The Old Prospector

This story here isn't exactly as told to me but it loosely follows the tale. This is a true story. . . sort of!

- Stonewall

Back in the late 1980's Australia was seeing a real boom in gold prospecting by amateurs, particularly those using the new and more efficient metal detectors that were now available.

Pete was out with three of his buddies looking to strike it rich and find that big elusive gold nugget.

They'd saved and planned for quiet a while and finally had organized the big trip into the outback of Western Australia. Driving from Melbourne, their jumping off point was of course Kalgoorlie in Western Australia. The last real sized town they had passed through being Leonora.

Now they were hundreds of kilometers into the arid heart of Western Australia. Probably not the only humans in this landscape, but certainly pretty well isolated from the rest of humanity.

Each tiring day of traipsing across the barren landscape searching for gold was followed by a relaxing evening sitting around their campfire, carefully cleaning the odd small gold nugget their efforts had turned up that day. A few hours relaxing, drinking and talking and then into the tent and sleeping bags. In the desert at night it got down to close to zero.

Their fourth night there was especially cold. Pete awoke in the early hours of the morning deciding whether or not to heed natures call or to try to wait until morning. He really didn't want to have to brave the cold and leave his sleeping bag.

Deciding to wait till morning he was about to try to go back to sleep when something made him look out of the open doorway of their tent. The embers of their campfire were being stirred by someone obviously trying to bring the fire back to life. Pete wondered which one of his companions would be stupid enough to be up and outside at such a time, in such cold weather. However his curiosity wasn't enough to make him get up, so he soon lost interest and went back to sleep.

Next morning Pete asked his mates which one of them had been out of the tent in the early hours sitting around the fire. They all looked blankly at him and said none of them. Pete explained that he had seen someone at their campfire and that it had to be one of them, after all who else was around. They all denied being the person Pete had seen and it was forgotten for now as they went about their morning chores getting ready for another day prospecting.

Nighttime came and they all retired for the night again. Pete became a little bit apprehensive thinking about their nocturnal visitor from last night. He was convinced the guys were telling the truth, which could only mean that someone else was lurking around. They hadn't made their presence known during the day so Pete wondered as to their motives. The other guys tended to think Pete had just dreamed the whole thing.

Midnight came and went. Every time he heard a noise Pete would peer through the opening of their tent into the darkness of their camp. Of course nothing was there. Until . . .

Pete's eye's strained to make out the shapes in the darkness of their camp. Their fire had pretty much died down completely and the moon wasn't throwing a lot of light on the scene. But, he was almost certain he could make out a shape, seated on where he remembered an old tree stump was on the edge of their camp. After a minute or two he was fairly certain he was looking at the motionless silhouette of a person seated there.

Finally Pete decided a bit of bravado was need. Climbing quietly out of his sleeping bag he pulled his boots on and crept out of the tent. As his eyes adjusted more to the available moon light he could see that he was right. A person was sitting on the edge of their camp. Walking towards them he nodded his head and said Gidday.

Standing a couple of metes away from the stranger, Pete could make out a lot of the strangers details. He looked like a character from an old Western. Your typical scraggly gray whiskered old worn and down on his luck prospector. After his greeting to the stranger Pete stood there waiting for some response.

The old prospector sat there silently for an uncomfortably long length of time. His eyes almost seemed to be looking through Pete rather than at him. Looking off into a distance at something that only he could see. Eventually the old prospector turned his eyes upon Pete and a warm welcome smile light up his face as he murmured "Hello young man".

Well from that point on Pete and the old prospector had a nice long friendly conversation. Pete stirred up their fire and threw a few small sticks on the embers to get it going again, indicating that the old prospector should move in closer and warm himself up.

The old prospector chuckled at that suggestion and indicated that the cold didn't bother him much.

It turns out the the old prospector had been working this area for as long as he could remember. He said he wasn't good with dates, but it had been a long time. He indicated that he had a small place just over the ridge behind him. Normally keeping to himself, he had been curious about Pete's camp so had wandered across to have a look.

Pete told the old prospector to come back in the morning and that they would fix him a good breakfast. Once again the old prospector gave a low chuckle and said that it was right hospitable of them, but not to fret over him. At my age the old prospector said you don't really need too much food to keep you going.

During the conversation Pete was taking in the old prospectors appearance. He really did look like something from the Miner 49'er gold rush days, with his old worn trousers held up by leather suspenders, knee high mule ear boots and an old home spun shirt over what looked like old style long johns. His belt held a number of pouches around it and finally Pete noticed what looked like an old cap and ball pistol hanging in an old leather holster on his side, sort of pushed to the back so that he hadn't see it straight away.

Pete commented on the pistol, asking if he didn't have any problems with the police walking around with that on his belt. The old prospector looked confused for a moment but suddenly understood and replied that the troopers didn't have any issue with the miners going around armed as long as they behaved themselves. The old prospector indicated that it was a pretty lawless territory they were working in and that they had better think about arming themselves as well if they intended to protect their hard earned gold.

Eventually after a pleasant conversation, if a little strange sometimes, Pete said goodnight to the old prospector and wandered off to his sleeping bag. He reminded the old prospector to call in for breakfast tomorrow morning. The old prospector waved goodbye and before Pete ducked back into the tent he saw him walking off over the small ridge back to where he indicated he lived.

The next morning Pete told the rest of the guys about the old prospector. They were curious, particularly with the description Pete gave of him, and waited expectantly for him to turn up for breakfast. The morning dragged on and the old prospector failed to show.

Pete's mates said to forget him for now as the morning was moving on and they needed to get out in the field and do some work. Pete said okay, but first he thought he would check on the old prospectors camp. After all Pete said, he looked pretty old and frail so he wanted to make sure he was okay. From what the old prospector had indicated he didn't think his home was that far over the ridge.

Pete traipsed off in the direction of the ridge. Gaining the high ground he surveyed the small gully below him. No campsite was to be seen. Working his way down from the ridge he looked around. A bit of really old rubbish lay around. Old bottles and tins and even what looked like an old rusted out gold pan lay strewn around. Off in the distance, on the other side of the gully on slightly raised ground Pete could make out a pile of rocks. He moved in that direction. The rocks looked oddly unnatural in placement. Pete thought they looked like the way someone would place them to cover a grave. He realized he was right as he detected the remains of what was definitely a roughly made wooden cross lying amongst them.

Something uneasy was forming in the back of his mind. He looked at the grave site and then back over the ridge in the direction of his camp and wondered. Something incredibly old and rusty was poking out slightly from the rocks laid over the grave. Carefully removing a couple of the rocks he managed to pry the object loose from the gravel. Peter realized he was holding the old flaky and extremely rusted remains of an old cap and ball pistol.

He replaced the rusty pistol and the rocks and stepped back from the grave. Taking off his hat he quietly said "I'll see you around old timer", and left to go back to his camp.

The guys were there for the rest of the week and the old prospector never showed himself again. Pete had told the guys that he hadn't been able to find the old prospectors camp that morning and had left it at that. He wasn't sure exactly what he thought himself.

He wasn't sure whether he was relieved that the old prospector hadn't showed again or not. He certainly would of had some very telling questions to ask him, assuming he was brave enough to approach him again.

So just something to keep in mind . . .

I don't know the exact location or which gold field Pete was working at the time, other than it was at least 300 kilometers out of Leonora.

So if you are out there somewhere in the desert regions of Western Australia, sitting around a campfire and feeling a little lonely, you just might be lucky enough to have The Old Prospector as a visitor . . .

He might even be standing behind you right now . . .

--

  • Stonewall (SASA # 4866)

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