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    THE PROSPECTOR'S SONG

    Resting in the shade
    The old man thinking of his years of toil.
    Watching the fire
    Waiting for the Billy to boil.

    Fifty years of drifting
    Moving from field to field.
    Endless loads of gravel
    The tiny flecks of colour lured him on.

    In the summer's heat
    I followed every creek and stream.
    But winter chilled my fingers to the bone
    And sent me toiling underground.

    "Did you ever get lonely?" I asked him
    And he thought a while
    "Used to have a sister. Went back to find her
    But she must have moved away"

    Resting in the shade
    The old man thinking of his years of toil.
    Watching the fire
    Waiting for the Billy to boil.

    I'll see you when the billy boils....

    by Peter Harris
    © 2010

     


     

     

    OLD VIC
    By Peter Harris
    A short narration about an old gold miner, originally broadcast on Australia All Over on ABC radio

    prospectors
    Typical Gold Diggers Hut

    Old Vic had been a prospector for most of his long life, scratching around for tiny flecks of gold.  He’s gone now.  He’d been expecting it though.  Been waiting for years really.

    “How long have you been here, Vic?” I once asked him.

    “Twenty five years ago I stopped working and settled here.  The doctor said I had an inflamed heart.  He only gave me six months to live.  The doctor’s dead now.”

    I can still see him standing at his door.  He stood about as high as your shirt pocket in a huge pair of oversized gum boots.  Just skin and bones he was.  Weak as  kitten he reckoned.

    “Would yer like to step in for for a while?,” he’d ask, and you’d duck your head and step cautiously into pitch black darkness.  Not that the light didn’t get in.  There was enough sheets of tin missing to give you a very comprehensive view of the surrounding bush.  It was just that everything was covered with the thick black residue of a quarter of a century of smokey old cooking fire.

    Mind you, I’d say that the tar was all that was holding the place up.  The white ants had removed anything remotely structural long ago.

    pinchgut
    Nothing flash about a gold diggers hut.

    It was just right though, his old shack.  If you bent over a bit you could touch each wall.  Right in the centre of it, within easy reach of everything was his slab table.  It was quite large really.  The work of a man who knew the true value of plenty of room to put things on.

    Trouble was, he’d managed to completely fill up the table about twenty years previously.  So he’d more or less given up using it, except for one tiny corner next to his bed where he kept his current ‘baccy’ tin.  The other three or four hundred used tins were stacked all over the noggins in the wall behind his bed, full of useful bits and pieces.

    Not that you could easily locate anything you wanted.  But it helped to pass the time, opening and shutting tins until something interesting caught your eye and sidetracked you completely.

    He didn’t seem to mind you delving into the table a bit either.  I found some quite interesting newspaper articles from the fifties, and some tins of very potent looking herbs he used to gather.

    “That’s how I cured me heart,” he said.  “I boiled that stuff up and drank two pints a day fer a month.  It nearly killed me, but it fixed me heart all right.”

    “I cured a bloke from cancer once,” he commented, but I didn’t think to ask him about the finer points of the treatment at the time.  It was probably worse than the affliction.

    crook digger
    You could easily get crook out on the gold fields.

    He always sat on his old bed, on account of the fact that there wasn’t anything else to sit on.  Except for the spare end of an ancient plank reserved for visitors.  I duly sat on it and broke it completely.  I made him a new one though.  It was a nice piece of red stringy, and it did manage to see him out OK, although it brought the white ants in again.  They’d been keeping an eye on the place in case some fresh tucker turned up.

    After you were properly seated, he’d give you a wink, reach into a dusty box and pull out a half empty bottle of Invalid Port.  Never touched it himself, mind you.  Just kept it for the comfort of his visitors. 

    Old Vic loved getting visitors and he liked to look after their wellbeing.  So he’d poke about the table a bit and eventually an empty glass would turn up. He’d never allow you to use it just like that though.  He’d ceremoniously take down a black, threadbare sort of tea-towel and give the glass a good general wipe.  Not too deep or thorough mind you – just enough to satisfy his sense of hospitality.

    The glass never seemed to actually look any different, but I have to admit, that down in that old gully, where time had forgotten to wind the clocks, a few sips of Invalid Port was a kind of forgotten luxury.

    Old Vic had started fossicking just after the Great War, somewhere down south in Victoria.  But eventually he came up to the “Lunatic”, as the old gold diggings on the Norhtern Tablelands of NSW were known.  Crawled over every inch of ‘em, he reckoned.

    He’d show you his old gold scales if you asked.  It took a while to find the right tin, but he’d get to them eventually and hold them up for you to see.  Delicate little scales, the plates were actually the backs from two ancient fob watches, hung by tiny chains from a finely crafted balance.

    He couldn’t hold them up for long.  His old hands trembled too much.  But I could picture him, long ago at his diggings, carefully weighing up a few of his precious grains of gold.  The reward of long hours of patient digging and panning.

    earnings
    Two diggers take their gold off to the dealers

    I think he was born around the turn of the century.  He only found out for sure when he had to obtain a birth certificate so that he could draw the pension.

    “I was lucky,” he said.  “The year I was born was the first year you had ter be registered.  Before that, you could just be born!”  He made it sound like life used to be so simple.

    His favourite moment was what he called the Purple of Cassius.  It happened every time he was melting gold in a small tablet.  At the moment the hot gold changes from a solid into a liquid, it seemed to come alive with a tiny flash of mystical purple flame.  The recollection of it made Old Vic go quiet for a moment or two and his pipe crackled as he drew a long breath.

    But he’s gone now.  And I won’t get another chance to sit with this old timer.  I wish I had visited him more often.  He was a link with an age that has almost slipped away. And the older you grow, the more you seem to want to know about the past, and the way in which another generation tried to come to grips with life.  I suppose it is because there’s so many unanswered questions.

    Old Vic wasn’t about to try and solve the world’s problems.  But he loved a bit of a yarn, and he had a few tales that were sure to bring visitors back again.  One of them was an unsolved mystery.

    It came about because Old Vic was quite a short, skinny sort of bloke, and very inquisitive.  So he always investigated underground caves and passages.  Anyway, one time he went so far up some long, dark, narrow passage that his nerves started to give out.  It was usually about this moment, when you were wiggling along on your stomach, that you came face to face with a large snake trying to go the other way.

    There was no room to turn around, even if he had wanted to but eventually the tunnel opened out into a small cave.  When he cast his eyes about he saw something that made his blood run cold. In a corner there was a human skeleton, along with bits of old saddle and some rotted saddle bags.

    Gathering his courage, he tore open the bags and saw gold.  Lot of it!  He reckons he left it alone for a while because he felt there was “blood” on it.  But reason told him he would never have to work again if he took it.  So one day he went back, fetched the lot of it and lived on it for forty years.

    Well, I don’t know and I never will.  But with a bit of a grin he used to tell visitors that he was down to his last few kilos of the stuff.  Now THAT was the kind of information designed to bring visitors back again and again.

    Old Vic has had the last laugh too.  Because as soon as news of his passing got around, they cam from everywhere and started digging hopeful sort of holes all over the place.  It’s unsafe to go down there any more.  You could break a leg!

    drypanning
    No water to pan with.

    However it wont be long before the forest takes over and the old shack will disappear forever.  But I will always cherish the memory of that timeless gully, the old black hut and the gentle old man asking, “Would yer like to step in
    for a while?"

    Farewell old mate!