Chas Adlard, Australian Author


'The 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 them.

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. 'Yes?'
'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, Nugget. Coffee?'
'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.'
'Why us?'
'After the South Aussie police closed the case, we won it. Federal premises involved.'
'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 Nugget.
'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 warranted.

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 airfield perimeter.

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 leveller.

'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, 'You Wilson?'
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 mounds.

'It grows on you, Inspector,' said Sue Walsh, intuitively.

Sue pulled the police vehicle to a standstill. The dugout was in a row of five.
'Have all dugouts just the one entrance, Sue?'
'Generally speaking, yes. Keeps the temperature inside stable and security good.'
'Are there many break-ins?' asked Nugget as they walked towards the dugout entrance. He'd noticed the steel bars that protected the small windows.
'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 nose?'
'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 tunnelling machine.'
'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 Nugget.
'There was an alternative power system off the town grid - a generator.'
'It was out of fuel?'
'So they said.'
'So where is it?'
'Somebody flogged it shortly after the accident.'
'That's convenient.'
'Coober Pedy's a tough town, Nugget. If it's not tied down - it walks.'
'Anything else missing?'
'Just about all his mining equipment including a new earth moving machine and a new generator.'
'Why new?'
'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 better?'
'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 applied'
'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 investigating officer.'
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 them?'
'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, thought Sue.

'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 - have you?'
'Pure as the driven snow, Inspector. Not that there's much of that around 'ere.'
'I wanted to talk about the death of your neighbour. Tell me about him.'
'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 awhile.'
'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 him.
'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?' questioned Davo.
'I'm just finalising a Federal report. The Coroner's already fixed the cause.'
'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 perverted lust.

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 tiring.

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 driver's seat.

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 back.'

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 water.

'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 Yap-yap.'
'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 ground.

'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 practice, absolute.

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 as dust.'
'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.
'Rodney Daunstey'

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 or not?'
'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 any kind.'
'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.'
'Fair dinkum?'
'I think we're buggered. I'm sorry, Liz.'
'Can you get into our vehicle?'
'Probably. Why?'
'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 being shot.

'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 mile.'
'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 in nineteen-fifteen.

'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.'
'How far?'
'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 boilermaker's weld.

'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.

'Bloody humid.'
'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 - Bob's-your-bloody-uncle.'
'The ultra-violet light picks up the colour then?'
'Too right.'
'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 value.

'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 ballroom.

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 others.

'She's sweet, fellas!'
'Well done, mate. We're right now - go and get the rescue mob,' returned Davo.
'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.'

Back to the Main Page