Natural Justice

The Warden’s court is part of the judicial system. It hears disputes on mining matters and the decision of the court is final.

At Mintabie Opal Fields the opal claims had certain working conditions that had to be adhered to. If any of the conditions were breached, you were in danger of loosing the claim by having it revoked by the Warden’s Court.

Sometimes, other miners plaint (take to the warden’s court) a claim they feel has not complied with working conditions or some other piece of legality.

There was an unwritten law at Mintabie, that no Mintabie miner would plaint another Mintabie miner’s claim. If the claim was held by someone who lived outside of Mintabie than that was O.K.

A local ‘weasel’ of a miner named Andrew, particularly liked the area near the water tank, where we had 3 claims. Shafts on all three claims were interconnected underground. We did not work all of these claims at the same time. Andrew thought this was his opportunity to gain a prime claim in such a good area.

He chose the period immediately following Christmas to plaint my claim! Most miners arrive back to work when the weather begins to cool down. Technically this breached the labor conditions of the claims, because in those days the Christmas break was legally only a few short weeks. We were away enjoying a well earned extended Christmas break. The first I found out about it was when I received a letter of demand to attend the next Wardens court to be held at Marla about an hour away from Mintabie Opal Fields.

Robert and I went to considerable trouble to gather evidence and pictures of proof to present at my side of the hearing. We took photos of the large amount of recent dirt on top of the claims. We drew diagrams of our network of tunnels to demonstrate that work was being done underground on one claim but the dirt was being removed via a shaft on another claim. We got receipts for generator and jack hammer repairs to show why we were late returning to Mintabie Opal fields.

The Warden’s Court convened in a room of the Marla Hotel/Motel. Inside the room the Warden sat at a desk with his “scribe” sitting beside him copying down the proceedings.

Several claims were in dispute that morning so all the miners were waiting outside in the stinking hot summer conditions, shooing away flies and waiting their turn. Robert and I waited nervously with them.

The attendant finally came to the door and announced;”Blythe vs. ‘Weasel’, would all parties please come inside”. We entered the room and sat at the chairs in front of the stern faced Warden. He looked up and said. “Blythe verses ‘Weasel’ is dismissed because ‘Weasel’ is in hospital and is unable to attend.” I immediately responded with, “I hope his stay is long and painful!” The Warden turned to his scribe and said “Don’t write that down!”

We left ecstatic and headed for the bar.

Weasel’s Claim

A particular obnoxious miner from Mintabie Opal fields was always after our claims. Andrew went to considerable lengths in attempts to get ground near us. We had three claims, in a prime part of the opal fields, near the Mintabie township water tank located on the escarpment within the opal fields proper

His first attempt was to take me to the warden’s court in an attempt to gain my claim on the grounds of not fulfilling the labor conditions. Case dismissed! His second attempt was just as obnoxious. In between two of our claims was a small strip of ‘no man’s land’. This was a narrow strip about fifteen feet in width on one end, narrowing to about ten feet at the other end. Although not pegged it was obvious to all, that this was regarded as part of our partnership’s claims.

The Christmas break after his failed legal attempt on my claim, he stooped to a new level of weaselry. Whilst we were away he pegged this tiny strip of land. It was just wide enough to reverse his blower (a giant vacuum cleaner type machine attached to the back of a truck that is used to remove the dirt from underground via a series of steel pipes). Although this was totally legal it was not the accepted thing amongst Mintabie opal miners.

He knew that the level we worked was 42 feet. He contracted for a hole to put down to forty five feet. Normally, when mining at Mintabie, the shaft is drilled quite a bit deeper than the level to make it easier to open up (an article on, ‘opening a hole’ in the future).

Anyway, Weasel thoroughly worked this narrow strip. By the time we came back to start the work for the year he had finished, pulled his pegs, and moved on. We heard he did not find a single piece of opal so had wasted his time and money on the endeavor.

Later that year we decided this hole was conveniently placed so would set up on it and do some work from there. We re-pegged one of our claims to legalize the hole and moved the winch. Deciding to start with the lower level we started to sink the shaft down another ten feet. To sink down, holes were drilled with the auger to place the explosive charges in.

When we reached the lower level, the first hole drilled, cut through a seam of opal. With extreme care the ground was removed until directly on top of the opal. The actual opal was dug out with a hand pick and placed in a bucket. The pocket was a small pocket worth a few thousand dollars.

The most satisfying aspect was that Weasel had missed it. If he had done the normal procedure instead of trying to save a few dollars by sinking a shallower shaft he would have at least found this opal. I have not seen Weasel for many years, so perhaps if he stumbles across this article he will realize that karma had bit him on the bum.

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