The two travellers finally arrived in Coober Pedy. The road, the gravel and the red mud from out of season rain added to the damage to the car.
“Never seen one of these cars, mate. We’ll see if we can get some spare parts flown in from Sydney.”
“How long’ll that take?”
“Next plane comes in about two weeks.”
“Forget it. We’ll have a go at getting back without it. Just give us a half gallon of fluid and we’ll see how we go.”
They went over to The Dago Club. Political correctness was a thing of the future. Many Italians accepted the appelation with charm if not pleasure.
The Dago Club was run by an ex-miner from Venice in an old Army Surplus Nissan Hut. Nissan Huts were scattered all over the country and many a migrant couple brought up their family in one.
The Club provided meals for hungry opal miners. The decore was spartan; trestle tables and Army Surplus chairs. The menu was sufficient. For ten shillings you could buy breakfast of some unknown cut of meat, a fried egg, a leaf of lettuce, a tomato, a slice of bright red beetroot and a 13 oz bottle of West End Bitter beer. West End Bitter had the reputation of being the worst beer in Australia, but at least it was sterile. For lunch, for ten shillings you got some unknown cut of meat, a fried egg, a leaf of lettuce, a tomato, a slice of bright red beetroot and a 13 oz bottle of West End Bitter beer and for dinner at night you got an extra bottle of beer.
“Let’s go and look for some opal.”
There was an old Aborigine who reckoned he could smell Opal and he’d take half if you paid him for a week. They didn’t pay him, but he was good for a long chat.
They started fossicking on an old mullock heap. Suddenly a shot was fired and gravel flew up at their feet.
“You’re on my land boys. Move.”
“You could have bloody killed me,” one of them said.
“If I wanted to kill you I wouldn’t of aimed at your feet.”
They then stood and were given a lesson in how to know if a mine licence was current or lapsed. They learned about staking a claim. They learned about security. They learned a lot. They were keen and eager and definitely wanted to make friends with the man who had fired his rifle so carefully at their feet.
“Now the safest place for anything valuable is at the bottom of your mine. Anyone on a fellow’s mine at night time has a better than even chance of being shot.”
They went back to the Dago Club that night. After all meals were finished the dishes were cleared away and old Army blankets, grey with three blue stripes, were spread as cloths and card games and chess battles began.
When you sit opposite a Hungarian refugee who speaks no English you soon learn that the language of the chess board is universal and he became a friend.
So now they have two friends; a chess player and a rifleman. One of the card games looked interesting. In the centre of the table was a candle in an empty beer bottle. By midnight the notes on the table were halfway up the bottle.
“Do you ever worry that someone will come in and take all that money?”
“No!. If we have a big game we have it in the back room.”
“Can anyone play?”
“Yes but it isn’t a very good idea to win. I wouldn’t advise winning. Not for young fellows like you.”
So they didn’t win.
The half gallon of hydraulic fluid got the wreck back as far as Adelaide. They were starting to run out of money. They bought a pint of fluid from a garage in Tailem Bend, on the Murray, with the last of their money and a half packet of Kool cigarettes. At two o’clock in the morning they were nearly home but ran out of petrol. No shops were open in that sleepy country town.
“What the hell can we do now?”
“Get that empty gallon can. I’ll go and pinch some fuel from one of those cars there.”
They crawled under a car and drained 2 gallons of fuel from the tank. Then they wrote out a cheque for one pound and slipped it inder the windscreen wiper with a letter of explanation and apology.
It was nice later on to note that the cheque had been presented.