My Day At Work In An Underground Goldmine



Copyright © G W Rehder

This story is dedicated to my sister Ina Boldhaus


This is something that I thought I would never do. But one day I arrived in Norseman with my partner Betty. I needed a job badly, we had just crossed the Nullarbor Plains, our car needed repair and we were running out of money. So I went to the Mine Office and applied for a job. To my surprise I was hired on the spot and told that I was to start the next morning at 8am. But I was told to be there at 7.30am at the latest.

 The Fellow then ask me if I had any Boots with a Steel toe caps, which I said that I hadn’t. After getting my size he got me a new pair of boots and told me that the money for them would be taken out of my first pay. I thanked him and drove home all excited. My Partner and I had rented a small Cottage not far from the Mine.

 Next morning I drove out to the Mine and was told to see the Foreman by the name of Jack Hindmarsh. When I found him I saw that he was a giant of a man, big but no fat on his body about 40 years of age. Naturally he was called “Big Jack”.

 After the introduction Jack took me to an adjoining building which was the Shower and Change Room. He showed me how everybody would come in here and get undressed and putting their clothes on a hook which had your number on it. This hook was on a rope which ran through a pulley at the ceiling and you would pull your cloth up and thus have them hanging from the ceiling. Next you walk naked past the showers into an identical room where you had your work cloth hanging. Jack explained to me that when you finished work, you came in here took off your dirty and most of the time wet clothing and hung them up to dry.

 Then you went for a shower and then fresh and clean you got into your everyday cloth and go home. I told him that I thought that this was a terrific idea. He smiled at me and said “Yeah, it also stops most people from smuggling Gold.”  This I had to find out for myself later on.

Next Jack took me again to his Office and handed me a Timecard also called a ”Plod.” I clocked myself in and went with Jack to the “Lamp room” where I was issued with a Belt and a Headlamp and Battery. Jack explained that I would keep the Belt throughout my employment, but the Lamp and Battery were handed in when I had finished work so that they could be recharged for use the next morning. The Lamp and Battery were also yours until the end of your Employment.

 Also Jack handed me a Safety Helmet which had a small bracket on the front of it where you put your Head Lamp.   Lastly he handed me over to a man named Bob Morten who was my “Shift Boss”. Shift Bosses are responsible for a certain amount of man working down underground in the Mine. Twice a Day they walk through the Mine checking on these men.

Not to see if they are working, but to make sure that there had been no Accident, or if the men need anything. Lot of the times I found these Shift Bosses at one of the many Tables, sitting and reading a Book. Anyway next it was off to the Mineshaft which went 4000’ feet at a 42° angle into the Gold-Mine. The Shift Boss introduced me to a fellow named George, who was going to teach me to be a Scraper Driver. This I looked forward to with great anticipation.

 Next I heard a noise coming from the Shaft, it was our transportation down into the Mine, and it was called a “Skip.” It carried about 12 People sitting next to and above each other. When all the men had been taken down then the Skip operators would take the seats out and take down gear for the miners. It usually consisted of, Pneumatic Drills and Accessories, also Explosives, like Gelignite and Anfo which was made up of Ammonium Nitrate (Fertiliser) and Diesel.

 While George and I were talking, the Skip had come up again and now it was our turn to go down. I have to be honest, I was shitting myself. The Bell rang twice and the Skip started moving. I found out that every time a new Person had started at the Mine they would give him Shit by telling loud Stories about the last time the Rope broke and the Skip went tumbling down the Mineshaft and more. Of course these Stories never happen, but later after I had worked in the Mine for a while, I found that some of the new People had actually gone up again and quit their Job.

Author with Pneumatic Drill

Anyway George and I got off at the 24 Level which is 2400’ feet deep. Here on the Platform it is very noisy from Air rushing out through the big wooden Door that shut us of from the rest of the Mine. I had to laugh, somebody had used a thick texture Pen and drawn a Cartoon Figure on the Door surface and written below it “Foo, was here!” It made me relax a bit.

 George grabbed what seem to be a heavy Carton and ask me to open the Door. I said “No worries!” and went to open the Door, but to my surprise I had to push as hard as I could to open it. When asking George what made it so hard, he told me that it was the Air from inside the mine pushing against it. Also as we entered through the Door I found we were in absolute Darkness and we had to turn on our Headlamps to see what we were doing.

 When I turned mine on it seemed like that I had a flat Battery and so I ask George to check it for me. He took one look, turned a little Knob on the Lap and it was bright like everyone else’s. George smiled and said to me “You Dummy! You have to check that it is on high beam.” And then showed me how. I thought that George was a nice Guy, about 56 years old, and he walked with a slight limp.

We walked another 10 meters into the Mine and came to a Tunnel that went in both directions. George told me that a horizontal Tunnel was called a “Drive”. It had small Railway lines running in both directions and I could see that there were a few Men standing around. It looked like they were waiting for someone.

 George was behind me carrying a big Box which he put up against the white Wall. George told me that the white rock was pure Quartz but there was also grey rock which was Granite. Next I could hear a rumbling in the distance and to my surprise it was an electric Locomotive with several flat Wagons. As it pulled up the men grabbed their Gear and loaded onto the Wagons.

 George ask me to sit our Box onto an empty flat Wagon. Everybody sat down on the Wagons with their Gear and George and I sat with our Box. One of the Men went to the Loco and climbed on, right away we took off. Every so often he would stop to let one of the Men off with their Gear. It wasn’t long and we got off too. When the Loco took off again I could see a Ladder that went up to a large Hole.

 George told me to climb up and that there was a Rope that I should throw one end down so I could pull up the Box. When I got to the top I threw one end down and George tied the Box to it. When I ask him what was in it, he told me it was “Gelignite” and so I thought to myself “Shit!”  I started to pull up the Box of Gelignite when suddenly the Box got hung up on one of the rungs in the Ladder. I pulled a bit harder and the Box fell back down towards George.

 What happen next was happen in less than a second. I didn’t know that Gelignite wouldn’t explode when it was dropped and so thinking that the whole box of Gelignite would explode, I threw myself flat on the ground behind me, right into a large puddle of water. Next I heard George singing out “Alright, try it now, but slowly.” I did and the Box came up to my delight.

When George came up to where I was, he ask me how come that I was all wet. When I told him what had happen and what I did, he laughed so much that I thought that he would never stop or do himself a injury. First he told me that the big Cave looking place we were in was called a “Stope” He said that the Machine-Miners would work in here first.

They would drill deep holes into the Rock Walls, to a certain pattern and in the Afternoon they would fill these Holes with Explosives called “Anfo”. Then at 2-30pm they would light the Fuses to the Explosives, after they would quickly depart from the Stope and then listen out to the amount of Explosions that could be heard.

 Every Miner knows how many of these holes he had drilled, filled with Explosives and then lit. If one or more charges had not exploded he had to notify his shift-boss, so that no one was allowed to enter that Stope until it was made Safe. Next he showed me the Rock-Wall where the Miner had drilled the Rock-Wall, which was called a “Face”

  After this he took me over to explain the “Scraper” to me. What I could see was a winch like looking machine, except instead of having one drum to hold the Cable it had two.  Both cables ran out to the Back-Wall, where at a certain spot a short hole had been drilled. In to it an Iron Pin with a ring had been solidly wedged into the Hole. Next you would place a Pulley onto the Pin and the feed one of the cables through it.

Author operating a Scraper

 The end of this cable would then be attached to the back of a Scraper- blade and the other cable-end to the front of the Scraper-Blade. By then pressing down on one of the drum brakes, you then can move the scraper-blade forward to fill it with ore or back to start a new run. In front of the Scraper is a big hole in the ground, which is the Ore-Pass.

You scrape all your small ore down into here. The Ore-Pass goes all the way down onto the next Level, where a Train will pick up the Ore. George then explained to me, that when I had scraped out all the Ore that I could get, I would have to move the Pulley over a bit. He was going to show me how to drill a small hole into the Ore-Face.

 First he brought up a Air-Hose next a Water-Hose, then he brought up a Pneumatic Drill, he connected an Air-Hose to the Drill. He also connected what he called an Air-Leg, which looked like a hydraulic ram. To this he connected the Air-Hose. Now by turning on the Air, not only could he use the Drill, but also use the Air-Leg to support the Drill and apply pressure to it.

 Next he put a Drill-Bit into the Drill. All Drill-Bits were hollow so that water could run through them whiles he was drilling. This was to stop him from making Dust by drilling. In the old Days the Miners had to use Drills without Water and so they were making lots of Dust. Because the Miners breathed in this fine Dust they slowly destroyed their Lunges and died.

Thus the Drills of old were called “Widowmakers”.  George then put a short Drill-Bit into the Drill and proceeded to drill a Hole into the Rock-Face.  It didn’t seem that long, but next it was Lunchtime and we climbed down from our Stope to the Drive where not far from us was a Table with Benches. Some of the Men were already sitting there, George introduced me all around and then told everyone the Story about me and the Gelignite.

Of course everybody laughed and I could feel my Face going Red. But they were a good Bunch and soon everybody was telling their Stories of doing something funny when they first went underground. Here I also learned that the Table was called a “Crib-Table” and your Lunch tin the Miners carry was called a Crib-Tin.

 George told me that if I saw the Blacksmith on the Surface, he would for a small Fee, make me a Crib-Tin. All I could think of, was that there was still so much I had to learn. When we got back to our place of work George showed me a couple of large Rocks and he told me that we had to break them up so that they could fit through the “Grisly” I have to ask George later what a “Grisly” is, as I was sure that it was not a Bear.

 When I ask George how the Hell were we going to break-up a Rock that size, as it seem to be pure Granit. He told me this is where the Gelignite came in. He continued to tell me that you would then drill a Hole into the Rock and place some Gelignite in it and thus blowing it up. The other way we could do it and we will, is by placing a Stick of Gelignite with Fuse on the Rock and then cover it up with wet Dirt.

He told me that the wet Dirt on it would make the force of the Blast go down and thus break the Rock in many smaller pieces. Once he had that done, he lit the Fuse with a special Fuselighter and told me to quickly follow him. He didn’t have to tell me twice. I ran after him and we waited just around the corner. He lit a Cigarette and we waited for the Blast which happen after we had been around the Corner for only a few seconds.

 George finished his Cigarette and we had a look at what damage the Blast had made. The Rock was split in many small pieces except for two, which George said we had to break-up with the Spoiler. I wondered if they brought out a Dictionary just for Miners. Naturally George showed me what a Spoiler was he came back with this giant Sledgehammer and told me that it was a Spoiler.

 He then proceeded to hit the Rock till it broke up into more pieces and told me that I could break-up the other one. After about 8 hits I could feel myself getting a Blister on my Hand, but I didn’t dare to say anything. Just after 2pm George started to pack our Gear away and we went back to the Crib-Table. We sat down and he told me that we were finish for the Day but the Skip wouldn’t come until after 3pm to pick us up of the Platform.

 After a while we walked out to the Platform where already some of the Miners were sitting or lying about. There were 2 Fellows that had a lot of Gear like Chainblocks and Steel Slings. George told me that these men were Underground-Riggers and that they would go up before anybody else as they had to clean and store their Equipment. Eventfully the Skip took us to the Surface where I saw the Forman standing by the Door to his Office.

 When he saw me he ask me how did I like my first Day Underground. I just grinned and told him that I would see him tomorrow. Well that was my first day. I still worked with George for the next Week, but after that I was put on my own. Several month later Jack ask me if I would like to try something else.

Author (second from left) with mates at the crib table

 I couldn’t see any reason why I shouldn’t and so Jack put me with Bluey, who was the Rigger. All I could think of was that this Job could be interesting, especially since I had worked in Queensland as a Rigger on high Buildings. I soon found out that this was nothing like it. Bluey was an easy-going old Fellow, he wasn’t far of retiring Jack told me they were looking for a suitable replacement.

Somebody told me that he was called “Two-way Bluey” as his Light would shine one way and he would walk the other way. There were many of these stories about Bluey but that is for later. I also found out that the Riggers main work was to shift things, like a Scraper from one Stope to another. Later in my Career I even had to shift a large Loco from the Surface to the 25 Level. Bluey and I were always going down on the last Skip and most of the Time we came up at about 2-30 pm.

 I as the Offsider was supposedly stay down in the Mine and come up with the rest of the Miners. Bluey had told Jack that he needed me with him on the Surface. Jack knew that this was Bullshit, but he wasn’t all that worried as long as we got the Job done. After about 3 Month working with Bluey, Jack told me that I would have to work from now on without Bluey as he last night had a Stroke and would not be coming back. The first thing that I did was order some more Equipment.

What I ordered was; Chain-Blocks, D-Shackles, Slings, Chain and most importantly a 5ton Tirfor. Nobody knew what a Tirfor was and so I had to explain that it was similar to an Endless Chain. You could get different length of Steel-Rope for it, up to 100’ feet long. The main body was flat about 3’ inches thick 2’ long and 12” high, it had a lever on top with a separate Handle for it.

The Steel-Cable you would feed through it attach the back End of the Tirfor to something solid and then pull the Cable through until you reach the Item that you want to move. Attach the Hook of the Rope to what you want to move, the Handle to the Tirfor. Move the Handle to and fro and you will move your Item towards you.

Mostly the Tirfor is use with SUVs as Recovery Gear.  On my first Day as a Rigger I had to go down to the 32 Level to move one of the big Sullivan Scrapers. With me I took Chain Blocks and Slings mainly also I had a large Canvas Shoulder bag in which I carried several different Spanners, some Pins and a Hammer, which is called a “Gympie” I don’t know where they get all these Names from. By the time that I got to the Stope that the Scraper was situated in I was wet right through from Sweat.

 It wasn’t the Heat, but the Humidity that was so bad down here. When I got to the Scraper I saw that somebody else had already taken of the Blade which meant less work for me. So I sat down on the ground and undid the 6 Nuts of the Bolts that were holding the Scraper to a wooden Bed. Only Scrapers that are going to be there for a while have a wooden Bed. Having the Nuts undone, I was lucky to discover a Drill Hole right above the Scraper.

With a narrow Wedge I hammered the Pin into the Hole and attached a Chain-Block to it. Next I put some Slings onto the Scraper and then connected them to the Chain Block. By now it was time for me to sit down and have a “Smoke.” I found out early in the Game that you have to take it easy. Nearly all Accidents are caused by your on neglect. I got up and started to pull on the Chain, but no matter how hard I pulled the Scraper would not move.

 I walked around the scraper but could not find anything. What I needed was a big Steel Bar to try to loosen the Scraper, but as I didn’t have one with me I had to find other means. The only thing that I could think of was to use Hammer and Chisel. I found both in my Bag and so proceeded to try under one corner first. After a few hits I found that I was in Luck and so again I worked the Chain-Block. I found that still it was not lifting but just taking up the slack.

 I kept on hitting that chisel till it disappeared, still pulling up more slack I moved the Chisel to the opposite corner. There after a few hits the Scraper was free and I was able to lift it of the Bed. Next I looked in the direction that I had to drag the Scraper. By doing this I could roughly guess where I had to put the next Pin for the Chain-Block.

 I was in Luck and found a Pin-Hole right where I had wanted it. Old Bluey must have had them put there to bring the Scraper in. So from here on it got better. It was still hard going, pull it forward, shift the Chain-Block, then forward again and so on. After a while I had to take a break again and just as I sat down Jack came to find me.

 He greeted me and then sat down too. He then ask me if I could leave this Job for now and go to where Colin was working on the 22 Level. Apparently his Scraper Blade had fallen down the Ore-Pass as it had snapped one of the Ropes. I ask Jack if Colin hadn’t tried to pull it up with the other rope. Jack smiled and told me that Colin had tried but broke the other Rope too.

 I put my Tools into my Bag, slung a Chain-Block over my Shoulder and walked out to the Shaft to catch the Skip up to the 22 Level. Jack came out with me and so it was him that rang the Bell to get the Skip down to us. As soon as he rang, the Phone rang and the Skip Operator (Skippy) as why did we want the Skip. When he found out that it was Jack that had rung he brought the Skip down to us. I loaded my Gear and we went up to the 22 Level.

 Once we got there I grabbed one of the Locos that was sitting there and drove to the Stope where Colin was working. Just to make things clear, after a while at the mine everybody knows where everybody else is working. When I got into the Stope Colin was waiting for me. He was happy to see me and so ask how I was going to get his Scraper-Blade out of the Ore-Pass.

 The Ore-Pass is fairly deep as it reaches right down to the next Level where the Trains pull the Ore out to take it to the Grisly. I leaned carefully over the edge of the Ore-Pass and I could see the Scraper-Blade right at the bottom. I was glad that I had brought with me my climbing Rope. I attached on end to the Scraper as I knew that this was solid.

 By now a couple more men had arrived, I think mostly to watch. I told Colin that I was going to climb down on my Rope and then try to reattach the Steel-Rope to the Blade. The men that were standing around us told me that I was Mad. I think to do this Job one has to be Mad. Colin’s and my main worries were that there was about half a ton of Ore hanging up above the Blade.

 He told me that he had tried to dislodge it with no Luck. I just told him not to worry and started to climb down. As I got level with the Ore that was hung up I started to worry a bit, but then I thought “What the Hell” and kept climbing down. Once at the bottom of the Ore-Pass with the Scraper-Blade I carefully tied the Steel-Rope to the back of the Blade.

This way the Blade shouldn’t catch on anything and go up without any problems. One thing, I was going to make sure that I was out of that Hole before they brought up that Scraper-Blade. Here I nearly didn’t make it, as I got near the Top of the Ore-Pass. With all the Perspiration I had on my Hands, I lost my grip on the Rope and slid back down, with the Rope cutting deep into the Flesh of my Arm. Now forty Years later, one can still see the Marks from the Rope on my right Arm. Lots more funny things happen down here, but I will leave that for another time.

I hope you enjoyed reading this short-story.