My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky.
I was named Martina after my mother but my dad shortened the name to Tina. My grandfather said that Tina sounds cheap. He also said that my father wasn’t good enough for his daughter. Granddad was a tall broad shouldered man with a face half-hidden in a shiny white beard. People took notice of him.
My parents are migrants; they were brought to Australia as children so they grew up as Australians but I suppose they are still migrants. I wonder when a person stops being a migrant. I was born in Australia, I do not speak anything but English so I could hardly be called a migrant.
If you choose to live in a foreign country, you have to become one of them. You re-establish yourself faster if you forget about nationality and politics, said my grandfather. He said that no particular nation or social order is better than the other. People take for themselves what they can get away with. First they fight for power and wealth and then they fight for peace so they can keep what they took.
I sometimes wonder what nationality really means because migrants clutch to it, some even dig into their origins to find their identity. I suppose they have to, cutting themselves away as they did; they have to attach themselves to something. It is different for me, of course; I have my family here.
After my grandfather died Nan sold her big house and moved into the granny flat next to us. I have no idea why Nan likes me better than her other grandchildren but she does. Maybe she wants me to live her life for her.
I finished high school and was accepted to Teachers College. As a graduation present Nan paid for me to go by bus to Lightning Ridge.
Tina, darling, said Nan, find out what the rest of the world is doing. Don’t grow old and sorry for not doing the things you could have done.
So here I am in Lightning Ridge with the bus load of tourists for the Easter weekend. Two of my girlfriends came with me.
Lightning Ridge bowling club is a meeting place for all the misplaced adventurers, the bus driver tells us. You’ll meet interesting people.
We order drinks and move into the corner of the bowling club auditorium to have a better view of the boys at the bar.
Tall, tanned, broad shoulders, olive skin, my friend points to the man at the bar.
He has an incredible smile.
He is adorable.
He’s got the nicest butt I’ve ever seen.
We meet Anthony.
We flirt with Anthony and our girlish laughter attracts other young men to our table. Anthony suggests that we come on a sightseeing tour next morning. He takes us around the opal fields and shows us his mine and his camp and his opal cutting gear. We are fascinated by the primitive bush existence. We are transported into the Stone Age.
In the evening we drink beer under the gum trees while Anthony barbecues chops for us. Jim and Bill join us and tell amazing stories about the opal they found and the fun they had finding it.
Bill must be close to sixty but he still goes up and down the ladder every morning, explains Anthony.
We escaped from real life? Says Anthony’s partner Jim. Jim has a crop of curly red hair and eyes so green that they dazzle you.
What real life, says Bill. Are computers real life? In the city you watch TV and you think like TV and talk like TV. You begin repeating the opinions of the journalists who repeat the opinions of the politicians who repeat the directions given to them by their party leaders paid by the multinationals who are building their global markets.
We can think for ourselves, I protest.
Of course you can. You can cook as well but it is cheaper to buy ready cooked food. They teach you that it is more sensible to do nothing.
I can cook, I say. Mum made sure of that.
Of course you know how to cook but will you cook? Will your children know how to?
Anthony and Jim are in their twenties. Anthony chiselled the white sandstone into brick like blocks and made four walls on the slab of cement. He covered them with corrugated iron and moved in.
I don’t need doors and windows yet. I have nothing worth stealing. When I find some opal I will put the locks on, laughs Anthony. I sleep outside under a mosquito net anyway.
Jim lives in a caravan right next to Anthony’s camp. He tied a large piece of canvass to a tree and he lives under this annexe most of the time.
Somewhere between sunrise and sundown you work like mad to find a bit of colour. The rest of the time you spend as you like and anyway you like to spend your time is fine, says Jim. There is always hope that opal will be in the next load.
When you join the system you put yourself in line for promotion and then you wait for promotion and pay rise. You are constantly afraid that you will fail because you may not be good enough. When there is no more chance for promotion, you slip away and die, says Bill.
Bill lives in a tin shed near a dam about hundred metres from here, explains Anthony.
Here you believe anything you like and live in anything you like, says old Bill. Perhaps he wants to explain that he lives in a dusty hot tin shed because he chooses to.
I could never get used to this, says my girlfriend.
In Lightning Ridge you are either high with excitement or tired from digging, says Bill. You pay cash and don’t have to explain where you come from or where you are heading. Think about that. Opal miners are the only people moving incognito. You only stay on the opal fields if you value your freedom highly enough. No sane person would stay in the dust and heat if freedom wasn’t their highest priority.
I am surprised that taxation allows cash industry, says my friend.
The government is happy that mining keeps the men out of mischief, says Bill. They know that we are a rare breed still willing to break our backs for less money than the social security offers you for watching videos. They allow us to sell opal for cash, because they have it on computers how much opal is sold. They know that this amount could not keep ten thousand people either in prison or in a mental hospital.
People say that opal miners want to get rich fast, says my friend.
Getting rich is only a dream. Miners know how unrealistic this dream is but you have to have a dream.
As long as you have hope, you are rich, says Jim.
Here you live in an unspoiled future. It does not matter what mistakes and wrongs were in the past because the past is gone and finished with. The only important time is the time ahead and only in the future can we achieve anything remotely like perfection. To dream about the future is the only happiness, says Bill.
You are telling fairy tales, laughs my girlfriend.
Fairy tales promise that sometime in the future the prince charming will kiss you and you will live happily ever after. It is only a dream. Like opals, says Bill. Fairy tales make you believe that there is actually someone who will make you happy. Nobody makes you happy. You are happy or you are not.
When I came to Lightning Ridge an old miner told me: When you get a feeling to do something, lay down until the feeling passes. Here you lean on people who do nothing and wait for each other to do nothing together, laughs Jim.
Maybe we are wrong in thinking that being smart, active and creative means being better, I say to my friends.
Maybe whatever makes you happy is better, says Anthony.
This Swiss mental health nurse observed that Lightning Ridge is much like her hospital only people here cook for themselves, says Bill.
Someone told her that they took mental patients from Bloomfield for an excursion and the bus broke down in Lightning Ridge so they never returned, adds Jim.
Don’t frighten the girls; they will think that we are all mad, says Anthony.
There are more philosophers and politicians in Lightning Ridge than anywhere else looking at life and doing nothing about it, laughs Jim.
You go to the club to hear voices. Everybody talks but nobody listens, says Bill.
You hear who made it on opal and who didn’t. What else is there, says Jim.
Perhaps everybody needs to do something and does something. Maybe this is the reason people paint more pictures and write more poetry in Lightning Ridge than anywhere else, says Bill.
I built my castle out of the sandstone, Says Anthony. Some miners build castles in the clouds. We are all waiting for the fairy princess to illuminate our lives.
The boys want to impress us and we are totally impressionable after a stubby of beer. Our eighteen years old innocence is making it possible for us to fall in love with anything. We are in love with life, our future seems promising and the excitement of being a grown up is totally intoxicating.
Ridge is a place where you can become a nobody, says Bill.
Who would want to be a nobody, says my girlfriend.
Sometimes you will want to escape, says Bill.
I suppose when you get old, says my friend.
Age has nothing to do with it. I came here at twenty to do whatever I fancied, when I fancied it and however I liked to do it. Nobody is watching you here. You can call yourself Red or Blue or Charlie or Mary. You live outside the calendar and business hours and identity papers.
Most miners are on social security but they pretend that they are self sufficient, laughs Jim.
I have never been on social security, I would not put my name on a computer, says Bill. Nobody knows that I exist. Social services began searching for our weaknesses and needs. The system takes your strength and makes you dependent. Every time you help the chick out of the shell you deprive the bird of the struggle that hatching is meant to provide.
I will never forget the magic of this sunset. The sky is unbelievable. The deep purple changes into green and red and pink as the sun is setting. You can see pictures of anything you want to imagine in the sky. It is easy for us, eighteen years old girls, to imagine. When you are in love you see the colours around you and remember them forever.
Jim brings out an old guitar and begins strumming popular tunes. We end up singing old Abba songs that have been out of fashion for years in the city, but these romantic tunes vibrate anew with the night and the company.
Anthony holds my hand in the privacy of darkness.
We are leaving a few days later and Anthony gives me an opal ring before I board the bus. We kiss passionately.
I return to Lightning Ridge a month later. Mum and dad are horrified, they threaten to disown me and they tell me never to return if I go. They even call the police but they can do nothing about it. I am old enough and free to do as I like.
I am eighteen and in love for the first time. This love is the greatest thing that ever happened to me and no reasoning enters into it. I could climb Rocky Mountains barefoot.
I help Anthony build the camp. My hands become rough, my fingernails are chipped and dirty, my hair is straggly, and my clothes are impregnated with clay dust. My eyes shine.
Anthony is always surrounded with friends. They bring him opal to cut and they talk opal and mining as they drink in the shade of the gum trees.
After six months I become sick of the dirt and grime and poverty. There is nothing for me at the Ridge. I need my parents and my friends and the buzz of the city. For Christmas I move back to Sydney.
I want to go to uni and finish my degree. Maybe I will do teaching. Maybe I will come back, I tell Anthony.
You’ll do as your heart tells you, says Anthony. We kiss good bye.
Anthony isn’t ambitious, he isn’t going anywhere. He likes the lifestyle and the bush but that isn’t enough for me. It isn’t enough for my parents either.
Back in Sydney we celebrate the New Year’s Eve in the club. I dance with Mark. His mum Mojca and my mum look at us approvingly as we dance cheek to cheek.
At midnight Mark and I walk out and kiss under a huge Christmas tree. Everybody is kissing for New Year.
The next day I have my first morning sickness. I try to fool myself that it is just a hangover but I know that I am pregnant. The knowledge comes from within. I miss Anthony and I want to tell him that we are going to have a baby. I want my child to have a father. I love Anthony.
I return to Lightning Ridge and marry Anthony in the Lyons Park. Mum and dad refuse to come and witness my vows to the man who ruined my life. They don’t know about the pregnancy.
Jim is Anthony’s best man and Merelyn is my witness. I met Merelyn in the courthouse, where she works as a clerk. I inquired about the marriage licence and we became instant friends. When you are alone and new in a place it is easy to attach yourself instantly like that.
In March I go down the shaft to surprise Anthony. I slip on the ladder and fall down a couple of metres. I don’t worry about it but next day I lose our baby. Anthony and I comfort each other. There will be another baby. We settle down and I learn to cut opal while Anthony mines.
I am too ashamed to run back home. I am married.
Mark arrives in April for the Easter weekend.
I wanted to see the famous goat races you told me about, says Mark.
I am on the verge of tears most days since I lost the baby. Mark seems to be there whenever I need a sympathetic friend.
In Sydney our families met at dances, funerals, weddings and protest marches. Migrants are like that.
The three of us were born in Australia to parents who came from places only a few kilometres apart, says Mark.
We grew up with our parents’ nostalgia for Europe and the good old days they escaped from, I say.
Italians and Austrians and Slovenian are Catholic and as good Catholics they interbred through centuries, says Anthony.
I don’t really care where we came from. We are Australians, I say.
I was actually born in Italy but I don’t know anyone there because my parents came here when I was a baby, says Anthony.
We really don’t know much about our ancestors, Mark agrees. Anthony and Mark like each other from the start.
Mark decides to stay.
I have finished a lapidary course and would like to try cutting and buying, says Mark. He buys a big house on the main street of Lightning Ridge. It is covered by a jungle of old grapevines, which he carefully prunes and cultivates. It produces a bumper crop of delicious grapes. Mark and Anthony decide to make wine. Anthony makes a winepress.
If the grape vines produced as well in Slovenia I bet my father would never have come to Australia. His family had a winery, explains Mark.
The wine will keep in the mine best, because the temperature is even underground, says Jim.
We could lower the drum into the shaft near my camp, says Anthony.
You will come to visit regularly then, I smile at Mark.
There will always be an excuse to come over, Mark winks at me.
Mark is a link to my other life in Sydney. We are just friends, of course, but he is the reminder that there is life outside Lightning Ridge. I haven’t been anywhere for ages and I am becoming restless for that other life.
Anthony and Mark spend more time with each other than with me.
A couple of friends from Sydney are coming for Easter. I bought a pig and you can help with the spit, says Anthony.
I wish you would get a phone connected, says Mark.
If I put the phone on, people will stop coming to see me. Anthony shuns modern conveniences.
But you are never home, says Mark.
But when I am home there is always someone coming.
We have no rain for a year and then for Easter it rains every time, says Bill as he comes to say hello to our visitors Gino and Mario.
Mark and Anthony prepare the spit. Jim gets the fire going. They taste the new homemade wine.
It has great bouquet, says Gino after his second glass.
It’s strong, says Mario.
Come I’ll show you the traces, says Anthony and they follow him underground.
I seem surrounded with men who barely notice me. They come to get drinks and food and to be told where the towels and the socks and the glasses are. I miss the intimacy Anthony and I used to have. Mark and I flirt in an unintentional, obscure way that makes me even less contented.
I am homesick. I want to escape. I remember my family, our traditional Easter breakfasts, our going to church and our remembering. I want to be part of all the traditions Nan brought to Australia and which mum so carefully preserved. Everything in our home was as it should be; the right crockery the right tablecloth, the right dress and the right food for the occasion. Propriety was the most important thing in mum’s life.
Mark sits in the shade of a gum tree turning the spit. I prepare the salads and the tables.
You miss your family, Bill senses my unhappiness.
They probably miss me.
It takes time to accept solitude but it can be a great substitute for people. You realise how big you are, when you become a part of everything, says Bill.
I feel small, I smile holding back tears.
You have to disappear into smallness before you become a part of greatness, smiles Bill.
They must be finding opal, calls Mark.
Wine more likely.
The pig is ready, Mark calls down the shaft.
Be right up, yells Anthony.
We can’t wait, calls Mark.
Come down for a minute, calls Gino.
I’ll be right back, says Mark going down the shaft.
To Lightning Ridge, toasts Anthony.
To Mark and Anthony, our winery experts, toasts Bill pouring a second glass for Mark.
Viticulture, man, says Anthony.
It’s too strong for me on an empty stomach. I am out, says Mark.
Let me go first, says Mario. He tries to lift himself up the ladder.
What’s wrong with you, says Gino. Let me. His hands don’t hold him and he settles back on the opal dirt roaring with laughter.
You are drunk, you bastards. How much did you have? Says Mark.
Two glasses, insists Mario.
Yeah, right, the first and the last, laughs Mark. Go up in front of me and I’ll push you up.
I don’t think I can make it, says Mario.
What’s the matter with you, you can’t get drunk on a couple of glasses.
Of course not, says Anthony as he lies next to Gino.
If you don’t get up the flies will eat the spit, I call down the shaft but there is only laughter coming back.
Throw down some rugs and pillows, the bastards are drunk, answers Mark.
Where is the opal, you promised to show them, asks Mark but Anthony is half asleep next to Jim, Mario and Gino.
I drop old blankets in the mine and Mark and Bill put them under the men. The damp dirt is dangerous for your joints.
Bill and Mark help me pack the food in the small kerosene fridge before they go home.
The grapes were overripe and the wine is as strong as spirits, says Bill.
I try to forget about the stupid drunks and go to sleep.
I feel painfully alone. Fay, a pregnant Aboriginal girl is staying next door in a tent with Jim but she is too shy to join the party. She doesn’t even come out of the caravan to see what the men are doing. I call her for coffee but she doesn’t feel like it. I need someone to share my misery with. I go to her tent and she offers me a smoke. I have my first cigarette. I feel silly trying to make friends with this native girl. Fay wouldn’t understand how I feel but she is all I have. At this moment I would tell a cat how I feel.
I want to go home and start again; I want to go out and have fun with my school friends. I want to forget that I have ever been to Lightning Ridge. I cry myself to sleep for the first time.
The men come up after midnight. They sleep late. For lunch we eat the cold pork and they laugh about their attempts to get up the ladder.
At least you don’t have to cook lunch, says Anthony.
I am only here to cook and serve and listen to their crude yarns. My resentment grows like Mark’s grapevines.
Where are you mining now, asks Mario.
Here and there, says Jim. I found some traces at Three mile.
The deep Three-mile is a proven field but it is mostly worked out. Anthony and Jim pegged three claims at the edge of an open cut where others found a lot of opal. They found promising traces. Jim began to build his camp on one of the claims.
What about you, Mario turns to Mark.
Mark is on opal, big time, explains Anthony.
I found some colour on Coocrain but the road is bad after the rain. I might register a claim next to Anthony on Three mile, says Mark.
Mark is lucky wherever he starts, says Jim.
You might all be on millions, then, says Gino.
Jim and I have three claims there, says Anthony.
You can’t miss, then, says Gino.
There will be plenty for all of us, says Anthony.
Don’t count your chickens before they start to lay eggs, I warn.
Don’t count on your milk until it is spilt, corrects Anthony.
Watch your milk if you are going to buy chickens for it, Mark tries to put the old fable right.
You can’t buy yourself ribbons before the eggs are hatched, says Anthony.
One thing at the time, says Bill. This old fable teaches you to be patient. You put a pail of milk on your head to take it to the market. On your way you dream about selling the milk to buy some eggs to hatch some chickens, to sell the chickens and buy a ribbon for your hair.
There come other versions of Aesop’s milkmaid fable.
The moral is not to toss your head prematurely, concludes Mark.
You only toss your head when the ribbon is firmly in your hair, says Jim.
And spill the milk.
No use crying over spilled milk, Gino sums it up.
You will toss your heads when you become millionaires, warns Mario.
Never, laughs Anthony.
It’s sad how money changes people, says Bill. Only it does every time.
Tina doesn’t believe in opal, says Anthony. He knows that I am upset and he tries to include me in the conversation. His arm is over my chair and his eyes are begging to be forgiven. I love Anthony.
Money would never change my Anthony. He is not greedy, he gives it away, I try to joke.
Tina wouldn’t be here if she didn’t believe in opal, says Jim.
She believes in me, says Anthony.
I’ll get some coffee, I say.
I love Anthony, I keep convincing myself but first doubts appear. I don’t believe in the way we live. There is nothing for me in it.
The aroma of freshly ground coffee beans fills the air. The bubbles on the surface tremble as I place the cups on the table.
You know how I like the smell of coffee, says Mark.
Have a nip of whisky with it, suggests Anthony.
Thanks, I am right.
Mark bought the best place in town right next to the post office, Anthony tells our visitors. I think he is boasting about his rich friend.
I am buying and cutting so it is easier for miners to find me, explains Mark.
It is safer as well so close to the police station, says Jim.
Camp life is not good enough for the likes of Mark, smiles Anthony. It is obvious that Anthony and Mark like each other.
I wouldn’t mind to live in a romantic hide away like yours, says Mark.
When Mark first came to the Ridge Anthony let him cut opal on our machines but Mark soon bought his own gear.
I really knew nothing about opal or cutting until Anthony showed me, Mark readily admits.
Mark is lucky like that, whatever he touches turns into gold. He started mining with Jim and Anthony but they never found anything much. Mark then found a new field at Coocrain and struck it rich. All the miners tried to peg around him.
After the Easter rain the road to Coocrain is closed. The slippery clay mud makes it impossible to get through. Mark registers the claim next to Anthony’s claim at the Three-Mile field.
Only until the road to Coocrain dries up, says Mark. I have to wait for the grader.
The drill brings up colour in Mark’s claim. Red on black. The word spreads through town like wild fire. Everybody looks for free ground around Mark.
Anthony and Jim find only purple and blue-green traces. Other miners want to buy their claims but they are not selling.
It’s only a matter of time. We have three claims all around Mark, we can’t miss, says Jim.
They pay the drilling rig to drill new shafts and it brings out promising traces, but the red on black is not among them. Jim and Anthony work every day, they buy the agitator to wash their dirt, they find crumbs of red and green in the dirt but the good stone eludes them.
In their spare time Anthony helps Jim build his camp. Fay is going to have a baby and it would be hard for her in a tent.
The memory of my lost baby haunts me.
I envy Fay. It is obvious how much Jim loves this pregnant native girl.
Everybody is talking about the opal Mark finds at Three mile.
It looks promising, is all Mark says.
Jim and Anthony spend most of their savings on drilling but they are barely covering expenses.
There must be opal in one of our claims. We are all around Mark’s claim. We couldn’t be so unlucky, says Anthony.
We shouldn’t have followed Mark, says Jim.
Mark followed us, says Anthony.
How can Mark be so lucky? Some miners tried all their lives, some worked on and off for years and never found anything worthwhile, says Anthony.
Mark is lucky with anything he touches, says Jim as they rub the bits of dirt from the opal they find.
Everybody talks about Mark and his luck, says Anthony when we are alone.
He takes risks, I say.
You can pick and choose if you have money, says Anthony.
Money and Mark are creeping between Anthony and me. We try to ignore both and remain optimistic but I know that Mark’s millions are on both our minds.
I have to cut for miners to get the money for mining, says Anthony.
It’s not Mark’s fault if he is lucky, I side with Mark.
I bet he found millions right next to our claim, says Anthony.
Our turn will come, I say.
Money brings luck.
Mark wasn’t always rich. His father had a little green grocer shop where Mark started his first job. In Sydney people still remember Mark as his father’s delivery boy, I tell Anthony. When his father died a big company wanted to build a hotel where his shop and home were. Mark sold the lot for a couple of millions, which he invested.
What about his mother? Asks Anthony.
Mark’s mum, Mojca, is well provided for. She is a bit snobbish. His dad was hard working but his mum was always the boss, I tell.
Mark turned after his mother then, says Anthony. I realise that Anthony doesn’t like Mark any more.
Mark became interested in lapidary after he sold the shop.
You can afford a hobby, when you don’t have to worry where your next dollar is coming from, says Anthony.
His father left the little country cottage and the farm next to Cooma to Mark’s sister, I tell.
How much did she get for it?
Her husband planted a vineyard and an orchard. Tourists come and pick their own fruit. They also have a winery, wine tasting and a restaurant. It became a major tourist attraction near Canberra. I suppose wine growing really is in their blood.
Money speaks all languages, says Anthony.
Bob Dylan once said that money doesn’t talk, it swears, I try to dismiss the issue.
It changes people.
Money never changed Mark, I say.
Is Anthony jealous of Mark’s luck or of his friendship with me? Maybe he thinks that I am attracted to Mark’s money. Everybody is attracted to money. Everybody pegs around someone who is on money to be close to the person who is a success. No hopers bring you bad luck. Maybe nobody can help being jealous.
Of course, Anthony is not like that, he is easygoing and not worried about money. He has never been ambitious and he says that he has everything he wants. But, is anybody really like that? Can anybody not be jealous and insecure? How well do I know Anthony? He is my husband, I should know him. Yet I know nothing about his background or his family.
Money does not buy happiness, I hug Anthony. Everybody likes Anthony. He helps out and he shares his home with those that have no home. People confide in Anthony, they ask his advice and they ask for his money and for the credit with opal cutting. Sometimes Anthony’s cheerful helpfulness gets slightly on my nerves. Why can’t he look after our interests first like everybody else? Like Mark.
Why don’t people ask Mark for a loan and for help? They are grateful that Mark talks to them. It’s an honour to be friends with someone who is a winner. Money makes people respectable and people like to be with respectable people.
Maybe I fell in love with Anthony because he gave me a beautiful opal ring and he did not even know if he will ever see me again. We only kissed a couple of times and parted like friends.
To bring you luck, he said as he saw me off. His dark eyes ignited fire in me. I felt there at the bus stop that we would share much of our life although we never made any promises.
I had the ring valued and was shocked when the certificate stated that it is worth $8000. I never admitted it to anyone that I had the ring valued. Maybe I am ashamed of checking out on Anthony’s gift.
Anthony and Jim get mobile phones. It is cheaper than the connection to the camp.
Mark often comes with us to the club for a drink.
Tina and I are with Mark in the Bowling club, says Anthony into a mobile.
Where is Jim mining, asks Mark.
Three mile. Next to you, says Anthony.
I am thinking about open cutting my claim, says Mark. It is faster than working underground.
You can afford it, says Anthony.
Any luck yet in your claim, asks Mark.
We had a couple of stones but nothing to crow about, says Anthony.
Ratters use mobiles, Russ calls from across the bar.
What do you mean? Asks Mark.
Russ comes around and leans on Mark’s chair. He lowers his voice into a conspiring whisper.
Miro has one of those to warn his partners. There are four of them ratters. One sits on top of the mine while the other two dig out other people’s opal while one partner is in town keeping watch on the owner of the claim. They are cunning bastards.
You mean this is going on and everybody knows about it, says Mark. Why not go to the police?
You need evidence. You can never prove what was taken from a claim. There is no proper legislation covering ratters. Miro got two hundred dollars fine for trespassing but I heard that he stole a couple of hundred thousand worth of opal. Someone put a stick of gelignite into his bed last week. All the windows were blown out with the explosion.
Was Miro injured, asks Mark.
He was probably out ratting when it happened. Maybe next time, says Russ. I hate the bloody bastards. They are openly boasting about it in the club.
Miners should do something about it, says Mark.
Who are you spying for; Russ menacingly looks at Anthony’s mobile.
You are sick. Everybody has one of these now, says Anthony.
So everybody is ratting, laughs Russ.
You know all about it; it’s from experience I bet, says Anthony.
Russ and Anthony are becoming aggressive. I don’t know why they hate each other but one could cut the tension with a knife.
Some people are lucky like that, they know who is on opal and they go into his claim and dig it out at night, snarls Russ.
Is Russ making an accusation? Is he warning Mark? Everybody wants to be close to Mark since he found opal. They elected Mark on a committee of Mining Association. He knows the mining Registrar. People come to Mark for advice on mining.
I feel an invisible barrier come between us.
I hope you can trust your partner to rat for you, laughs Russ. Everybody for himself. He is there on his own; you never know what he is up to.
I trust my partner, but nobody trusts you, snarls Anthony.
You don’t have to trust me. I am not ratting for you, laughs Russ with an evil twinkle in his eyes.
You are jealous, you bastard, you have it in for Jim because Fay escaped from you and came to him. Everybody knows that you are an impotent jerk, spits Anthony.
Watch your tongue, boy, or you might lose it. Anybody can have that black cunt; I can have her any day I want, laughs Russ.
Try it, says Anthony.
I don’t have to, I know what the slut needs, says Russ with a snarl that looks as ugly as it is evil.
Just keep away, warns Anthony.
And what will you do if I don’t? laughs Russ.
You trust Jim, Mark turns to Anthony.
Once a thief always a thief, says Russ.
Watch who you are calling a thief? Anthony gets up. I am becoming uncomfortable.
Russ orders a new round of drinks.
When did you get the mobile? asks Mark.
I hope Mark does not suspect Anthony? Anthony would never steal. He found some nice stones lately himself. Or did he? A tiny voice in me says that he could easily have gone next door into Mark’s claim.
Oh, I might get one myself, says Mark.
Technology is the gun in the hands of the crooks, says Russ placing the beer in front of us. Ratters will always be one step ahead of us honest miners.
You wouldn’t know what honest is, says Anthony.
Leave it, says Mark.
The bastard is looking for trouble. Let’s move to the table, says Anthony.
Can you reach all the fields with the mobile?
Only about twenty kilometres around town for now.
So it would be no good for Coocrain or Glengarry?
Not from town. Not clear enough anyway. They are working on it.
Good enough to send a message. You are not likely to chat on it with everyone listening in, says Russ.
He is a rotten bastard, says Anthony as we move to the corner of the club.
Russ has his ears to the ground. I’d like to get the ratting bastards myself, says Mark.
Russ has his ear to the ground for an easy dollar. He is trouble, says Anthony.
What has he done to you, Mark wants to know.
He is picking on Jim because of Fay.
What about Fay?
Fay was his woman. He bashed her in the bush one night so she ran away to Jim’s caravan and stopped with him. Some Aborigines heard Fay crying so they chased Russ away. Russ’ surname is Lunn. The story goes that someone yelled after him Run, Lunny Bunny. The new nick name stuck. Russ is paranoid about it because since then people refer to him as Lunny Bunny.
Russ offered to open cut my Three-mile claim, says Mark.
I wouldn’t want anything to do with the bastard, says Anthony.
He only wants thirty percent. He will do all the processing.
He knows what he wants, says Anthony. He is into everything. Miners work for Russ when they don’t find opal to pay for the fuel and repairs of the machinery. Nobody likes to work for Russ but he provides work and it is better to earn a smaller wage right where you are than going away to find accommodation and work. Russ has people doing farm work and mining and road work, open cutting and restoration of the mines.
Russ follows us to the table. He is smiling now and slaps Anthony on the shoulder: No hard feelings, ah.
Anthony does not respond; there is not much he can do.
Russ tells a story about the tourist he found in his open cut. We all pretend that we are just having a friendly yarn.
I saw a car parked on top of my open cut and the tourist digging in it, Russ begins his story.
I started to empty the tourist’s car. Hey you up there, yelled the tourist from the open cut.
I kept on throwing out his belongings. He came up.
What do you think you are doing, he said
Same thing you are doing, I said.
Why are you looking through my belongings, asks the tourist.
Why are you looking through my mine?
But that’s my car.
That’s my open cut.
I didn’t see the sign, says the tourist.
Fair enough, I didn’t see one either.
I am going to call the police, says the tourist.
You’ll save me the trouble.
Put my staff back in the car, you bastard, the tourist runs up towards me threateningly. I grab him for the collar, turn him around and kick him in the backside. The man rolls down into the open cut head over heels.
Next time I’ll run a bulldozer over you, I tell him. The tourist stutters that he found no opal. He empties his pockets, takes off all his clothes to be checked out. He stands there in his undies terrified.
Never try anything like that again, I say. He shivers all over as he drives away. I bet he’ll think twice before he goes on the field again. I won’t let any bastard get away with it. They won’t even try while I am around.
Russ is telling the story to Mark. He turns his back on Anthony and me, like we don’t exist.
The story sounds as a warning to us not to mess with Russ.
I just want to make sure nothing happens to your opal; Russ slaps Mark on the shoulder and leaves.
The tension scares me.
Russ wants to get to Mark so he has to discredit us. Mark is getting millions. Everybody wants to be friends with him, says Anthony as we return home.
Every man wants to stand next to the rich man, I remember Bill’s words.
Trinity said that two things get to the man’s heart: gold and bullet, Anthony quotes the line from the film. He is a fan of spaghetti Westerns.