Once back in Canberra we attempted to revert to a normal family lifestyle. However there was always an under current feeling of discontent between Kris and I. I could feel the closeness we initially shared evaporate. We were constantly arguing and any intimacy was becoming mechanical. I couldn’t understand what was happening and so when Kris asked to go to the Gold Coast for a fortnight break to think, I encouraged her. I was to find out later she went and saw one of the field hands who had been at Georgetown.
When she returned our relationship went from bad to worse and eventually she told me she was going to leave. I was totally distraught and asked her where she was thinking of going. She wouldn’t tell me and just left, leaving me with our daughters and not knowing where she was or how long she was going for. Michelle had started school and Kim was still not old enough or had just started pre-school. In a very short space of time I had to organize care for them whilst I was at work.
My life was going through a very trying stage. I found it difficult to give my daughters a normal life. It was hard to appear in full control of my emotions, particularly when Michelle or Kim asked me where mummy was. I did not know and just said she was away for a little while.
To take my mind off this turmoil I went to Sydney and purchased a four wheel drive. It was second hand and had belonged to a guy who was a well known racing car driver (Leo or Pete Geoghegan?). It had been totally modified and had a 350 cubic inch V8 motor and one of the first sets of wide wheels on a four wheel drive in Australia. It had a special engineer’s certificate to allow it to be driven on the roads. I was not mechanically minded and thought the extra power would be useful. I didn’t realize that instead of miles per gallon it was more like gallons to the mile. However it did take my mind off the personal things. Most weekends my daughters and I would go four wheel driving with a few mates who had four wheel drives. We would find the steepest hills, the muddiest tracks and the rockiest trails and just enjoy the challenge and the outing. After one trip we were driving through the main street of Queanbeyan when a police car with lights flashing screamed up beside me frantically demanding me to pull over. I immediately panicked, thinking I must have run over someone and would be thrown in jail forever. The policeman jumped out of his car and literally ran to my car. As I unwound the window I believed I must have done something absolutely terrible. His excited words were “Where did you get those incredible wheels mate? Do you mind if I have a close look at them and a look under the bonnet.” Once I regained my composure he spent almost an hour checking out my Toyota.
My father had met a lovely lady whom he was now living. Her name was Cynthia and she also was a teacher. She was to become my surrogate mother and over the years has become very important to my life.
Cynthia, along with my father helped me through this difficult time. I was always welcome at their house and they would look after the children whenever I needed a break.
My father was very much a realist and believed the best thing for me was some female company. So as all good dads’ do, he organized a date with an exchange teacher who was teaching at his school for a short time. Sue was an attractive dark haired American girl and was very easy to get along with and fun to be with. She enjoyed the outdoors and accompanied me on many outings.
It certainly worked and provided me with a belief that whatever happened life would be OK.
Several months past when I received a phone call from Kris. She told me she was working in Toowomba and wanted to come back. I was elated and the next day the kids and I headed off to bring her home. I wasn’t entirely convinced we could work it out but had decided we would give it our best shot.
It was during this period of attempted reconciliation that I had an unusually weird experience. Over a period of several nights I was woken up by a strong feeling that someone was watching me. I would open my eyes and standing at the base of the bed was a young girl of perhaps twelve years of age. I had never seen her before and radiating from her was an intense feeling of love and compassion. We would look at each other for several minutes and then she would fade and disappear. I told Kris about it and she said I must be dreaming. I assured her I wasn’t and that I would keep a note book and pen beside the bed and if it happened again I would write the time down. It did happen and I had written down the time. In fact it happened over a period of several nights and then just stopped. I can not explain it and have never attempted to. I have never seen the young girl and have no idea who she was.
Our reconciliation was short lived and our marriage was miserable. Kris was going out and staying out late and my heart felt like it was full of lead. She took a job as a secretary at a solicitors’ office and threw herself into that. The last thing she wanted to do was spend time with me. If she wasn’t out she would go next door and talk for hours. Our friend David would come over several nights a week and she would stay up talking to him rather then come to bed. It is my opinion that she had been given legal advice that the only way to gain custody of the children would be to move back into the marital home.
Eventually it all became too intolerable. I could not bear any more misery so moved out and temporally lived with my friend Ken and his wife Kate. In all fairness to Kris we were too young and entirely different personalities. The inevitable had happened and it was time to move on and build a new life. There could be no reconciliation.
I rented a small townhouse that I shared with two workmates and a new period of my life began. We got on incredibly well and the house was filled with the laughter, practical jokes and untidiness associated with three young guys in their early twenties.
One of the first trips I did was with my dad and friend Joe. We decided to drive through the Flinders Ranges and on to Andamooka from the east and explore some of the eastern side of Lake Torrens. It was while we were driving cross country within distant sight of Lake Torrens that we came across lines of potch opal outcropping on a low escarpment. At the time I remember thinking it was interesting and now with the hindsight of many years opal mining, I would like to have this trip over again. We stayed as long as we could scratching at the seam and found quite healthy potch. However there was no colour so we continued our journey. Who knows what could have been found with a little professional mining. Another thing that made this trip memorable was that we had run out of food and so when we reached civilization we were dying for a good steak or something similar. We arrived late and the only food we could buy was at some remote pub located somewhere that I cannot remember now. The food however I remember vividly. All they had was a jar full of pickled eggs! So without bread we sat on our swags eating a never to be repeated fiest of nothing more than pickled eggs and a cup of black tea.
Life had become good again. I was seeing my daughters regularly and was enjoying a relationship with a young lady named Chris. I had spent a few weeks at Grawin opal field digging out my first opalised shell and was planning numerous other adventures.
At work I had been transferred to a group of geologists who were mapping the Mt Isa- Duchess area. This area is very interesting geologically and I was looking forward to a three month stretch of field work and exploring yet another fascinating location.
So in 1975 I set off for a period of three months field work. The camp site was beside a stock dam about twenty minutes drive south of Duchess. Again there were three geologists, three field hands, a cook, mechanic and myself. Several 1: 100,000 geological maps were being compiled. Duchess was by far the most complicated map I had been involved with and one of the most interesting.
Our cook, ‘Bloody Duncan,’ as he became affectionately knick named by us, was an interesting character. He was a true ‘pom’ who had always wanted to visit Australia.
He was a top chef in some of London’s better restaurants and had only lived in the city. Somehow he stumbled across the advertisement for a geological field party cook in an Australian newspaper he had picked up. He decided that this was his opportunity to experience something completely different. And something different he certainly got! The first time he stepped inside the kitchen caravan to prepare his first meal was memorable. We were all sitting in the annex attached to the caravan having a coffee. Bloody Duncan sticks his head out and asks,’Hey lads, how do ye light the ooven?’ One of the field hands dryly responded ‘You crawl inside it, hold the button down at the back for a minute and you light a bloody match!’ We continued our conversation and about a minute later there was a loud ‘kathoomp’ and a blinding flash. Out of the door of the caravan stepped Bloody Duncan with singed hair, eyebrows and arms!
Boy could he cook! Everything from curries to ‘a la carte’ fancy dishes and incredible pastries. We must have been the best fed field party anywhere.
He did have a passion for food dyes. Yellow cauliflower, pink rice and blue mash were served to anyone that complained.
Bloody Duncan liked rocks. He accompanied me on the weekends whilst I explored the area. We spend many weekends at Kuridala and found several seams of very nice amethyst crystals. There is a big hill of amethyst on the way to Kuridala. It is quite remarkable because of the size of the boulders of amethyst. Around the back of this hill I collected a lot of pebble sized dark mud covered pieces. When I returned to Canberra, I tumbled them and was quite surprised that around 20% were facet grade amethyst. I have never been back.
I did a lot of research from the various geological reports on copper/silica ore
deposits that were sent to the refinery at Mt Isa in the early days. I endeavored to visit the more interesting of these. One in particular had a seam of what is now a valuable gemstone. The chrysocolla was very silica rich and very hard. It took a full polish and made wonderful translucent gemstones. I have stored this in my memory bank and perhaps one day will follow it further.
The Rosebud Mine was producing incredible azurite rosette crystal groups at the time. Mt Cobalt yielded us many fine Erythrite specimens. Staurolite was easily found and any of the more common copper minerals were readily collected.
The ‘International Geological Congress’ was held in Australia that year and two Russian geologists were sent up to our field party and we showed them around. They had a wonderful few days and at the end invited us to a meal at their Mt Isa Hotel/Motel. They had their own Vodka and offered our geologist and myself a glass. I had never even tasted it before, so just took a sip. In a loud voice the Russian slapped my back and said ‘Hey Pete… not like that!… Like this… yah!’. He tipped the glass up and swallowed the lot in one gulp. Several drinks later at the end of the night we somehow managed to find the exit. I fell asleep on the asphalt beside the driver’s door and the geologist fell asleep on the asphalt beside the passenger’s door. Around 10am the next morning we awoke with the mother of all hangovers. The Russians had flown out early that morning and would have walked past us.
We had, for a couple of weeks, the use of a helicopter to map the more remote areas. On the weekend the helicopter pilot flew back to Mt Isa and invited me along for the flight. He was telling me about this attractive lady that often sun baked nude in her backyard. He said he would fly down wind and come across the top of her house and see if she was there. Well she wasn’t but the downdraft from the rotor blades caught the clothes on the cloths line and spun it around like a top. I could see clothes fling off in all directions as we went past. I wondered if this was a regular occurrence.
Towards the end of the season we challenged the patrons of the Duchess pub to a game of cricket. It was held on the local ‘oval.’ The oval had no grass and countless pebbles to boulders strewn all over it. This meant that once a ball was hit and travelled across the ground, it did so with many changing and unpredictable angles depending on the size of the rocks it hit. Adding to this complication was the stray dog that lurked on the boundary. This mangy mutt would race towards any hard hit ball, scoop the ball up in its mouth and take off. The game would be temporarily halted whilst the members of both teams chased this mongrel dog to pry the ball from its very tight mouth. Cans of beer, spirits and other liquid refreshments were allowed on the field at all time and several innings were fitted into the one day time slot. After the game we were all taken on a train trip towards the nearby phosphate deposit In all it was a very memorable day. I have no idea who won and by the end of the game I don’t think it mattered. I had found an old battered enamel bed pot and wrote on it “BMR-DUCHESS challenge trophy”. It sat on the back wall of the Duchess pub for quite some time. It may even still be there.
Outside the kitchen caravan was a tree with a fork in it about a metre off the ground. One of our field hands had a trail bike that Bloody Duncan used to ride from time to time. He used to say that we should put a plank up against the tree and into the fork and he could jump through the fork on the trail bike.
Eventually we managed to find a suitable plank and set it up for him. We all got our cameras out as he gained speed and headed up the plank. Unfortunately he didn’t check the width of the handle bars and the trail bike stopped dead in the fork and to our amusement Bloody Duncan soared through the air into a crumbling heap. Apart from injured pride he was OK with only the loss of a little skin.
When the field party ended I headed off to Brisbane. Around midnight between Barcaldine and Blackall a large black steer ran out from the side of the road. My four wheel drive ran over its head and rolled twice ending upside down in the middle of the road. The roof was torn off and the steering wheel ended up pressed hard against the road. The seat belt was only a lap belt and when it first rolled I got under the steering wheel. Luckily and amazing, I was not badly injured but it was a soar end to a wonderful trip.