The Water Tank Claims

For many years we had 3 claims about 100 meters from the water storage tank for Mintabie. We found many pockets of opal and some of the stories in this series are about these or incidents related to them. This article is about a few incidental moments that happened and the method we used for removing the dirt from these claims.

The dirt was removed using a York Hoist. This hoist was developed to fit around scaffolding to lift building materials. They became very popular with opal miners because they were very cost efficient, easy to set up and easy to use. They were particularly popular at Andamooka opal fields and to a lesser degree, Coober Pedy.

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Drilling new shaft- Watertank claim

A large pipe was secured about a meter from the shaft by 3 wires attached to the ground about 30 feet away by steel posts. The hoist was attached to the pipe so that it could swivel around it. As the pile of dirt grew the hoist could be lifted further up the pole.

One opal miner does the shoveling underground whilst the other operates the hoist and empties the dirt. We had a flat bottomed wheel barrow onto which sat a 12 gallon fuel drum with the top cut out and a handle attached. We worked two drums at the same time. Whilst one drum was being lifted to the surface the other drum was being filled with dirt. Generally the underground miner worked at a pace to keep the hoist in continual use. The further he was away from the shaft the faster he had to work. It became a challenge to get back to the hole before the empty bucket arrived.

Watertank semi black opal

A hub cap from a car was nailed to a post on the top corner of the hole. Close to this we had a hammer with a rope tied to it that stretched to the bottom of the hole. When the rope was pulled it swung the hammer that belted the hub cap. This let the hoist operator know that the bucket was ready to lift. One gong meant lift the bucket. Two gongs meant stop. Three gongs meant trouble. An average blast of dirt took around forty buckets to clear.

We all had our own special shovels. Now you may think a shovel is a shovel but that isn’t necessarily so. Kim, our opal mining partner for several years, was a master of the shovel. He would have won the gold medal at the Olympics if shoveling opal dirt was an event. Kim’s shovel was a specific weight and a length, about twenty centimeters shorter than a standard shovel. With the correct length for his body size he could fill a twelve gallon bucket in seconds. He would lay the bucket against the dirt and pull in to it enough dirt to fill it. With a twist of the wrist he placed the bucket on to the wheel barrow. The whole time his back was perfectly straight. When he shoveled dirt directly into the bucket, towards the end of the blast, he did so with bent knees, straight back and a perfectly precise flowing movement. It was poetry in motion.

We went through a set of shovels each year. My first shovel has now been gold plated and is on display in our shop.

Whilst lifting the dirt we could see people coming and going to the water tank collecting water. As one of us was always operating the hoist, many hours a day was spent up top. A couple of these water collectors are worth a mention.

Bruno is a small, nuggety Croatian opal miner. He was extremely fit and had an old water truck that took about 20 minutes to fill. He would spend the entire time doing push ups. On top of his mining, it was no wonder he carried no extra weight and was as strong as an ox.

A group of hippies lived at Mintabie for a while. The group included some rather attractive, though feral looking, young ladies. Every few days they would pull up in their dilapidated, old combi to fill up numerous 5 gallon plastic drums. When they finished the girls would totally strip off and wash themselves and their long hair under the hose. Robert used to reckon he could tell, when he was underground, if they were at the water tank. Normally the buckets came straight down the middle of the hole at lightning pace to slow down about a foot from the floor and delicately and gently stop. When the ferals were washing the drums would bounce off the walls and come crashing to the floor.

Once we were digging out a rather large pocket of potch. The opal was several centimeters thick and was a boring grey without a skerrick of colour. We didn’t bother to collect it and just tipped it out on the heap. The pieces were so big they could be seen from the water tank. There was a constant stream of people walking across to check out the mine. I guess they thought we were on big opal but the truth was we didn’t keep a single piece.

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