Advertiser', South Australia 21st November 2000, Federal Industry
Minister Nick Minchin asked why 120 semi-trailers had moved 10,000
drums of radioactive waste to Woomera in 1994-1995 without state
Labor Party intervention. The waste had been moved from Fishermens
Bend in Victoria to South Australia's far north.
Late in 2000 warnings were broadcast across Australia. Health
organisations were concerned that the common mosquito had become a
real threat to the Australian populace.
The day, 23rd June 1998, did start to deteriorate early - very early.
Senior Constable Len Stoop had seen the result of the broken glass
louvre although, in truth, his nasal passages had confirmed the worst.
Hundreds of blowflies passed through the louvre window carrying the
message of death. The first police officers on the scene had been new
to the 'job' and the result of this was splashed along the police
vehicle's side. Len didn't blame them at all, the stink of putrefying
flesh was never easy to accept and he was certainly reluctant to enter
the dugout's interior.
The entrance to the dugout was locked but resisted little against
Len's weight applied to a small jemmy bar. 'Shit, that stinks!' The
two young cops agreed with him even though they stood fifty or so
metres away. The sound of dry retching in the early morning air
carried clearly to Len who, in turn, had to fight against an attack of
sympathy nausea. A spray-paint mask, donned mainly to guard against a
sudden diet of flies rather than the stench within, now muffled his
breathing. Len held a small torch in one hand and located a light
switch in its beam, but to no avail – the power was off. As he moved
further into the dugout the sunlight at his back faded until total
dark prevailed and with it, apprehension.
The torch battery afforded little light and Len seemed to find every
piece of furniture in the dugout, mainly with his shins. A set of
keys, wallet and some loose opal lay on a small table. Aside from this
– the kitchen, lounge areas and both bedrooms appeared tidy. Len had a
sudden attack of claustrophobia brought on by the bothersome flies,
the pervading stink and stuffy atmosphere. By the time he had reached
a small bathroom at the rear of the dugout his breathing was heavy and
his brow wet. A towel lay on the tiled floor next to an open shampoo
bottle. Perspiration made Len's vision blur and he stumbled backwards
and fell heavily – the torch slipped from his grasp and rolled across
the floor coming to a sudden stop. Swearing, Len regained his feet and
went to pick up the torch. He'd fallen over something and judging by
the increased stench, it wasn't going to be pretty.
He'd seen many a corpse over the years, but he wasn't ready for this
nightmare. The body cavity had split open allowing the stomach
contents to disperse and dry beside the cadaver. Thousands of maggots
filled every orifice that still remained intact and all that was left
of the face and head was the skull. A rat skulked away as the
torchlight found its form. Len lost the plot completely and in a blind
panic blundered his way out to daylight. Ripping the facemask off he
gulped the air like a drunk to alcohol. That was a mistake as he
inhaled a mouthful of flies and although he spat out most, a couple
found their way to his stomach. As he walked back to where the young
police officers stood, Len started to think about those particular
flies and where they had been just before he had bloody swallowed
Senior Constable Len Stoop, for all his years of service and strong
stomach for things unpleasant, threw up, in copious spasms, all over
the boots of his fellow officers. Not to be outdone, they joined him
with strained retching.
Commissioner John Maxwell selected the answer button on his intercom.
'Inspector Wilson is here, sir.'
'Thanks, Jane - send him in.'
Thirty-five years before, during the sixties, there had been another
'Nugget' Wilson. The inheritance of his predecessor's nickname was at
first unwelcome, but was with time an easier mantle to assume.
The Commissioner looked up as Nugget entered his office, 'G'day,
'Thanks, sir - but I'm right.'
John Maxwell had selected Nugget ahead of his counterparts even though
his comparative age favoured the younger side of forty. This
immaturity was, however, only relative to the promotional structure of
the Federal Police. Nugget was in his early thirties when he achieved
the rank of Inspector, the result of his success. The Commissioner had
picked Nugget ahead of his peers for his tenacity and quickness of
mind. Nugget, like his predecessor, worked better as an individual.
However, he respected the team at his back and the resources they
could provide. For John Maxwell, Nugget played an excellent role as a
liaison officer between different law enforcement agencies around
Australia. Occasionally, a case would require joint involvement, as it
did now. The Commissioner reversed the document lying on his desk and
slid it towards Nugget.
When he had read the report, Nugget asked, 'An accident?'
'That's the official stance, yes.'
'After the South Aussie police closed the case, we won it. Federal
'But the miner wasn't a government employee?'
'No - however, the dugout was rented via a Federal lease to him.
Anyway, we got this letter,' he pushed the slip of paper across to
'A concerned neighbour, and no signature, but...'
'But, nevertheless, half an hour after the corpse was discovered it
was picked up and less than ten days later the case was a wrap.'
'A bit quick, certainly, but accidents do happen.'
The Commissioner stood up and stretched his arms out to the side.
Nugget knew the sign, the interview was reaching closure.
'I'll get on to it, sir?'
'What's a few days in the bush, Nugget? It'll do you good.'
The rapidly growing pop scene that had so dominated the early
nineteen-sixties did not appeal to Bob Jeffries. Although he was still
in his mid twenties he much preferred the classics. The arts suited
his manner, his focus and his politics, for Bob Jeffries had certain
aspirations to achieve success within the corridors of power. He had
already attained high status in the world of academia, envied by his
peers and respected by many of his elders. His family background, of
course, had helped his cause. His father had, before his forced
retirement, been an active South Australian politician, a socialist
who promoted his belief by action, not words. Then came a stroke that
finished his blossoming career. Bob Jeffries intended to carry on the
name of family and party.
He became a member of the Labor Party while still at college. On
completion of his law degree he volunteered for active service. With
Australia's military expedition on course for a role in Vietnam he had
first considered the risk against the gain before enlisting. Previous
wars had provided a certain standard for many politicians who had
answered the call, a foundation to begin a political career.
The Royal Australian Army welcomed their new recruit. During the
strenuous weeks of rookie training he strove for excellence, and
became dux of his course. His masters saw his potential and seconded
him to the intelligence sector.
Second Lieutenant Bob Jeffries took to his duties with fervour that
made him unpopular with his fellow ranked officers but revered by the
senior staff. Most of his peers were glad when he was finally posted
as full Lieutenant to South Vietnam.
As a Liaison Officer he worked extensively with branches of the United
States military and here he was to fall in love for the first time.
They had met only once before they consummated their relationship in a
lustful physical passion.
Captain Sven Jorgessen had the body of an athlete and the face of an
innocent child. Behind his childlike features lay a mind equal to the
task of espionage and counter espionage. He had followed the movements
of Bob Jeffries since his first arrival in Vietnam. Sven Jorgessen
recognised the obvious intellect and also the fey demeanour. Worldly
in the art of seduction, Sven had little difficulty in achieving a
sexually active relationship. He had used this art on both sexes with
considerable success. Homosexuality was considered unmilitary and
offenders were quickly discharged without honour. Yet that was a
luxury for peacetime. In a time of confrontation, rules bent to the
dictates of battle. His superiors regarded Sven Jorgessen's sexual
perversity as a necessary evil to be exploited as their needs
Sven encouraged Bob Jeffries to take other male lovers. Bob developed
a preference for Asian boys and with Vietnam in such financial turmoil
such lads were easy prey. Sven was delighted, although he was
personally offended by paedophilia. His potential hold over the
Australian was decidedly stronger, hidden cameras had provided
photography showing many of the deplorable acts committed by Jeffries
with these children. Bob Jeffries, for all his education and purpose
had not considered betrayal by his American friend and lover. At the
end of his tour they parted company promising to maintain contact.
Despite his off duty conduct, Bob's dedication to the Australian
military had never faltered. He was promoted to the rank of Captain on
his return to Australia.
Unfortunately for Bob, an overwhelming majority of the Australian
voters were against the Vietnam involvement. Many of the Australian
populace unfairly snubbed veterans returning home. Bob Jeffries felt
this resentment and rather than risk immediate failure in the
political arena sought other employment.
Bob was discharged from the army and moved virtually sideways to a
security role at Woomera, South Australia. Here he resumed the
administrative control of all supplies, ingoing and outgoing. Bob also
managed a large sector of the security force in and around the
In January 1966, Captain Sven Jorgessen was posted to the Nurrungar
Base. Within a week he had made contact with Bob. From then on Bob
Jeffries' life became, forever, a nightmare. In essence he now
belonged to Sven.
During the next three years, two USAF heavy transports flew into
Woomera on a weekly basis, one with general supplies and the other
with a special consignment. Bob Jeffries did everything in his power
to help expedite the transfer of this classified consignment from the
airfield to Nurrungar.
Nugget flew Ansett from Sydney to Adelaide, but resisted further
travel by air. The road trip to Coober Pedy in South Australia's
mid-north would take a full day, a journey of some eight hundred odd
kilometres. Nugget would use the time to shrug off the confinement of
city life and welcome the freedom of the outback. The bitumen now
seemed to connect most towns and cities together as a network, but it
never could totally destroy the magic of the never-never land.
He had to get a feel, not only for the vastness of inland Australia,
but also for the sense of freedom that outback dwellers enjoyed. True,
wholesale and retail commodities were restricted and often purchase
prices of goods were prohibitive. Nevertheless, there was an
intangible attraction for this mostly dry and arid land that touched
most travellers. Some would return, unable to resist the call.
For the people who called the outback home, the city or big towns had
no such attraction. They would battle against the elements, curse
their luck and laugh at the good times. Families and mates mattered.
Football mattered. Earning a quid mattered, but not to the extent of
city folk. Nugget thought Prime Minister John Howard had got it right
before the failed referendum of '99. Mateship is an Australian
tradition. The emerging yuppie society of Sydney and Melbourne could
never have a real place while the use of the word 'mate' had a place
in Australian culture, for this single word removed barriers of
education, money or distinguished achievement. 'Mate' acted as a
'Dry ole' argument, ain't she, mate?'
'Bloody oath!' returned Nugget.
He had stopped for fuel at Glendambo. A sign welcomed visitors and
another told a story. Elevation: 150 metres. Sheep: 22,500 Flies:
2,000,000. Humans: 30. This was unforgiving country, giving respect
only in turn for respect.
Nugget paid for the fuel, thankful that the government was paying the
tab. He had hired a 4wd in Adelaide and looked now like any other
rubberneck tourist on holiday. An old denim work shirt hung loosely
over a pair of faded shorts. His lanky frame extended to bony knees
and his feet were enclosed in Rossi work boots. Nugget spent many of
his summer weekends fishing, so his skin was a healthy bronze. His
broad-rimmed hat failed to hide his dark curly locks and his prominent
nose supported his sunglasses with ease. Nugget wasn't the greatest
looking bloke in the world and knew it, but his green eyes and wide
honest smile helped. He hadn't found his soul mate, although three
ladies in his life had played a significant part - albeit briefly.
Traffic on the road had been scarce but the evidence of the heavy
vehicles' existence was scattered everywhere. For the truck operator
this leg of their journey was often at night and the road kills were
frequent. Increased numbers of kangaroos due to recent rains
contributed to this factor and predators such as wedge-tail eagles and
crows fed on the carcasses. Nugget stopped twice to take photos. His
old Canon still took good shots. The wily crows shot through before he
stopped his vehicle, yet the eagles remained. Later on in his journey,
Nugget saw the evidence of the predator as the statistic of road kill.
What bloody mindlessness did it take to deliberately kill these
beautiful winged creatures? For the semi operator or luckless car
driver an accidental altercation with a roo in dead of night, dusk or
dawn was often unavoidable. The eagles, however, fed in daylight and
their large form was easy to see. Deliberate - yes, thought Nugget.
To the left and right of the road the dirt spread red, occasionally
broken by the white-grey of a saltpan. Mulga acacias and casuarinas
gave the suggestion of water to the uneducated. This faded greenness
was poor evidence of good water, just dormant growth awaiting the next
wet, ever searching with their roots for the water table far beneath
the dry crust at ground level.
Suddenly, the natural form of the ground gave way to the hand of man.
Discarded mounds of dirt started to appear and with them the discarded
hopes and dreams of too many. Then better and bigger heaps suggesting
a truer find, of fortune and laughter. By the time Nugget turned off
the Stuart Highway into Coober Pedy the sun had set. With a motel room
already booked, he decided to grab some food and a six-pack and have
an early night.
The following morning a Senior Constable was waiting for Nugget. As
the Federal detective entered the motel lobby the constable asked,
Nugget nodded, and as he did so the entrance door blew open filling
the lobby with dust- laden air.
'Yeah, and this is a good day.'
Senior Sergeant Rick Lehmann offered Nugget a clearly reluctant
handshake after his Senior Constable had delivered his Federal visitor
to the police station. He led the way through to his small office at
the rear of the station.
'I don't understand why you're here, mate? It's open, and it's shut.'
Nugget ignored the truculent outburst and countered, 'If you're right
then I'm outta 'ere – two days tops.'
A young police officer appeared in the doorway, 'Sarge?'
'Sue, you'll be baby-sitting our Federal bloke whilst he's with us.
Inspector Wilson – Constable Sue Walsh.'
'Excuse us a moment, Constable.'
Nugget spread his hands in a gesture that ushered her out of the
office. Closing the door, he turned towards Lehmann.
'Listen, pal. You lighten up – I'm here and that's that. All I want is
a little respect, not much, just a little, and that doesn't include
making me look a dill in front of your staff.'
Lehmann stood up and walked to the door and opened it.
'Open door policy, mate. If you look a dill - tough - this is my
bloody station and I'll say what I want, when I want.'
Nugget liked this hard-nosed bastard a lot more for his retort - he
hated weakness. 'All right, I can accept that. We start again?'
Lehmann grinned, 'No worries!'
The drive out to the dugout took less than ten minutes. Here, the
dusty dirt roads meandered between mounds of debris. Constable Sue
Walsh pointed out an area known by locals as the 'jewellery box',
aptly named, remembering past fortunes. Coober Pedy was, after all,
the opal capital of the world producing ninety percent of the gross
yield. Nugget wasn't impressed by the rubbish dump effect of the
landscape. Even now, in late September, the day was uncomfortably warm
and the breeze pushed willy-willys of dust in their path. Dugouts were
set back against the higher ground. Houses and huts, rusty vehicles
and disused mining machinery littered the town and always, the dirt
'It grows on you, Inspector,' said Sue Walsh, intuitively.
Sue pulled the police vehicle to a standstill. The dugout was in a row
'Have all dugouts just the one entrance, Sue?'
'Generally speaking, yes. Keeps the temperature inside stable and
'Are there many break-ins?' asked Nugget as they walked towards the
dugout entrance. He'd noticed the steel bars that protected the small
'We have our share, but mainly closer to town.'
Constable Walsh unlocked the dugout door. Both Nugget and the
constable took a step back as the door opened.
'Phew, that's heavy,' said Nugget. 'Eight weeks and it's still on the
'Dugout temperatures remain pretty steady around twenty Celsius with
humidity at sixty per cent. When the door's shut even the air vents
make little difference. The government will have to bring in a
'What's that for?'
'To re-cut the dugout and hopefully remove this impregnated stench.
Until that's done I can't see anybody living here.'
'I'm buggered if I'd want to live here, even then.'
Sue found a power switch and turned the lights on. The dugout walls
were covered with a white emulsion painted directly onto the natural
surface of the cut.
'In the CIB's report it said the electricity was cut. Why?' asked
'There was an alternative power system off the town grid - a
'It was out of fuel?'
'So they said.'
'So where is it?'
'Somebody flogged it shortly after the accident.'
'Coober Pedy's a tough town, Nugget. If it's not tied down - it
'Anything else missing?'
'Just about all his mining equipment including a new earth moving
machine and a new generator.'
'He must have struck it lucky, I suppose. A few still do.'
The dugout was not over large, with one central room, which in turn
led to a kitchen. Off to one side there was a utility room, a laundry,
the living or lounge area, two bedrooms and at the rear of the dugout
- a bathroom. The ceilings were high and the evidence of the machine
cut was easy on the eye, grooved swirls that formed an intricate
design without any certain uniformity.
'Why do they paint the dugouts, Sue? Wouldn't the natural rock look
'You're right. Most dugouts aren't painted but some have better
natural colours and then again, some people go for the paint for light
effect. Once the machine has done its work the loose dirt is chiselled
out of fault areas and then either a clear or paint sealant is
'It's still a hole in the ground,' said Nugget, unimpressed.
'When the outside temperature is over fifty Celsius, a dugout is
pretty damn comfortable.'
'Hmm,' returned Nugget, still doubtful.
Nugget looked at the ceiling and saw that a small shaft had been bored
into the rock. However, when he stood under the opening he could not
see daylight and mentioned this to Sue.
'Quite a few dugouts have two or more airshafts. The dugout's
occupiers often close them when prevailing winds lift the dust and
deposit clouds of debris down the shafts.'
Another reason why the deceased still lingers here, thought Nugget. He
turned as the front door was opened. The daylight was almost entirely
blocked by the size of the man as he entered the dugout.
'Hi, Len,' greeted Sue. 'Nugget, this is Len Stoop - he was the
Nugget took the offered hand. 'I'm sorry I wasn't here earlier, bloody
paperwork.' Senior Constable Len Stoop offered the lame excuse,
knowing full well that his reluctance was based on his earlier
experience in the dugout.
'Not a problem, Len. Could you take me through the events, as you saw
'Right. The dugout was locked - I busted the lock.' He led them to the
rear of the dugout before continuing, 'On the floor of the bathroom
was a discarded towel and what appeared to be a spilt bottle of
shampoo. The corpse was naked and after due deliberation we decided
that death had probably occurred by accident.'
'We?' asked Nugget.
'Our CIB team - me, and two other guys, and, of course, the Coroner.'
'Slipped and fell?'
'No reason to think otherwise. His wallet, opal and keys were on the
kitchen table and the entrance was locked.'
'What about family - friends?'
'One relly in Europe. People said g'day to him up 'ere. He was a loner
- no real mates.' Len scratched his head. 'That's about the strength
of it, Nugget.'
'Who reported the man missing?'
'His neighbours,' Len gestured towards the east. 'The smell was pretty
bad, that's for sure.'
'The body wasn't found inside the bathroom. That's a long slip?'
'We thought about that, and incidentally, the postmortem supported our
theories. If he sustained a skull fracture sufficient to kill him, he
might not have died immediately and tried to crawl out towards the
telephone.' Len indicated towards the wall 'phone in the living area.
This is cosy thought Nugget, police work based on hypothesis. However,
he had a letter suggesting that events had been different, the local
police were not privy to this information. No, he couldn't blame them
entirely for their assumptions.
After they had left the dugout, Len led them next door to speak to the
Davidsons, the deceased's neighbours. Len's huge fist, hammering on
the door, produced no result – they were out. Sue had been out to
'Davo' Davidson's claim at 4 mile on another matter so after saying
'Hooroo' to Len, they headed that way.
All around them were the obligatory piles of discarded dirt known as
mullock heaps. Millions of tons, moved for love of money. Little
wonder that Coober Pedy was translated from the Aboriginal language
'Kupa piti' or white man's burrow. Signs warned the uninitiated of
deep shafts proclaiming 'Don't walk backwards'. Davo's claim was,
according to Sue, quite typical as a working opal claim. She pointed
towards an old truck that had a snorkel pointing skywards to which was
attached a large drum. 'Sucks it out of the mine.' As she didn't
embellish, Nugget presumed her mining knowledge was scant. Another
truck with a conveyor belt ensemble that led to a cabin compartment
stood nearby. Two utility vehicles, a Bobcat and other equipment
including a generator were set up in an orderly fashion.
Two men sat on the tailgate of a ute. They looked up as Sue stopped
the police vehicle ten metres or so from where they sat.
'Must be smoko, ' said Sue.
'Stay by the radio, Sue. I won't be long.'
'You're meant to keep an eye on me.'
'Something like that.'
'Well, watch me from here.'
Nugget got out and made his way over towards the two men. Prick,
'I'm looking for 'Davo''
'In the noodler, mate.' The miner indicated towards the truck that
housed the conveyor.
'I'd like a word, if it's possible?'
'No worries, I'll get 'im.'
While the miner went across to the noodler, Nugget looked around and
without thinking stepped backwards. The other miner, still sitting on
the ute's tailgate, was rolling a smoke. He seemed to take little
interest in Nugget's movements until then. He bellowed. 'Hoy!'
Nugget froze involuntarily with the warning. Behind him was a deep
shaft, and a corrugated lining was inserted near the shaft-head. Apart
from that there were no telltale diggings on the ground and the shaft
was almost invisible to the eye.
'It's the first step that kills you. Didn't you see the warning signs,
mate?' Nugget looked uncomfortable. I am a dill, he thought.
'Yeah, I did. It's that easy, eh?'
'Too bloody right - you wouldn't be the first.'
Sue Walsh had reacted to the warning shout and had started to leave
the police vehicle. Nugget noticed and waved her back. The other two
miners walked up and joined them by the shaft.
'G'day, mate, you looking for me?'
Nugget pulled out his ID for the miner to see.
'I done something wrong, Inspector Wilson?'
Nugget gave the miner a wry smile as he replied, 'Not that I know of -
'Pure as the driven snow, Inspector. Not that there's much of that
'I wanted to talk about the death of your neighbour. Tell me about
'Well, Mike 'ere knew 'im a lot better than me.'
'Atilla was a good bloke - that's for sure.'
'Franz Kohler. He was a German by birth, so we re-baptised 'im.'
'Did you work with him?'
'Nope. Just drank with 'im. He liked his piss.'
'When was the last time you saw him?'
'About a week before he disappeared.'
Davo interrupted, 'That's my fault. I hadn't seen him for a couple of
days, so the missus tells me to bang on his door - which I did. As the
door was locked and his ute had gone I thought he'd gone away for
'Was it unusual for his door to be locked?'
'Bloody oath! His last house had burnt down and with bars on the
dugout windows he wasn't about to lock his damn door. A passerby had
dragged him out of his house fire. As Mike said – he liked his grog.'
'Did that happen in Coober Pedy?'
'Yeah, so I believe.'
'You notice anything else?' The miner hesitated, until Mike encouraged
'Go on, Davo - tell 'im.'
'Well, it probably doesn't mean much but I'm sure he'd had a visitor
around the time that I checked his donga. It doesn't rain much up 'ere
and when it does the ground dries quick.'
'There were tracks?'
'Yeah, you got it. Wide tyre tracks - could 've been a 4-wheel drive.'
'Why didn't you tell the local police?'
'They didn't ask. Hell, the poor bastard hit a body bag within an hour
after I rang them. If they weren't interested, I certainly wasn't.'
'Did you write to us?'
'It doesn't matter.'
'Nobody gave a shit,' said Mike. 'Nearly all his gear had gone within
a day. A fat lot of good the opal did 'im.'
'He'd been lucky then?' asked Nugget.
'Yeah, him and his partner did all right.'
'A bloke called Greg Parsons.'
'Where can I find him?'
'Dunno. Atilla wanted to pour his share into new equipment and Greg
didn't, so he went his own way.'
'All these questions - don't you think he slipped on the floor?'
'I'm just finalising a Federal report. The Coroner's already fixed the
'Yeah,' said Davo, making a rude gesture with his right hand. Nugget
thought he had it right.
After contacting Bob Jeffries at Woomera, Sven Jorgessen had spent
only twelve months in Australia before leaving for the States. He had
his puppet and the strings were long. A message through correct
channels and the manikin moved to his command. He had become aware
that his chances of quick promotion were slim and that his superiors
treated him with little respect. Although not completely bitter he did
become criminally twisted in a shrewd kind of manner.
His ability to use the weaknesses of others soon presented Sven with a
personal portfolio of each of his victims. By manipulating these
weaknesses he developed a very good network that allowed him access to
highly sensitive information and various diplomatic channels.
Sven had just begun his second tour of duty when the war in Vietnam
ended. Life is a game of chance and the cards fell Sven's way. A
massive catchment of arms, mostly of Chinese and Russian origin, had
been captured during the years of war. The armaments were to be
disposed of underground before the last US forces left for home. Sven
Jorgessen was given this responsibility and when eventually the shout
'Fire in the hole' was heard, the armanent had already gone. The
explosion destroyed endless empty boxes but not even one paltry AK-47.
Sven was a man of infinite patience and five years had passed before
he found a suitable buyer. The African continent was experiencing yet
another disastrous period of history that saw famine, torture and
death envelop its peoples – and here Sven found his market. Sven was
untouched by the amount of mass destruction he had, by the dictates of
greed, inflicted on so many Africans. His buyers were more than
satisfied and he now had an African connection that would serve him
well for many years to come.
The rule that serves blackmailers and manipulators so well is the one
of patience. After the opening gambit, relax - play the target -
relax, and so on. Like an angler with a good fish – time and diligence
are an integral part of the game.
Bob Jeffries had been allowed to believe that his former nightmare had
largely disappeared. He moved back to Adelaide and on his second try
managed to convince his electorate that his policies were sound. Bob
did not let his family or his voters down and within a few years moved
to higher ground in the Federal arena.
Sven Jorgessen kept an eye on his quarry through official and
not-so-official channels. He noted that Jeffries had taken a wife, no
doubt to meet political mandate and not his own desires. In fact,
Jeffries had taken four trips to Bangkok in order to satisfy his
Greg Parsons sat on his haunches, allowing the water bottle in his
hand to slowly fill. Up here, in the Northern Territory's rugged
outback, time mattered little. Sharing the depleted waterhole was an
old croc. The aged creature lay almost entirely submerged in the thick
mud. Next to the man sat a Queensland cattle dog that watched the croc
with intent interest. Greg sensed his dog's excitement and dropped his
free hand to sooth the blue-heeler's neck.
'Easy Yap-yap, he's more interested in surviving the 'dry' than eating
us.' Yap-yap wagged his tail and settled quietly by his master's side.
Above them the sky was blue, endless blue - as it had been for some
months. The 'wet' was still some way off and the countryside waited
anxiously for the reprieve of rain. As Greg finally stood with the
water bottle once more replenished, he stretched before attaching the
bottle onto his broad webbed belt. On his back the rucksack and
bedroll swung loosely until he adjusted the straps. As he did so, the
silence of the afternoon was shattered by the sound of tortured metal
- a human noise of terror, an alien sound that was related to the
traffic of cities, not outback Australia.
Parrots rose, screeching their anger and fright. The old croc, also
disturbed, flicked its long tail, just once, before settling down
again into the mud.
'Somebody just went a gutsa. Come on Yap-yap.'
Tough work, little food, and forced exercise had hardened Greg's body.
The everlasting sun had blackened his skin and his sense of humour was
always apparent in his eyes, the laughter lines made indelible by the
bright light of day and infinite sun. His blue eyes were clouded by
dust and tiny red lines had formed in protest at the invasion.
Nevertheless, Greg was still a handsome man. He had celebrated his
thirtieth birthday in seclusion the week before.
Guided only by instinct, Greg made his way across the uneven terrain.
Time and the 'big wet' had pushed the landscape into escarpments that
were eroded beyond form. Rocks that had been thrown aside easily by
past floods now blocked Greg's passage and the going was both slow and
A sinkhole had been the vehicle's downfall. Evidence of the sudden
force of inertia was graphically plain. The driver had gone straight
through the windscreen and, in doing so, had been decapitated. His
trunk now lay askew in front of the 4wd. His head remained on the
Writing on the 4wd's side told the story of the traveller's presence,
DAPAL Geological Expedition. A female passenger was pinned under the
vehicle. At first, Greg thought that she also was dead but when he
checked her vital signs the carotid pulse was both evident and
surprisingly strong. She stirred at his touch.
'What happened? Rodney? Who are you? Why can't I move?' The string of
questions trailed off.
'Take it easy - you'll be right.' Greg started to move away.
'Don't leave me - help me.'
'I'm not going anywhere, but I've got to check your radio - I'll be
Yap-yap was investigating the driver's body until Greg shouted at him.
The dog looked peeved but obeyed his master and slunk into the shade
of a sheoak and lay down. The radio wasn't going to be a lot of help,
broken beyond repair. Greg found a full water bottle in the wreck. As
he returned to the woman's side he took a long pull from the bottle.
Against the muddy liquid that he and Yap-yap had been forced to share,
the contents were of spring-water quality.
Kneeling at the woman's side he helped her swallow a little of the
'What happened? One minute we were driving and the next..?'
'You hit a sinkhole. They're a real bastard.'
Yap-yap, his curiosity raised, came over to watch the proceedings.
'Came over to introduce yourself, eh? I'm Greg and this 'ere's
'Liz - Liz Werner. How's Rodney?'
'I suppose you mean your mate - I'm afraid he's dead, Liz.'
He couldn't allow her time now for sadness. Her life came first.
'Where's your unit?'
'The camp's about half a day to the east. They'll miss us by sundown.
Can you get me out?'
'Not until I check you out. How'd you feel now?'
'I'm getting real pain from my hips. I wasn't before.'
'Shock's wearing off a bit, but it's better to have pain than no
feeling at all.'
Greg went to the rear of the 4wd and unstrapped a small shovel.
Returning, he set to work. Within a very short time he had a hole dug
under the vehicle on Liz's right side. Contented with this work, he
wedged a small rock in the hole and continued until he was satisfied
that the vehicle couldn't crush Liz to a greater extent.
'You seem to have done this before.'
'I did a bit of mining one time, you learn to improvise.'
'What are you doing out here, Greg?'
'That's another story - for later, not now.'
The 4wd supplied Greg with both a spare wheel and jack. He placed the
jack in position and gently applied pressure. When the vehicle was
only a few centimetres up the jack slipped. Liz, expecting the worse,
screamed. The jack held and Greg continued to lift the vehicle. Once
there was enough room on Liz's left side he pushed the spare wheel, on
its side, under the vehicle. Liz cried out in pain as Greg started to
drag her out from under the vehicle, but, committed now, he continued.
Seconds after she was free, the vehicle slipped off the jack, pounded
the rock supporting the vehicle into a hundred pieces, and then
bounced off the spare wheel to sink a further half metre into the
'Did you lose a few mates mining, Greg?'
'You're getting cheeky - you must be feeling better.'
At first, Greg hadn't taken much notice of woman's natural attributes
– worrying more about her injuries. Now, as a hint of laughter danced
in the depth of her violet, pain-filled eyes he realised that she was
an attractive woman. Her complexion was fair and seemingly unharmed by
the harsh climate. Her hair had deep reddish lustre and fell in long
tresses onto her shoulders.
Greg was trying to form an opinion about her breasts, hidden by the
bulk of her denim work shirt, until he realised that those violet eyes
were following his studied appraisal. He corrected his direction of
sight. Her legs, below her shorts, were lean and tanned but her right
leg was shortened and turned inward at an ugly angle. First aid wasn't
his long suit but Greg knew that he must immobilise her lower limbs.
Liz moaned twice while Greg worked around her. The dead driver had
packed a jacket in the 4wd and Greg used it to pad his rough
improvised splint, a branch dispersed by floodwaters, which was
bleached and dry.
The 4wd afforded some shade for Liz so Greg didn't attempt to move her
from where she lay. He left her the water bottle and made his way to
the dead driver. Flies covered the severed neck and Greg gagged as he
contemplated his grizzly task. He went to the 4wd and lifted the
driver's head by the hair as a cloud of flies protested noisily at his
action. He nearly fell in his haste to reunite head to body. The 4wd
canopy made a useful shroud and Greg felt much better once the macabre
scene was hidden from view. He weighted the tarp down to discourage
any investigating animals, including Yap-yap. Liz wanted to talk when
he returned and Greg was surprised to find he was hosting a doctor.
Liz had graduated from Roseworthy Agricultural College in Adelaide and
had moved to Sydney to complete her Ph.D in entomology. Not satisfied
with that intellectual milestone she had become an epidemiologist
specialising in tropical diseases. Study leave had been granted during
this period and Liz had travelled extensively through greater Africa.
She had gone along on the geological trip hoping to discover new
things from extinct fossilised species.
Later, as Liz slept, Greg made a fire and soon had his billy boiling.
From his rucksack he retrieved some tea, a commodity that was now very
scarce. His sugar had been depleted two weeks before.
As he sipped his tea, Greg had time to enjoy the start of another
magnificent sunset that melded sky and landscape in an aura of orange
and red. He also had time to reflect on his luck. The DAPAL
expedition's bad luck was only an addition to his own and now
threatened to be his undoing. Liz stirred, whimpered, and then slept
on. She obviously had strength that few men find, until the suffering
becomes anger. Her pelvis had taken a pounding and, without any
painkillers, Greg knew her agony would soon be far harder to bear.
With only a little daylight left, the time had come to make his move.
The crossbow took little time to assemble, for Greg had done this many
times before. For convenience and security the bow fitted into a
compartment in the rucksack. The deadly projectiles or bolts fitted
next to them. At a short range the bolt reached the target with
incredible speed and Greg's accuracy was now, as the result of endless
Yap-yap was shaking with keyed-up excitement - he loved the hunt.
Checking first that Liz was still asleep, Greg moved away from the
camp and within minutes the silhouettes of a group of rock wallabies
showed against the evening sky. With slow deliberate movements Greg
prepared the weapon and at less than thirty paces fired the bolt. The
luckless wallaby died instantly and as a conquest gave neither man or
dog any satisfaction. Returning to camp with the fresh kill, Greg
quickly gutted and skinned the marsupial. Yap-yap wolfed down the
pieces that his master threw to him. The fire had died down to small
coals, the camper's correctly set oven.
Liz woke just after ten, very thirsty and in considerable pain. The
night sky was clear and the evening cool. She tried a little of the
prepared food but had difficulty showing any real enthusiasm. Greg had
rechecked her circulation as she slept. He was confident that the
splint and restraints were doing an adequate job without a detrimental
affect. Now was the time for shared silence. Each had need for
reflection and in Liz's case shock induced sleep. Greg slept well,
used to the uncomfortable conditions.
During the night Yap-yap moved away, growling quietly, from Greg's
side. Three dingoes were worrying the tarpaulin that covered the
driver's body. The securing rocks had been moved aside by the dingoes'
effort and the dead driver's legs were exposed. Yap-yap wasn't having
any of this - if his master had forbidden his interest in the corpse,
these wild dogs had no chance. His charge had the right effect and the
dingoes took flight. After a half-hearted chase, Yap-yap returned to
Greg's side, but was ever vigilant until daybreak.
Greg awoke to the sound of a light aircraft. He quickly threw some
green foliage onto the fire and doused it with water from his billy,
hoping that the aircraft held friendlies. The cloud of smoke ascended
quickly in the light morning air. Liz propped herself up on her right
elbow, wincing in pain. Minutes passed before they could see the small
aircraft. The pilot had turned towards the smoke and as he overflew
the camp, Greg was thankful to see the words DAPAL clearly printed on
the fuselage. The pilot waggled the aircraft's wings once, before
turning away and retracing his path of flight. Yap-yap took little
notice of the episode.
'OK, Liz, it looks like your friends will be here soon.'
'Not before time. You wouldn't have a cuppa handy would you?' I'm dry
'Give me ten minutes.' Greg was as good as his word and soon had tea
for them both.
After they finished, Greg doused the fire, attended to the campsite
cleanliness and then started to repack his rucksack. The crossbow was
still lying fully assembled against a rock.
'You're not leaving?' said Liz, instantly alarmed.
'They'll be here shortly, you'll be fine now.'
'But you can't leave me.'
Before he could answer, Yap-yap became agitated. The dog stood looking
intently to the south.
'Liz, does your mob have any choppers?'
'None that I know of, why?'
Greg didn't answer but quickly made his way to higher ground and
searched the horizon. A speck in the distance told the story and he
scrambled down to Liz's side.
'You're going to have to trust me, Liz, we could both be in danger.
Your driver - what was his full name?
'Why? What danger?'
'His name?' Greg demanded sharply.
The helicopter engines roared with the sound that so many armed troops
had grown to fear in times of combat. Greg picked up his crossbow and
fixed a bolt on safety, then placed the bow under the 4wd. Then all at
once the chopper was over head, just metres above the ground. Yap-yap
cut crook, barking his anger.
Greg threw himself on all fours across Liz, guarding her from the
billowing dust that whipped up around them. He shouted in her ear,
'Follow my lead, Liz.' She nodded and he was immediately gratified by
her response. His respect for her went up a few more notches.
The pilot set the helicopter down a couple hundred metres away on a
flat piece of ground. Greg took note that the aircraft had no visible
markings and was by design and manufacture a Bell two-seater – both
seats were taken.
Two men climbed out of the aircraft and one, a tall pockmarked blonde,
ran towards Greg and Liz's position. The other, a thickset muscular
looking individual, stayed by the chopper. Both were dressed in clean
tidy attire – slacks and white shirts. Heavily tinted sunglasses
shielded their eyes.
'Your pilot sent out a distress call with your position. We were in
the area, so here we are.' The accent was undoubtedly American.
'Hey, we're really glad to see you. Liz here is bust up pretty badly,
' returned Greg.
'Who are you, mister?'
'Rod Daunstey. You?'
The blonde failed to answer the question. Liz looked at Greg and then
at the man but remained quiet. Although she tried, her prone position
and the uneven landscape prevented Liz identifying the blonde's
partner. All she could see was the helicopter's blades. Yap-yap was
growling but was stilled by his master's hand.
'Nobody mentioned a dog.' noted the blonde.
Greg said nothing. He had noticed the two rifles slung behind the
chopper seats as the men had left the aircraft.
'Don't worry, Parsons, you'll be out of here shortly.'
'Daunstey, mate. Rod Daunstey.'
'Is he telling the truth, lady? Is that his name?'
'Of course he is, why the hell wouldn't he? Are you going to help us
'No, we've got other business. Your outfit is less than an hour away,
we saw them coming in.'
The man backed away a few steps before turning and hurrying back to
the helicopter. Greg remained still, watching his retreat. A few
minutes later the aircraft lifted off the ground and headed north over
a ridge and almost immediately disappeared from sight.
'What the hell..?'
'Hang on, Liz.' Greg warned her. 'Shit, they've landed.'
Greg looked thoughtful, but didn't offer an answer. How the hell had
they twigged? He circled the 4wd and found the answer – the exposed
legs of the dead driver would have stood out like the proverbials,
once they had headed north.
Liz was slightly peeved on his return. 'OK, Greg. Explain.'
'If I do you'll be involved and believe me, you don't need that.'
'Let me be the judge.'
'I'd like to, but I won't. I'll say this, though, I'm not a crook of
'That's a comfort. Who were those nice gentlemen?'
Before he could answer, explosive pieces of rock sprayed into his
face. The sound of rifle fire echoed across the landscape. Greg threw
himself down on the ground next to Liz.
'I think we are about to find out.'
'I think we're buggered. I'm sorry, Liz.'
'Can you get into our vehicle?'
'Rodney owned a rifle, it's behind the back seat.'
Greg didn't hesitate. He bobbed up and sprinted away from Liz,
immediately drawing fire. At the first shot he weaved back and then
launched himself towards the vehicle, rolling the last few metres.
More shots enhanced the wreck with splintered tears. Yap-yap was at
his side and Greg shouted at him to stay. The dog obeyed, as this was
the intelligence of the breed.
Another volley threw metal splinters at Greg and one opened up his
cheek, 'Arseholes!' Greg knew he had no chance to get to the rifle but
close at hand was his crossbow, so he retrieved the weapon. Now, he
thought, I really need a lucky break. Medieval weapon against
high-powered rifle seemed hardly fair. A stray bullet hit the fuel
tank and the ensuing blast lifted the 4wd onto its side. Luckily for
Greg and Liz it fell away from them.
From their prone position they were guarded against the heat. As the
fire took further hold dark smoke rose in clouds above them. The hail
of bullets slowed and then stopped. Greg knew instinctively that the
hunters were moving in and if they could alter position, so could he.
Fear churned in his guts but spurred him on. He gained forty metres to
the north of the burning 4wd and threw himself down in a narrow
juncture between two large rocks. Now the smoke that had shielded him
from view threatened to overcome him. His chest was congested and he
fought against a bout of coughing.
A rasping cough sounded, not from Greg but from the throat of the
pock-marked blonde. The man stood directly over Greg's position, rifle
thrust forward. Greg didn't hesitate, the bolt struck its target up
and through the groin. Missing the man's right testicle, the bolt
entered through the vulnerable area from where the testicle had first
descended. The man screamed, a high-pitched scream of fear and pain.
His rifle fell from his hands and Greg dropped his bow and scrambled
to pick up the weapon.
'Bob?' The shout came from the left of Greg's position.
'What happened, Bob?' Still the screams came, worse - again and again.
'Your mate is in deep shit, pal. Come and get yours.'
As Greg yelled his taunt, the air around his head suddenly cracked
with angry fire. One shot nicked his shoulder, splitting the skin, and
with the sudden sting of pain Greg overcame his own fear and returned
a fusillade. Two minutes later he had exhausted his supply of bullets
and threw the weapon aside in disgust. The crossbow lay useless, the
spare bolts in his rucksack. After several minutes had passed, Greg
decided to move back and check on Liz. Picking up the bow, he wormed
his way back across the ground for a few metres before rising to a
sprint position. Much to his surprise he made the journey without
'You're hurt, Greg!'
Greg looked at his arm. It was covered with drying blood.
'You ought to see the other bastard.'
Blondie had stopped screaming now and the sound of silence was
deafening. Even the fire had fizzled out. What now, thought Greg?
Where was the other armed man? Liz watched him as he retrieved the
spare bolts from his rucksack and reloaded the crossbow.
'He's still out there then?' As Liz put the question the roar of the
helicopter engine gave her an instant answer. The chopper turned past
their position and then moved off to the west.
'Gutless bastard,' yelled Liz.
'Who me or him?' Greg said with a grin.
'You're still here, Greg.'
'Yeah, I reckon there's more to it.'
He got up and with Yap-yap once more at his heels he strode out to
higher ground. Three vehicles, less than a kilometre away, were headed
towards them and the telltale DAPAL sign gave Greg some assurance.
However, the 4wd police vehicle in the lead position had a different
effect and Greg felt the premonition of impending doom.
Nugget had freed himself of Constable Walsh early that morning. Now he
walked towards the light aircraft with the pilot beside him, a jovial
young man who flew over Coober Pedy daily with dead keen rubbernecks
'oooh'ing and 'aaah'ing at the view. Nugget tried not to look like a
tourist, but failed miserably.
'I'll take us out over the Breakaways, swing round over Moon Plain,
come back along part of the dog-fence and then over-fly the diggings
in grids. OK?'
'That'll be good. I just want to get a feel of the place. Every
bastard up here talks in riddles - four mile, eleven mile, twenty
'You get used to it.'
From the air, the perspective of distance was incredible – sixty
million or so hectares can do that. The Breakaways stood high and
proud over the incredible Moon Plain, coloured by shades of fantastic
hues. Mysterious shapes and shades, white and dark – plains of alien
quality, scrubbed flat by pounding seas of aeons past and later by the
cruel winds, heat and storms. Little wonder that the plains were so
described, for comparisons had been easily made between this place and
earth's own moon. Movie makers world-wide had used this backdrop for
their trade. The fossilised shells that dated back millions of years
added a surreal touch not found in other places.
The dog-fence ran straight out, away to nothingness, splitting the
country from South Australia to Queensland, the longest fence in the
world that kept the dingo from domesticity. Then, again, the endless
mullock heaps that dated back to the first opal find by a white person
'Can we fly over the town?'
'I'll get us pretty close.'
One building stood out against the irregular terrain, a vast expansion
of steel that covered a huge area of land.
'What's that building?'
'A trucking depot. Truckies can exchange trailers here in Coober Pedy.
It saves the SA boys the long haul to Darwin and vice-versa.'
'Don't they do that in Lochiel?'
'That's mainly the Western Australian changeover. If you really want
to understand Coober Pedy go out with the miners.'
'I might just do that,' said Nugget.
Sven Jorgessen had only to wait. Paedophiles it seemed circulated in
groups, attracting others with similar perverted backgrounds to their
sides. Bob Jeffries was no exception. He operated in a group of five –
two members of his own profession, a schoolteacher and a scientist
whose name was Paul Perdon.
When AIDS became the scurge of the gay fraternity, Sven had taken an
immediate interest in the disease. Whispered through the halls of
clandestine intelligence were rumours of artificially-created
mycoplasma and the indiscriminate use of bacteria as a weapon of war.
Paul Perdon was, at first, just another paedophile to be monitored for
Bob's personal network. However, when he had studied the man closely
he found him to be both a genius and more than a little mad, a
scientist who fitted the negative profile so often bestowed on clever
eccentrics. Sven didn't have to use exhortation to recruit the
scientist - he had only to invest in his own interests.
Paul Perdon liked South Africa and in particular his new laboratory
supplied most generously by his newly-found benefactor. Here he could
pursue his own interests without the interference of government or
university faculty directives. Sven Jorgessen had given him some
guidelines for his working day - however, the insects of Africa had
always intrigued and challenged his intelligence.
The three miners, Jim, Davo and Mike were servicing the Bobcat as
Nugget arrived. Jim hailed Nugget as he approached them, 'Howyergoing,
Inspector? The Coroner still got it right?'
'I'm strictly a rubberneck now, mate. I wonder if you fellas could
give me the royal tour.'
'Be glad to, Inspector.'
'Call me, Nugget.'
In return, Davo found his manners and reintroduced his mates. Nugget
took careful steps as he checked out the claim. He was waiting for the
servicing to be completed and was feeling a little uneasy at the
prospect of going underground. An electric winch was erected over one
shaft, which was just big enough for a person to descend. A steel bar
lay across the hole and attached to this was a series of hanging steel
hook ladders that lead to the mine floor.
Jim came over and joined Nugget. 'The big shaft over there, the one
you nearly fell in, is used for lowering large equipment such as a
tunnelling machine or Bobcat. This one speaks for itself and the other
small ones are ventilation shafts.'
He handed Nugget a helmet. ''Ere - whack this on.'
'We'll bring you back up on the winch but it's a bit tricky going
down, so you're in for a climb.'
'There's generally a couple of layers of opal, between 8 and 20
metres, depending on your field location. We're down about 10.'
Davo and Mike came over and Jim started the electric winch. Mike
stepped onto the steel bar with an easy alacrity that made Nugget
shudder. The thought of the fall didn't worry him, but the nasty stop
at the bottom did.
Once Mike had the makeshift seat under his backside, Jim handed him
the electric hand piece. He punched a button and disappeared from
sight. Nugget, at a nod from Davo, climbed onto the ladder and was
obviously more than a little nervous. He held the steel bars like a
'Just take it easy, Nugget. Rest when you like and don't look up. You
could cop a yonni right in your face.'
The climb down strained his arms and by the time he reached the
bottom, Nugget was hot and dusty. The tunnel was lit with electric
lights powered by the surface-fuelled powered generator.
'It is when you're 'anging off the blister-end of a pick, mate.' Mike
returned. 'But I'd rather this than the summer temperatures topside.'
Soon Davo and Jim were in the tunnel and Mike led the way. A
resounding boom gave the miners a fit of mirth.
'Doesn't pay to be tall down 'ere, mate.' Nugget agreed and had he not
been wearing the hardhat he would have been out stretched out flat. He
continued to follow, and hoped the self-made crick-in-the-back
wouldn't result in permanent deformity. After a short while they came
to a vast high-ceilinged cavern. To the left and right a maze of
tunnels led off in all directions and some were blocked by debris.
'Miners call these open areas a 'ballroom',' said Davo. 'I can't get
over how many tunnels there are.'
'Miles and bloody miles of 'em. They've been digging around 'ere for
over fifty years,' agreed Mike.
'The ole bastards didn't have our fancy equipment neither.'
'In the town, a couple of old sheilas dug a bloody good dugout by
hand,' put in Jim.
'Yeah,' agreed Mike. 'And made a quid too.'
Davo drew Nugget aside as the other two miners set to work.
'Basically, Nugget, we blow out a section, wait topside for it to
clear and then return and feed the suction hose. On the surface it
collects in the shaker and then we dump it into a heap. We then pick
it up with the Bobcat and load onto the noodler. From there it passes
along a conveyor belt and under the black light -
'The ultra-violet light picks up the colour then?'
'How often do you have a win?'
'Now, there lies a problem.'
The other two miners had stopped to listen.
'Bloody oath!' they chorused.
Davo looked thoughtful. 'Well, we can show you a little bit.'
'It's a bit of hike, but worth it,' said Jim.
Davo dispersed large torches to each of them, explaining to Nugget
that the electric power cord only extended to the ballroom where they
stood. He pocketed some matches, a compass, spare batteries and bulbs.
Jim picked up a massive line of rope and attached one end to the heavy
reinforced suction hose that lay at their feet. Davo and Mike
rechecked his work.
'Jim's not much for knots, mate.'
Jim feigned hurt. 'Bloody hell. Once it came undone - and now I'm
useless as a hip pocket in a singlet.'
'Youse said it, mate.'
Mike attached the running end of the rope to his belt and led off. The
tunnel was easy to follow at first and then reduced to a series of
humps that they crawled through. Nugget was really having a hard time.
Even with the miners as his guide the closeness of the tunnel seemed
to enter his soul and his breathing became difficult. Mike sensed his
distress and stopped. 'We've got three claims pegged, Nugget, and we
broke through them both. One on purpose, the other by arsehole luck.'
Nugget nodded and indicated towards the direction of travel. Mike took
the hint and moved on. Nugget knocked his hardhat off twice on the low
tunnel roof before they reached their destination. This ballroom
dwarfed the other in size and Nugget's distress eased. More tunnels
ran off to the side and Davo led them to a junction of two tunnels. He
swapped his ordinary torch for a small black light. In the
ultra-violet light the transformation from dirty brown to spectacular
colour was extraordinary. Above and below the pocket of opal were
shiny lines of treacle-coloured gypsum. Within the pocket was revealed
the process of endless time – amorphous silica, today's opal, lit in
thrilling and intense green and reds. Nugget, insignificant in the
time warp of life, was in awe of the great seas that had once
dominated this very area.
Davo prised out an object to the side of the opal pocket and handed it
to Nugget. The cockleshell had remained intact for thousands of years,
becoming fossilized as potch, the dominant opalised substance of no
'How come you're still working the other face?' asked Nugget.
'We're set up there and Jim only found this on a pillar bashing
expedition. There's not a lot in this, maybe a few grand.'
'Pillar bashing?' asked Nugget.
'Virgin ground between the tunnels. Dangerous work at times,
especially in these large ballrooms, but can be worth a few quid.'
'Surely that's better than a hole in the head?'
'Oh, yeah, it'll cover costs. Well, we'll head back.'
A muffled explosion reverberated through the tunnel and the men were
covered in debris.
'What the bloody hell was that?' Jim spoke for them all.
'Get down, keep your heads down and filter your breathing. Use your
clothes – anything.' Davo, with the most experience, took command.
The men obeyed his warning. Nugget started to cough, although his face
was pressed into his shirt. Then two more explosions followed and with
each detonation more dust, more debris. By now they were all coughing
and acrid fumes irritated their nasal passages and throats.
'Better put your torches out fellas. This could be a long haul.'
Nugget acknowledged Davo's decision but the sudden darkness became for
him an instant shroud of the living dead. For in the depths of the
earth the pupils of the eye do not adjust and all sight and bearings
are lost. He felt the panic and immediately his breathing quickened
'Take it easy, Nugget. This is bad for us too,' warned Davo.
'What the hell happened?'
'When this stuff clears we'll find out. Maybe somebody just blew into
our claim.' replied Davo.
'There's nobody working near us.' Jim wasn't buying it.
'Well, it certainly wasn't our imagination.'
The next twenty minutes was the worst experience in Nugget's life. He
wanted to run. He wanted to scream. Instead, though, he hung on and
prayed. When eventually Davo gave permission for the torches to be
relit, Nugget felt like a lottery winner. The return journey was even
more difficult, with extra hazards. The rope had been buried in some
areas but forward leading by Mike soon had them all back in the first
The power was out and with their torches they examined their plight. A
huge mass of dirt had fallen from the ballroom ceiling and the tunnel
to the shafts mostly blocked. Jim, the smallest of the miners,
struggled through to inspect the service shafts. He was gone five
minutes before he returned to the others.
'Both of the bastards are stuffed! Couldn't get a mouse out, let alone
fat bastards like Davo.'
Nugget said nothing but the panic was rising and it took some effort
to allay his fear. Davo sat on his haunches and was silent while the
others whinged about their predicament, blaming all and sundry.
'OK,' said Davo. 'We go back to the other claim and then one of us
will have to climb up the bloody shaft.'
'No ladders then?' queried Nugget, more anxious now.
'No, mate. And climbing ten bloody metres with your back against the
wall is a job for a mountain climber, not overweight miners.'
Jim looked at him and smiled. 'Thanks, mate. I got the job - right?'
By the time they reached the other claim all verbal banter had stopped
and they were in desperate need of a drink. Their throats were sore
and swallowing took effort and talking impossible.
They formed a pyramid with their bodies to allow Jim access to the
shaft, which was just above their heads. He clambered up with little
concern for his human ladder, which grunted under his weight. Davo had
rolled him three smokes and given instructions.
'Slow's the go. You stop and have a smoke, rest and move on. Three
stops. Got it?'
'I reckon I could do it in one.'
'Bullshit! Your legs are going to turn to jelly after about four
metres.' He slapped him on the shoulder. 'Take it easy, mate - you
still owe me a beer and for these smokes.' Jim started off badly,
after two metres he slipped and fell. The others had moved away from
the danger area under the shaft, expecting falling matter to be
dislodged by Jim during his climb.
Jim landed on his feet but had the sense to bend his legs and roll to
the ground on impact. He came to his feet and faced the others. 'Well,
what are youse bastards standing there for? Get me up there again.'
Davo had been right, his thigh muscles contracted into painful spasms
of cramp almost immediately and he was forced to take a break. The
good thing now was the shaft's fresh air. Deep breathing, from
exertion, had helped clear his constricted throat and once he had the
tobacco lit he felt good.
The last ten minutes of the climb was unbelievable. As he inched
closer to the top all physical movements were achieved through total
agony. Only the fear of certain death awaiting him below drove him up
and out of the shaft.
He lay on his back for ten minutes welcoming the midday heat. Finally
he crawled back to the shaft and lay prone as he shouted to the
'She's sweet, fellas!'
'Well done, mate. We're right now - go and get the rescue mob,'
'I'll see if I can find you some water first.'
Jim found the topside camp as they had left it. Only the shafts were
collapsed – nothing else had been touched. After he had quenched his
own thirst he picked up a coil of rope, a metal mug and the water can
and returned to the escape shaft. Once he had lowered the can and mug
he moved stiffly back to his ute.
Coober Pedy Mine Rescue Team had a history that bordered on
excellence. The whole operation was achieved with the minimum of fuss.
Davo insisted that he would shout rescuers and rescuees alike and a
short time later they gathered under his dugout's verandah.
Nugget had time to caution Davo, Mike and Jim. 'Listen, fellas. We'll
keep this a bit quiet for now. I'll straighten out official reaction
with the mine safety mob and talk to the local police. Somebody will
pay for our discomfort and your claim.'
Jim had a sardonic grin for the detective as he asked. 'About that
Coroner's report, Nugget?'
'Leave it with me, Jim - I'll get a result.'