary lives in is the one we built there in 1987!