After the accident I went by bus to Brisbane and visited Chris who was staying with her mother. We went car hunting and I purchased a horrible little two door Holden Torana. It must have been involved in a car accident as it travelled at an angle reminiscent of a crab and once eighty kilometers an hour was reached it vibrated so violently it was impossible to control. The wind whistled insistently through several ill fitting doors and when it rained water dripped from the roof lining on to the drivers head at a rate conducive to Chinese water torture. I think I purchased it because the paint work looked good, it was cheap and I was in a hurry. At least the salesman would have been happy. (A few months later I traded it on a new Landrover).
Before I left Brisbane Chris informed me that she was not interested in a relationship so I returned to Canberra in a somber mood. We remained life long friends and still keep in touch.
My friend Joe had decided to marry his first and only girlfriend (We had been concerned up to him meeting Jenny, as he was fast becoming the oldest virgin in Canberra) They were delightfully suited and were to be married in Wollongong on the south coast. Joe invited me to be his best man and the wedding was to mark a distinct change in my life as well. I had not met the maid of honor before the ceremony and I can only say I was absolutely gob smacked the instant I saw her. She was the most divinely beautiful woman I had ever seen. I can’t remember much about the wedding other than this gorgeous creature I was co-sharing it with. I did find out that she lived in Canberra, was single, and had several eligible fellows actively pursuing her. I asked her if she needed a lift back to Canberra but unfortunately she had already made arrangements. Thinking I would be way down her list of potential suitors I returned to my normal lifestyle and filed our meeting in the dream department. I was to be amazed a week later when she rang me and asked if we could get together for coffee.
That was it for me. All other woman were relegated to the past history file and I was spending all my time with her. A few months later we were living together and I was happier than I had been for a long time. Anne’s parents owned a property in the Tinderry Mountains about an hours drive south of Canberra so we spent quite a bit of time there.
At work I was informed I would be joining a field party in the Georgetown area for three months. I found out they did not have a cook. Anne had done a lot of cooking over the years during the shearing season on her parent’s property so I put the idea to the geologist in charge. To our delight she was employed and we headed off for a stint at Georgetown.
Once again we visited the usual hot spots and found more agates, topaz and a little gold. For me though, it was the romance and being able to spend time with Anne. It was all wonderful. At the end of the season we drove to Cairns and up the telephone line track (4WD) between Daintree and Cooktown before returning to Canberra.
In those days it was not a well used track and was an exciting and beautiful experience.
I returned to work only to be told that I would not be able to have any more field work. The reason was that I had showed flair with this new technology called computers and they wanted me to become more involved in that area. Computers terrorized me and still do. I had made the mistake of asking someone that knew this technology if it would be possible to draw map grids on a computer. Unfortunately it was and I was to be lumbered with trying to understand the how’s and the whys. David Walton and I were sent to look at new computers at the C.S.I.R.O and to do a course at Technical College in some computer language. I was reliving the terror of ‘Math’s for Surveyors’ again and did not understand any of it. In fact I was lost after the first ten minutes! I had an appreciation of what it could do and knew that was the way of the future but it wasn’t for me.
I remember thinking this was not the way I envisaged life and thought the time had come for a drastic change. I had been selling opals and rocks in my spare time and had a sales stand at different gem and agricultural shows. An advertisement in the paper for vacant new shops in a local small shopping mall caught my eye. Cooleman Court was to be opened early in 1978 and was to be the shopping hub for about eight suburbs. I had no idea about rents and the complexities of opening a new business. Undeterred I made an appointment and went for an interview.
It was soon apparent I could not afford a shop downstairs. Upstairs on a corner was a small shop that at the time seemed reasonable. The shop would be handed over with four bare walls and bare roof and I would have a month to do a full shop fit out. I decided I would give it a go and a couple of days later signed a 3 year lease. The money I had from my long service leave, savings and money my beloved dad would lend me totaled $30,000. With this I intended to do the full shop fit out including display cases, a safe AND buy the stock. I already had a small amount of cut opals but not much of value. I had a lot of tumbled stones, polished gemstone faces and crystals I had collected on my travels.
I approached a local shop fitter and asked him to quote me on a shop fit out. I told him I had limited funds so he would have to quote on a very basic job. I went to his office a week later and he says,”Mr Blythe, I think you will be very happy with what I have to offer you. I have cut all corners to produce a very fine working budget shop. The total cost for your new finished shop will only be $30,000!” After regaining my composure I thanked him very much and said I would think about it.
And think about it I did. There was no option other then to attempt to do it myself. This was all well and good except I had trouble nailing two pieces of wood together. I was never good at woodwork or anything to do with manufacturing. In fact today I have trouble with remotes, mobile phones and those dam computers.
With a month to go before we could start the shop fit out I went to auctions to see if I could find anything suitable. The first auction I bought a pallet of out dated new dark brown foot square carpet tiles. Our colour scheme was now decided! This was enough to cover the shop floor three times over and cost me $100. At the next auction I bought a large box of spot lights that had been in another shop for $100. I found an old safe at a second hand office supply shop for $200. Three mass produced superseded glass display counter kits were purchased for $300 the lot. At another auction I picked up an old cash register for $25.
I had done some plans on paper for our layout and decided to build a very large unit that would act as a divider from the shop to the office out the back. Anne and I built this in the lounge room at nights. When we finished the joins looked terrible and I wasn’t happy with it. I decided to cover the whole thing with black vinyl which would hide my mistakes. Our house smelt like contact cement for a month. The end result was quite acceptable and very durable. It lasted a good fifteen years.
When I told them at work I was leaving it was greeted with mixed reaction. My immediate boss wished me the best and believed I would make a success of it. Others thought I was nuts and would be back groveling for a job within months.
My work mates started a competition to find the name of my new enterprise. A section of the notice board was reserved for suggestions. This ran for several weeks and finally a vote was taken. The name MINESHAFT was voted number one and my identity was born. They had decided that as I spent so much time climbing down mine shafts and finding so many pretty things that the name would be a good reflection of my interests.
My ancestors on one side were always miners. Originally tin miners in Cornwell, they migrated to Australia seeking their fortunes in the new tin mining areas discovered in northern N.S.W. I had a blank wall on the outside of my shop that could be easily seen from the main centre court in the new complex. I thought it would be a good idea to honor my forbears by having a very large photograph of the inside of a mineshaft from an old tin mine in Cornwell attached to it. I tracked one down in the library at the Bureau of Mineral Resources and had it blown up to fill the entire wall. When we eventually put it up it looked really impressive.
My final day at work arrived. I had enjoyed a wonderful ten years. I had learnt so much and met so many wonderful, diverse and gifted people. I felt the same emotions as I had on my last day at school. The reflections from my ten years were indelible. The challenge of the future was exciting.
With only a fortnight to go before the shop hand over, planning began in earnest. I purchased some second hand timber and a pile of chipboard. I figured I would do the best I could and if it didn’t turn out all that crash hot I would cover it all in black vinyl. This was not the best option as vinyl was expensive and it would be time consuming. It did however, constitute a plan with an alternative solution. I purchased a whole lot of second hand glass shelves and I planned to build these into several display cases in a false wall on one side of the shop.
Finally the day arrived and the shops were handed over for fit out. The centre was alive with activity and noise. Each day the car park was filled with shop fitting vans and heaps of uniformed shop fitters going about their trade. I had borrowed a small trailer and each day arrived with a full load The professionals had specially built trolleys to transport their stuff and lots of workers to lighten the load. I had just a small cheap hand trolley and only myself to move the material.
The shop on the opposite corner was to be a shoe shop and they had a whole team of shop fitters working on it. Most of their shop fit-out was pre assembled and they were obviously good at what they were doing.
The first couple of days I attempted to build the frame work for the false wall in to which I planned to insert the as yet unmade glass display cases. Unfortunately it was not working out and I couldn’t seem to make it sturdy enough.
On the third day one of the shop fitters from the shoe shop came over and said to me ‘What on earth do you think you are doing? What is it you are trying to achieve?’ I told him my story and how I could only afford to do it all myself. I think he must have felt sorry for me because he said “Look, pull the whole bloody thing down and I will tell you how to do it”. So every few hours, over the next week or two, this wonderful individual gave me simple explicit step by step instructions. He also fixed any obvious failures. To my delight it was all falling into place and beginning to look like a shop.
There was only one area I could not attempt myself and that was the electrical work. The shop fitter next door had a mate who would do me a good deal so that was arranged and for a very special price it was completed.
After the electrical work and the lighting were completed I painted the whole interior black. The carpet was easy and as I had heaps of spare carpet I could do any adjustments without fear of running low on carpet squares.
My friend Joe made the sign to be hung on the inside wall of the centre. Large letters of wood were cut out by hand and patiently sanded down to perfection and painted black. These were glued to a large sheet of thick chip board that was painted with a yellow and orange stripe. The whole sign was about five meters long. When it was placed in position I must admit it looked as good as any of the professionally done signs.
With over a week to spare the shop was completed. On the week-end prior to opening, several of my friends helped me move the dividing wall display case that had been filling our lounge room and all the glass display counters. This gave me almost a week to arrange what stock I had accumulated. I was ready to face the next chapter in my life.