Next morning, after rehanging the still damp laundry in the morning sun a little longer, I start breaking camp looking forward to travelling a bit more again. First off I head to the township of St Arnaud to refuel and seeing as it's lunchtime, grab some takeaway chips for lunch as well as a bottle of Stones Green Ginger Wine for its night time warming effects. Then by rambling along via Logan, I end up at Moliagul, birthplace of the Reverend John Flynn, "Flynn of the Inland", the founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service and numerous inland hospitals (Oodnadatta was his first and up until a couple of years ago, was still the main medical centre in the remote north-eastern corner of South Australia) as well as a host of amazing innovations that substantially improved the life, even today, of country Australians. A stop at the monument for a photo....
for a great Wikipedia entry on this amazing man's life. It's well worth it. Seriously.
Go on, have a look. We'll be waiting here for you when you return.
Anyway, while that fella's gone, let's go look at the second most interesting thing nearby, out at the Moliagul gold field area. This...
It's the supposed exact spot where the world's largest ever gold nugget, The Welcome Stranger
, was found. This sign nearby tells a little of the story as well...
After chatting to another couple on a Kawasaki Z1000, I rode onwards, north through the Kooyoora State Park and Rheola goldfield area up to Melville caves. After taking on some pretty average tasting water from the campground and seeing it infested with kids from what appeared to be a Scout camp, I decide to leave. Formed camps really aren't my thing, especially when it's Saturday evening and there's a bunch of lil' bastard scouts everywhere. If they were anything like me when I was a Scout, I'd be lucky if they left me a bare bike frame and the outer tent fly by morning. So with the sun setting, I ride back south through a tiny area proclaiming "Historic Berlin Goldfield", towards the forrest west of Rheola Goldfield. In here, I chase logging tracks in the dark, hoping to find signs of old mining activity. Down one 4wd track called "Stage Coach Robbery Track", I spot really great signs of an area worth prospecting but continue anyway. After what seems like a couple of hours of riding every track in the forrest, I decide to head back to the Berlin field. I'm not sure why, but the forrest just didn't feel lucky.
At Berlin, I find a decent clearing with plenty of firewood, so set up camp in the starlight and then relax by the fire for the evening with the radio and the bottle of Stone's. In the quiet of the night, not too far off I can hear the grunting call of a male koala, answered by the shrill scream of an adult drop bear and the barking of frightened farm dogs. After about half an hour of this screaming, grunting and barking, I hear a single gunshot ring out in the dark from the nearby farmhouse and the screaming cries cease, followed soon after by the bark of the dogs. The koala keeps grunting away late into the evening. He's about 2 or 300 metres west of me, across the road in the other section of the goldfield. He's obviously lonely. I just hope the Drop Bear isn't wounded and headed my way.
Next morning I fire up the metal detector after porridge o'clock and start digging targets within feet of my tent. On the fourth dig, I find a good strong signal that sees me going down about six inches through the firm brown loamy soil. What I finally pull out of the hole really stuns me. I have to look a couple of times at it to make sure it's real. Then a big smile creeps across my face that I can't move all day. I put my find into a zip up pocket of my tankbag pack and continue sweeping the area, digging up any signal I hear. The rest of the day is spent sweeping the campsite and some of the old mine holes and diggings nearby. But I can't help but stop occasionally just to open the zipped pocket and check out my find every so often. I'll show you it at the end of the report.
How's that for a deal?
The end of the day finally comes and I reckon I've dug a hundred signals. And I'm loving it. It's like fishing, waiting for a bite to come. That night the koala fires into life again, followed soon by the farm dogs but no nocturnal screaming animals.
The following morning, after breakfast I go back over the area close to my tent, listening intently for fainter signals. I actually pick up and dig a few signals that I somehow missed, but they're just junk. This makes me grab the bag my camp oven usually lives in, to gather up everything I dig, just to show you what it's like working this old field. Then I slowly work up the hill, closer to the roadway. At what must be about 11am, a white four wheel drive comes to a screeching halt on the roadway near the track into my camp. I'm off a couple hundred metres away, working a grid pattern search of a hillside. The 4wd comes along the track, continuing past my bike and tent and comes to a stop in the darker, thicker forrest nearby. Out jump three male adults and a tall teenage lad. Two of the adults look like real hillbillies, with bib style overalls, no shirts and long, scruffy red hair. The other male, the driver, has one arm in a sling and one leg in a medical brace. He looks like he's just been let out of hospital recently, the way he's moving about slowly. But they've all got sacks, the size of pillow cases, and straight away they start bending down, talking excitedly while picking stuff off the ground.
What the Hell? Are they gathering rocks or something. Then it dawns on me....they must be gathering the hallucinogenic "magic" mushrooms that are growing everywhere. I keep working the area, going up and back trying to appear like I'm totally ignoring them, where the opposite is true. One even walks within about thirty metres of me but doesn't say a thing. I've got the headphones on so even if he did, I probably didn't hear him. One thing I do know is that what they're doing is totally illegal, thanks to big signs at the entry of every park and forrest I've seen so far. I'm just glad I'm built like a brick shithouse and don't look like an easy target to cause trouble with. Within about twenty minutes, they've filled their bags and all jump back into the vehicle before zooming out onto the road and away. It's then that I realise I've made a huge mistake by continuing to detect, picking up and placing junk into my scrap bag. It must have looked like I was constantly gathering nuggets. This gets me a bit worried they might return later to rob me. Not the best of thoughts when you're in a forrest all alone. Anyway, by the end of the day I'm tired of gathering trash, so return to camp. Here's the huge haul for the day....
Left to right - pan handle, piece of metal pipe, kerosene tin handle, two modern (1980's) beer pull tabs, under these what might be an old miner's belt buckle piece, next a huge pile of old horse shoe and hand made timber nails, above them some thicker pieces of steel from mining machinery and possibly a shattered firearm breach section, then pieces of lead and steel from food tins and tubes and buckets/billy cans, then a couple of bits of wire.
Just shows it's not as easy as you'd think. But I'd rather be picking this stuff up than nothing at all. Why? Because it means I'm working an area that probably hasn't been worked over yet by anyone else, other than the original miners, which is what you want out on these fields.
Next morning, after thoughts of the four druggies returning all evening, I decide to move on again further east. But before that, I work a small errosion gully with the detector before returning to camp with a bucket of water from a deep puddle. It's time for another bush bath 'cause I can smell myself again and it's not too sweet.
I take a full billy of creek water and after making sure it has no frogs in it, boil it on the campfire. Doing this a couple of times, It's great to strip off in the sun and scrub the old hide down with the hot water and soap. I'm glad nobody drove in again, especially long haired hillbillies in overalls.
The red bag (metal detector roll top bag) was my shower mat, bike the soap holder, shower curtain and change room. The collapsable bucket holds twenty litres but a good scrub only takes about five litres. The remainder becomes laundry water. Crude, but it worked well. I bet it's been done out on this goldfield plenty of times before. This field had up to about 4000 miners back when it was rushed in 1868.
While packing up camp, I was reminded of something from a few days earlier. Back when I was shopping in the supermarket at St Arnaud, I had some friendly stranger come up and do the usual, "Your bike's really loaded down, isn't it?" comment. I guess the tyre does make it look like that, but other than the mining equipment and Polar Bear food cooler, it's the same gear as I normally carry. I didn't swing at his stupid grin, instead I just said, "Not really. It just looks that way. It's actually quite light." Maybe you think the same as this stranger? I don't think it's excessive, considering I intended going out on the fields for a fortnight doing unsupported bush camping, but here's a couple of photo's of what was in each bag.
Left to right - Luxurylite cot, Trek-lite Derwent 3 man alloy pole tent, USMC Bivy bag with -10c Synthetic sleeping bag and Exped 9Dlx inflating mattress, above that the new 17inch spare standard duty tube, alongside a silk sleeping bag liner, 4 metre batwing tarp, bubbogears nesting alloy tarp poles, Alite Monarch chair, above that the folding 20 litre bucket, alonside that my stainless camp oven and all cooking gear (spoon/cup/matches/salt/flint firestarter) including some food inside, below that a coleman self-inflating pillow for use with my sheepskin seat cover, a Coleman 185 lumens LED Lantern wrapped in an Andy Strapz combination neck warmer/beanie, then a blue compression laundry bag with two air removing roll bags each containing a spare t-shirt, woolen socks and underpants.
I'm quite happy with what I took. Everything got used every day. My luxuries were the Alite Monarch chair, the LED lantern, my MP3 player (in tank bag) and transistor radio (in tankbag) and a small folding trenching shovel I used for mining and cooking, as well as digging the toilet hole at each site (strapped to left crash bar). I guess the Luxurylite camp stretcher or the Exped 9DLX mat could have stayed home but together they were better than my bed at home and I didn't mind the weight. I took two spare changes of t-shirt, socks and underpants plus what I was wearing, which gave me a comfortable amount of clothing in this cold weather (0C to about 20C most days.) I also wore an Andy Strapz neck warmer/beanie, which was used to wrap the LED lantern while travelling. I had a thin silk balaclava mask to wear under the helmet when it rained or was too cold. This bag would have weighed less than 20 kilo's, including cans of food.
The 12 pack sized Polar Bear cooler had the rice packets, porridge oats and any other food supplies in. It was going to sit at the back of the rear carrier prior to grabbing the tyre and stuffing my packing plans. It actually sat really well inside the spare tyre. These are a brilliant food cooler for bike touring. This weighs about 3 kilos including all food.
The Ogio bum bag held just enough tools to handle a sparkplug change, basic electrical repairs, tank removal, carby overhaul and chain repair. I could actually tear the engine down with it if I was carefull with the 1/4 inch Metrinch sockets and L shaped screwdriver bit/socket drive bar. The main tool is a high quality adjustable 6 inch long spanner with carefully matched, machined faces - it never rounds bolt heads if adjusted properly. It's mainly for axle nuts and chain adjusters. The bag also holds a tyre repair kit, Topeak Two Timer hand pump (with a mini Slime electric pump in the tank pannier bags), red gasket goo, case repair two part liquid arildite, a few o-rings, zip ties, blade fuses, assorted spare bolts and washers plus the couple of metres of shoestring thickness para cord for binding repairs to handlebars/broken limbs/clothes line. I keep the tyre levers on my handlebar cross pad and about three or four metres of cloth reinforced "100mph" race tape rolled around the mirror stalks (which stops them vibrating as well). The Ogio bag weighs about 1.5 kilos.
All bundled up, the metal detector packed down really well, wrapped in a warm scarf I wore at night with my winter jacket liner taken out of the riding jacket. The methylated spirits bottle was used to carry the port wine from home and later, the decanted Stone's Green Ginger wine. The bottles are super light, really leak proof and very strong. The headphones sit wrapped in the sleeping bag compression sack on top of the detector coil. The orange Exped bag contained a spare pair of MX goggles. The geologist hammer sat under the detector unit and didn't cause any issues. The two inner tube rubber bands (from an old rear tube) work as spare tie down straps usually but were used this trip to stop my MX pants dragging on the ground while walking around detecting. All up, this bag weighed less than 5 kilos.
The Cortech 21 litre tank bag contained my silk helmet balaclava for cold/wet weather riding, a Kodak point and shoot camera, a Panasonic FZ40 super zoom camera, a sharp Gerber folding pocket knife, toiletries, toothbrush, muesli bars, earplugs, rechargeable camera batteries, MP3 player with seperate Altech Lansing amplified speaker, am/fm transistor radio, chewing gum and sugary lollies (emergency food
) plus some Vitamin C drink powder sachets (emergency drink for bore water
The Steel Pony tank panniers had my winter gloves (used daily this trip), toilet paper, fire starter cubes, Slime mini electric air pump, prospecting information books with field maps, floppy hat, new tube patch kit (after Horsham) and three MSR 4 litre dromedary water bladders. Basically bulky gear needed daily on the road or camping priority items.
I'd be happy travelling around the country permanently with this kit. The only thing I have at home to add is a Katadyn Base Camp water purifier kit and a Katadyn water purifier pump, plus a set of rear Steel Pony canvas panniers.
Anyway, enough of gear, its time to see things, find new goldfields and meet interesting people. One of those people I meet just up the road, here....