"The Good The Bad & The Truth" WE8
By Niven Dallas
Sample Chapter Seven:
Getting the Body
For some unknown reason, the Hospital front desk was busy at midday, reminding me of a supermarket checkout, and just about as impersonal. We were in a small line of regular professional hospital queuers, shuffling along toward the reception desk. A voice called out…
'Next.' Deso, being a local tried to win over the only grumpy clerk behind the counter with his Northern Territory charm.
'We've come about Mr Andre Bile,' turning and indicating the small woman at his side. 'This is his wife Marge Bile, she has just arrived all the way from Perth, and'…
Deso was expertly interrupted by the no nonsense blunt desk clerk.
'How do you spell the surname?' asked the disinterested senior receptionist, staring at her computer screen. It became obvious to us all that Des had no idea how to spell Andre's surname. With fingers poised over the keyboard, the senior clerk was rapidly losing her patience. From alongside him a small voice said…
'B i l e' spelt out Marge.'
'What's his room number?' droned the receptionist.
Marge was lost; she had no idea what room number her husband was occupying.
'Room one, one, two my dear,' responded Holly in a firm businesslike manner.
'Not any longer, Mr Andre Bile is dead. It says here, that he is in the morgue, chiller-casket number thirty-seven. You will now need to go to the Hospital administration, Patient Discharge. The PD is down that corridor over there and then second door to your right.'
I thought to myself, that is interesting, these people still call dead people patients, and well... they even discharge them.
Marge started crying again as Holly put her arm around Marge's shoulders, we found our way down the long corridor to an office with a sign "Patient Discharge." The door was open, and led into a small waiting room with about six people sitting in the standard Hospital uncomfortable plastic chairs.
Two senior matron-like, no-nonsense looking ladies staffed the discharge desk. Behind the desk, as if to form some sort of no-go checkpoint were two, floor to ceiling, glass offices. I could see two slim weedy looking blokes sitting at desk's trying to look busy; Holly stepped up to the desk with Marge in tow, and in her crisp voice.
'We are here to claim the remains of Mr Andre Bile.'
'How do you spell the surname' asked the matron in a well-practiced business-like manner.'
'B i l e' spelt out Holly, and before you look into your silly computer and tell us that Mr Bile is dead and in your mortuary, I will advise you that we have come to take delivery of the remains within the hour.'
The matron looked steely into Holly's eyes, as a woman of position and power; she was not accustomed to being spoken down-to in this manner. Then in a firm tone, she demanded.
'Are you a relation of the deceased, as we will require full documented proof of the relationship, and then a physical identification of the deceased before releasing the remains, and then only to a registered undertaker.'
Holly was an easy match for this woman. Deso and I took a step back from the desk, Des folding his arms, turned his head, and whispered into my ear loud enough for everybody to hear.
'I told you this would happen Nibsey; Holly cut into Deso's loud whispering with a volley of crisp English to the matron.
'My dear madam, I have already introduced to you the wife of the deceased. Again, this distressed woman is Mrs Bile and we are here under extraordinary circumstances. Your assistance would be most appreciated in completing the release formalities for Mr Bile as soon as possible.'
My attention was on Holly's superb performance; I then noticed that one of the weedy looking office clerks was now standing up staring out of the glass office toward the reception desk. A big smile erupted across his face as he opened the office door.
'Well g'day, Desmond Nudl, I have not seen you in a while what are you doing at the Hospital Discharge desk commonly known as the rectum around here?'
All the office conversation and bickering instantly stopped. Deso tilted his head back at the required angle so that he could look through the right lens of his trifocal glasses to identify the figure, then in a gravel voice.
'Hi Bluey how long have you been working at the Hospital? I haven't seen you… oh, must be almost a year, well not since your wedding. Anyway how is Wendy, oh and we are here to pick-up a body, a dead body.'
We all looked at each other in horror; was there any other kind of body, it just somewhat just slipped out in Deso's laid-back, patter of conversation. However, it was more than enough to start Marge crying again. Bluey was quick to sum up the situation, and advised the now grim looking matron.
'Esmeralda I will look after this problem for you,' then waving his arms like windmills invited us all into his tiny glass office.
As I was entering the office, following behind Holly, the matron and I distinctly heard her say; "I once had a dog named Esmeralda, and she was a bitch too."
The two girls sat on tiny matching chairs in front of the small desk, as there was no room for any further chairs. Deso and I stood behind like footmen. Bluey was a nice bloke, about thirty-four with a pleasant second-hand car dealer's manner. He was completely bald so I had assumed that having the name Bluey; came from a time when he did have hair, and it must have been red.
My fragile attention was riveted on his highly polished head. Then most fascinated by the habit of young blokes who are bald by choice, or natural events, to polish their baldhead with what I believe was... bee's wax. Yes that is right, bee's wax. This, I must admit did give Bluey a very distinct, polished bowling-ball type look.
With the introductions completed, Bluey took up a long-time no-see matey conversation with Des.
'Been a while mate, Wendy and I have been divorced almost a year now Des.' Deso butted in…
'Christ Bluey, you've only been married a bloody year?'
Still smiling, Bluey continued under full steam.
'It was all Wendy's fault Deso; you see she broke a major matrimonial vow, the most important one. She changed her mind in not allowing me to go out with my old girlfriends, ha ha ha.'
Nobody had joined him in his own silly laughter, his face rapidly slipped back to hospital business mode.
'Anyway what can I do to help you serious looking people?'
Holly and I looked at each other with the same thought, thinking this to be highly amusing, breaking into a quiet chuckle. Deso either missed the line or was not amused at Bluey's early matrimonial break-up.
Deso then went on and explained what had happened to poor Andre, delicately leaving out the bit about the two wives. He then reached the critical part that Marge did not have her marriage certificate with her to claim her husband's remains. Then Deso hit him with the immediate urgency, the funeral parlour would be collecting Andre's remains in around forty-five minute's time and that the funeral was booked for 10am sharp tomorrow morning. Bluey listened politely then raised an eyebrow at Marge saying…
'You do I suppose have a driving license with you?'
Marge rummaged through her handbag and produced a West Australian driving license, passing the license over to Bluey who studied it for a moment.
'All we need to know, and hope for now; is can you find your marriage documents at home?' and then announced in a firm voice.
'Anyway, this will get us started. Now please listen to me carefully Mrs Bile, you should now phone someone at your home that can get access to your marriage documents.
The next step is to take the documents to the nearest Police station and have them photocopied and the copy signed and witnessed as a copy of the original. I will give you a fax number and my direct phone number so the Police can contact me.'
Bluey handed Marge the phone and a note pad with his details. Holly then helped Marge get things going. Marge rang her home in Perth and got down to quickly talking to someone at home.
I thought what a change in attitude and assistance, and then the old saying came to mind "It's not what you know; it's who you know that's important in this world." Then I thought that saying would no longer apply to poor Andre.
Deso proved that he has friends in all the right and high places. I was wondering just how high, as the next part of this story will be a call on God's business. These gloomy thoughts interrupted by Bluey talking very softly with practiced emotion to Marge.
'Mrs Bile, would you please come with me as we must carry out a formal identification of the deceased.'
Marge started crying again, Holly said she would go with her and they all stood up following Bluey out the door. Deso and I declined the offer to view Andre, and decided to stay in the office. We sat down on the vacant chairs and looked at each other. Deso had his grim face on again. I had thought that things were going well, for a change. Deso soon fixed that.
'Nibsey; the undertakers will be here at the Hospital in a few minutes to pick-up Andre's body, I don't think that even Bluey would be game enough to release the body without all the right documentation fixed-up. If they don't get the body now, there won't be a funeral tomorrow, and Marge will miss her flight back to Perth, it goes at mid-day, that's if the Hostess strike ends by tonight, as they agreed. It's all very messy Nibsey.'
Bluey and the wives were soon back, they could only have been gone ten minutes. Holly looked sad and Marge was still crying into a large handkerchief. I looked at Bluey, thinking, has he got any further information on the faxed marriage documents yet, and blurted out.
'Well how did it go?' enquiring had the documents arrived yet, to which Marge replied.
'Andre doesn't look very well at all.' Marge had totally miss-understood my meaning.
This was all too much, and too stupid for Holly to stay quiet.
'My dear Marge, what would one expect at this time, the man is after all well and truly fucking dead?'
I wished I had my camera and recorder. The look on Bluey's face, complete with dropped jaw, with the office fluoro lights reflecting off his very polished head was a sight to hold in my memory for some time. Bluey soon reclaimed his formal Hospital administration composure.
'Ladies please, have a little respect for the recently deceased; after all I'm sure that the funeral parlour can improve on Mr Bile's looks, they can work wonders, true artists you know, given the chance.
Now it was our turn to be startled. Deso was standing behind the wives and had a large smile spread across his face. He obviously knew Bluey far better than I thought; the man was having a gigantic "tongue in cheek" laugh at the situation. I then detected a small curl at the edges of Holly's mouth being the restrained effort not to smile. Marge continued to cry into her large handkerchief... I was starting too really like this Bluey bloke… he had a certain North Australian style about him.
With the critical moment of outright embarrassment now saved, as just then Esmeralda the large frumpy matron breezed into the office with a handful of fax sheets.
'I believe you are waiting on these.' placing the papers on the desk in front of Bluey, still eyeing daggers of hate at Holly. The matron continued.
'Oh by the way, there is an undertaker at the pick-up bay, requesting to claim the remains of Mr Andre Bile, what shall I do?'
Bluey scanned through the fax documents and announced that all was in good enough order. Looking up he said to Esmeralda.
'Would you please bring in the release note and the original death certificate and I will sign Mr Bile out.' Then turning to Marge,
'Well now, that was a close thing; I do hope this brings all your funeral arrangements back on track again.'
I noticed on hearing this comment Deso had decided to look at the ceiling with a clenched jaw look. Bluey had no idea that Deso had made all of the arrangements in regards to Andre, including paying for all his funeral costs.
Considering that Deso had never even spoken or even met Andre until two days ago, this must go down as some sort of funeral record. In fairness, Holly did agreed to, and eventually did repay Deso for all the funeral costs. Up to this point, all Marge had managed to do for Andre was cry.
Bluey stood up behind his desk, thus performing the standard bureaucratic sign that this matter was now finished. Then in a well-practiced move skirted around the desk and opened the door inviting us all to leave.
I had seen this cunning move many times before, mostly carried out by my Bank Manager when I was applying for a loan, he used it frequently. I figured they must all get the same exit training. We all trundled out the office, Deso was last to leave and I heard Bluey say as Deso went by.
'I assume there's going to be the usual wake, what time shall I get to your place Deso?'
Bluey knew the Darwin rules verbatim. Deso and Dawn were known for their good back-yard parties, and this situation did indeed give some form of legitimate excuse for holding such an event. Deso replied in a rumbling voice, after consulting his watch.
Christ! It's gone 2:30pm Bluey, I've missed my bloody lunch over this; we'll be starting the wake as soon as we get back. Call around my place after you knock off work.'
Deso dropped us all off at his home then went on to his work at Port Darwin Motors. Deso had not spent much time at work in the last few days; it was just as well he owned the company.
The lonely Funeral
I thought this would be a great time to catch up on some sleep, and then a phone call from my Kununurra office soon threw that idea out. I spent the next two hours running around Darwin shopping for the office and sorting out my many business problems.
I had borrowed Dawn's car, backing out of the carport, I noticed the three girls were in deep discussion sitting around the pool. On my return, they were still in the same position except the mood was considerably merrier, and about six other people had arrived, it was obvious they had a good start on the wake.
Holly was up to her old tricks again. Avoid any bad news and unhappiness; her strategy was simple drink, be merry, and tell many funny stories. Holly firmly believed that time and laughter heals all troubles. One of her favourite sayings was, "You know my dear, time can fix anything. There are people out there in the world that now consider Hitler was not such a bad chappie after all. Then there was that Idi Amin fellow; well... now it appears he was just a misunderstood murdering tyrant."
Another Holly well-used saying was "Drink, eat, laugh, and fornicate today, for nobody knows what tomorrow may bring. After all, there is a chance we may all be dead." Holly, as ever, was correct about life's demanding trials and tribulations. As within eighteen months of this day, she too would be dead.
Holly was a victim of breast cancer. She had kept her cancer a close secret. I have calculated that Holly must have known she had breast cancer long before Andre's death. It is almost as if she knew what her future would be, then deciding to live what life she had left to the full… and she did.
As I pulled into the carport, Bluey stuck his head out of Deso's well stocked bar and yelled out.
'Your late mate, Holly told me you drink OP rum and coke, I had one sitting on the bar for a while waiting, so had to drink it, save it going off.'
By the look of Bluey, he had without doubt downed a few OP's being in good spirits, (excuse the pun.) Deso was cranking up the bar-b-cue as I looked at my watch it had gone 5pm, the light was fading fast; another tropical night had begun. I could see that this was going to be another long hard night… I must be getting old.
From what I can still recall, Andre's wake was from my early memories of the event, and as agreed by all, a total success. This was expected with a Des and Dawn show, I noticed that Deso had brought along to the wake Father Tom, the charming Irish Catholic Priest... all was going as planned.
However, his well-made plans were soon derailed. Father Tom being a very likable and very much in demand party guest, was soon quietly spirited away around 11pm to attend yet another boozy party… this was after all Darwin.
Holly was busy plying her skills as a fully qualified party host. She was in a deep meaningful discussion with Dawn and Bluey, and a small crowd of attentive listeners. They were discussing the merits and finer points of having a good wake.
Dawn had made the now obvious point, that you normally have a wake after the funeral not before. Holly soon put Dawn onto the right and correct thinking path.
'Dawn my dear, I have had a wake for people that were not even dead yet. Indeed, the person we were sending off was also at the party, enjoying themselves.'
Standing up and raising her glass, Holly then made a solemn toast to Andre.
'My new and beautiful friends, may we all hope that Andre will find a better life in the afterlife, which will no doubt be a hell of a job for whoever runs the pubs and party things up there?'
The party crowd broke into spontaneous clapping and cheers.
'Hear, hear, to Andre,' the party crowd chorused, all of whom had never even seen, or for that matter, heard of Andre Bile before this day. Holly still standing and I must add, still in full control of her alcoholic stance, declared that the wake was dying in the arse. Requiring a jolt of positive action to get the wake…, awake.
Holly then promptly stripped down to her bra and panties; took a bulging staggering run and bombed-dived into the pool, covering everybody looking on, frozen in amazement with volumes of water.
Deso, who was unfortunately was standing close by the pool was not quick enough to avoid the sudden drenching, rumbled something about a fifty five year old woman acting like an eighteen year old kid, and that he has just lost about thirty-dollars' worth of valuable chlorine water out his pool. Holly surfaced and advised that anybody found to be dry on both the inside and outside was a party pooper.
The wake went on at full steam ahead until the early hours of the morning, with everybody ending up in the pool. Surprisingly including Marge, whom I noticed had stopped crying; then again, just how would one know.
However, she was obviously enjoying the good company, and was now more than a little pissed and giggly long before the night ended. Observing all this I a thought, Holly can work her magic with anyone and everyone… even the grieving original wife of her lost, now deceased man.
This was going to be bad. I was smart enough to know that I should stay asleep until all the pain had gone. A sharp high-pitched voice was penetrating my sleeping safe world… I know that voice. There was no escape, being then rudely launched into the awakening world by a bright and chirpy Holly; fully dressed, complete with make-up, and looking like she was going out to dinner. Then I remembered… today is the day we bury Andre.
My head was pounding again, as Holly handed me two Panadol with a glass of water.
'Come along Niven, I have left you until last, it is now 8:50am. We are all due at the cemetery at ten minutes to ten, which is in less than an hour's time.'
A cold shower made little difference to the way I felt. The kitchen scene was grim, with everybody clutching a cup of strong black coffee, looking very hung-over except for some unknown reason Holly. Marge was in a bad way, looking like she was about to join Andre.
In a weak attempt at conversation, I asked Deso if Father Tom had called to confirm the arrangements were okay for today. Trying to keep a low key to my concerns that the priest may in fact not turn up for the funeral at all.
'Dunno Nibsey, Father Tom doesn't have a phone or a car; he's hard to get in touch with unless he is at the cloisters or the church... or the pub. We'll just have to turn up at the cemetery and hope for the best.'
Dawn decided to stay home and clean up the party mess. The drive to the cemetery was in silence mostly because we were all so hung-over. We all trundled into the small courtyard of the even smaller chapel.
To everyone's relief, Father Tom suddenly appeared in the doorway. Eyes screwed up against the bright tropical sun but smiling as usual. Then my relief turned to concern as Father Tom quickly reached out and grabbed the doorframe for support; Father Tom was still pissed, he could hardly stand up.
The priest looked like shit. His eyes now closed as if in prolonged prayer, he had been out all night on the booze. He needed a shower, and had a three-day-old beard. Deso walked up to Father Tom and had a quiet chat. We all leaned forward to listen to Deso's loud whispering.
'How should we do this Father? I don't think Andre was a Catholic and I haven't asked for a service of any sort.' Then he looked around adding in panicky surprise. 'And where the hell is Andre's casket?'
Father Tom's eyes flickered opened a little in the harsh light, replying in his soft Irish brogue with painful squinting eyes.
'Now don't you be worrying atall atall Desmond; every'ting has been taken care of. I had been to thinking you not having enough people for the bearers and all that, I had the boy's take the casket already ta the gravesite.'
Gathering some divine strength Father Tom then launched himself off the doorframe into the Chapel front yard, staggering a few steps… Then added a few late instructions.
'Now; if you will all be just taken ta following me behind about five yards, and I will lead you all ta the graveside.'
Father Tom went about his Godly business and prepared a holy gadget that I do not know the name of; but it is a metal caged ball on a short chain and filled with a smoky fire. The Priest set out down the road flanked by tombstones swinging the metal ball full of fire, smoke billowing out while he slowly walked chanting some sort of prayer in Latin.
We quickly fell in behind Father Tom at the regulation five yards as requested, the two wives walking ahead of Deso and me. None of us including the Priest wore a hat or thought to bring an umbrella. At this early hour of ten in the morning, the punishing tropical sun was determined to beat my hangover into submission. As we were strolling along the hot dusty path, Deso rumbled a few encouraging words into my ear.
'I don't know how were going to lower the casket Nibsey. The girls won't be much help, Tom's still pissed, and I got a bad back?'
I was thinking with my slick mathematics that only left just me. Trudging along in the heat, I was trying to figure out how I would lower Andre's casket.
We need not have worried, as when we reached the gravesite, the casket was already in the ground. I noticed two grinning Aboriginal gravediggers leaning on their shovels a discrete distance away under the shade of a large tree.
Father Tom took up his position at the head of the grave with Marge and me looking across the grave at Deso and Holly, it was now a little after 10am and the sun was blistering hot on my pounding head. The local temperature, I guessed was around thirty-two degrees. I could now understand why the two Aboriginal gravediggers were standing under a nice leafy shade tree.
Father Tom signalled the beginning with a stooping swoop to grab a handful of sand, and a steadying casting wave of the fireball. We all bowed our heads in respect, looking down on Andre's plain casket.
I was thinking to myself, the casket was obviously a budget model, no French polish or brass handles seen. This was difficult, looking down I was feeling a bit sad and sentimental as I had only known Andre only a short time and had grown to like him. This was a sad and very basic ending to a fine man's life.
Father Tom resumed his praying chant at the same time swinging his metal fireball which was billowing smoke quite nicely now. Then came the slow sad bit; with Tom scattering sand on Andre's coffin, while reciting "earth to earth, dust to dust."
Just then, a loud SHIT shattered my sombre thoughts! Then a clanking thud as Farther Tom's swinging ball of smoke left his grip. Falling apart, and tumbling down onto Andre's casket, spreading what looked like well alight bar-b-cue fire starters all over Andre. Everybody was startled with Father Tom running around cursing and wailing.
'Oh my be-Jesus, I only borrowed this, I have-ta get it back for a christening at two o'clock ta-day'
Marge burst out crying again; Deso, Holly, and I burst out into fits of uncontrollable laughter. The two Aboriginal gravediggers, who must have seen the lot, whooped in loud laughter and began rolling about the ground in stitches.
Father Tom saw the funny side of the situation and joined the infectious laughter with tears streaming down his face, then announced in his best sober Irish voice.
'Well I do hope Andre sees tis as a terrible error, and we're not at all trying to send him ta hell.'
With that comment, the entire side-splitting episode of laughter started all over again. Now everybody was crying, crying with laughter, which was most un-befitting at a funeral. I think Andre had set us all up; he was most likely having a good last laugh himself. Still laughing, Deso had found an old rusty star picket near-by with a bit of wire attached to the end.
We spent the next ten minutes fishing out all the bits of Father Tom's ball of fire from Andre's grave. Father Tom then reassembled his ball of fire with enough bits of smoking ash to provide the required holy smoke. He then proceeded with the funeral service amid restrained laughter and broad smiles.
It must have looked a sad lonely sight to Andre. His boss standing there looking across his grave at his mistress Holly, who was standing next to his real wife Marge. She was facing a man called Desmond, who she and her husband had never met or knew, existed. A man who had ultimately paid for everything, including his funeral conducted in mumbling Latin by a very nice, but very pissed Irish Catholic Priest.
We all said our last goodbyes to Andre and walked slowly back to the car, thanking Father Tom for his excellent and most memorable service.
Deso said it was a funeral service he would never forget and will always remember it to the end of his days, I must admit, I had to agree with him.
Nobody spoke on the way back to Deso's house. Marge had stopped crying and requested another Panadol she was still hung-over, and not fully recovered from the wake.
Back at the house, it was a time to reflect on all that had happened in such a short time. Marge had quickly learnt the rules, as she never did ask Holly any direct personal questions about her relationship with her husband. Holly, on the other hand never pursued any questions or details on why Andre left his family, or about his estranged relationship with his wife and children.
At Darwin airport, we all saw Marge off to Perth, (strangely, it was the first AWA jet flight out of Darwin since the beginning of the flight attendants strike.) Deso dropped Holly and me off at the light aircraft area. Departing Darwin in the Cessna back to Kununurra without saying a word during the ninety-minute flight.
That Darwin airport farewell was the last I ever saw or heard of Marge Bile, no one kept in touch with Andre's wife.
Many years later while in Darwin on business, I tried to find Andre's grave, unfortunately without success, nobody had left a marker... We are born, we live, and we die. Did we contribute something useful? Were we leaving behind a better world than when we arrived? Were we loved… will we be missed or remembered?
I still remember Andre and Holly… and now, so will you.
New Gold Curse
Susan stuck her head into my office; Stu Skoglund was down in the electronics workshop and wanted a job done urgently, could I go down and talk to him.
Stuart Skoglund was a living legend, a true aviation pioneer of the agricultural and cattle industries in the Kimberley.
Stu, an American, came to Kununurra on Anzac day 1965 after a good friend of his Chuck offered him a job flying choppers. The job was crop-spraying cotton on the new Ord River irrigation scheme, living in the newly established town of Kununurra in Western Australia.
Spraying cotton crops to control pests or to apply fertilisers and defoliants was a new method, and in its early days for Australia. However, most of the new Australian farmers on the Ord River who had farmed in many countries around the world were very much aware of the advantages of aerial spray applications; to them this was a well-proven new technology.
Stuart was an old school pilot; he had completed his flying training as a World War two fighter pilot and never did quite lose his style or preference for bold marginal flying. Crop spraying was perfect for Stu, and his style of flying.
Helicopter spray application was proving to have significant advantages to the health and quality of the early growing cotton crops; however, forcing the spray chemicals down through the crop had a major problem when nearing maturity and picking time. The helicopter blade downwash also blew the mature cotton heads off the trees… the farmers were not happy.
This prompted a new change of direction in crop spraying; the introduction of fixed-wing crop spraying. This smart move, resolved the crop loss problem but what was he to do with the idle Bell 47 helicopters.
Cattle mustering by fixed-wing aircraft was not new however, rotor-wing mustering was. Lang Hancock owner of Hamersley Station in Western Australia had carried out the first helicopter muster in 1966 using a Brantley B2 helicopter.
Stu thought helicopter mustering was the way to go and after much drinking and talking convinced Pat Shaw the manager of Ord River Station to agree to do a trial cattle muster. The rest is now history as helicopter mustering changed the cattle mustering industry in Australia forever.
Stu Skoglund was not the first to use helicopters and fixed wing aircraft for agricultural crop spraying and cattle mustering, however, he was the first to convince and prove the methods cost effective in the Kimberley and the Northern Territory.
I had never thought of Stu, as a dollar driven businessperson. My personal impression of him was that of an adventurer, my view of him later proved correct.
Most, if not all of Stu's good ideas and proven profitable flying activities, were quickly taken-up and copied by others who went on to make a great deal of money. Stu let many a good contract mustering opportunity slip through his fingers, and the first mustered cattle stations, which were owned by Vestey's and Hooker Pastoral quickly saw the advantages of aerial mustering, then after a trial muster promptly purchased their own helicopters.
As always nothing ever bothered Stu much at all, after a few gripes down at the pub to anyone who would listen, Stu just got on with life and flying.
Stu had reluctantly accepted the move from aerial spraying to helicopter mustering, now he was on the move again, this time to yet another bold flying adventure… gold prospecting.
'Hi Stu what is the urgent problem this time?'
It was immediately obvious what the problem was as Stu was holding one of his electronic metal detectors, or as Stu would call it a gold finder. We shook hands as all polite Americans do, then in his American drawl.
'I think the God-damn things broken a wire at the plug again Nev-en. I'm flying down ta Halls Creek ta meet up with the boys fir some gold prospecting. They're gonna need the chopper soon, it's pretty wet down there.'
I went about soldering up the broken wires again, as this had happened a few times before on this same detector, also on his other units. Stu was watching me every second so I thought this would be a good captive time to ask some prospecting questions… but I would have to be careful as Stu kept secrets, and did not appreciate people asking nosey questions.
'Do these things really work; I mean how can you tell the difference between a beer-can, an old horse-shoe, and a gold nugget?'
'Well Nev-en, if you kin git the fucker working again I'll give you a demonstration on how it works. It sorta needs some twaddling with these-here knobs and a bit of practice, but yeah you can tell if you got gold. We got four of em now, but this one's the best, it belongs to Jack Wightman, it's found more gold that all the others have together.'
I was surprised at this casual claim and had to hide my nosey curiosity. Found more gold than the others eh, maybe I should have a go at this gold detecting stuff; then again, I needed to know more.
'The overheads must be bloody high whizzing about in a Bell 47… choppers cost big money to operate?'
'Well Nev-en, Max's grader and front-end-loader cost a bit ta run, and then there's Jack's trucks… it all costs a few dollars, but we get by.'
I was thinking that's a fair bit of equipment, I wonder what Stu meant when he said, "we get by." My quick reckoning calculated that Stu's little gold prospecting venture must have been costing them many thousands of dollars a month.
'There you are Stu, we should give this gold finding machine a road test before I close-up the waterproof plug.'
Stu connected the handle to the main unit and then plugged in the repaired plug, but without assembling it. He then reached across and grabbed Steveo the electronic technicians can of coke and placed it on the floor. Then he grabbed Steve's small hammer and placed it about a metre from the can.
With the sound turned over to speaker, Stu started to twaddle and tune his gold detector machine, which was now giving off a whining pitch that meant nothing to the workshop staff and I, but did hold our attention in anticipation of something.
After a few minutes twaddling of the many knobs, Stu then did a sweep of the two objects. The coke can gave off a distinctive pitched noise and the steel hammerhead gave off a different noise. Steveo was not convinced so he placed an aluminium radio cover on the workshop floor and Stu swept it to give almost the same sound as the aluminium coke can.
Everyone was beaming with smiles at this convincing demonstration when John said with a technicians knowing smirk.
'It's supposed to detect gold isn't it, not coke cans and bloody hammers.'
Stu was not concerned at this quick sarcastic remark and reached into his pocket and placed a large teardrop shaped piece of gold on the workshop floor about one metre from the hammer head. That did it; Stu had everyone's attention as he tuned the machine to the gold teardrop. The gold detector head then passed over the three objects giving three distinct sounds. I could tell Stu was in his element here as he held our attention with childish wonderment, and then he played his ace card…
'Yah-all notice that the three different metals make three different sounds, now all ah do is switch off the metals ahs don't want like this…'
Now the sweeping gold detector head just sounded when it passed over the gold, Steveo said 'good one mate, very neat' and picked up his can of coke and started drinking it, john picked up the hammer and Stu picked up his gold and went about explaining how things worked.
'Friends, this here gold finder is a discriminator type. It kin rightly tell the difference between metals, and you kin just switch off the ones you don't want. The other gold detectors we have aint as smart as this one. It kin save a lot of time, and it kin find a lot of gold.'
I knew all about metal discriminator detectors, Stu was not the only one who had brought these gadgets in for repair. What I was more interested in was the large lump of gold that Stu was using as his reference. Where the hell did it come from? I asked Steveo to put the repaired and tested gold detector plug back together and offered Stu a cup of coffee, then we both headed up to my office.
Gold was all the talk down at the pub. Many new gold prospecting companies were dashing around out the back of Halls Creek in new Toyota Land Cruisers, and a few had hired my vehicles, so none of this activity was news to me. These prospectors were checking out all the old abandoned 120-year-old gold mines for a possible commercial gold venture.
The reason was simple, renewed gold interest now being driven by the highest ever market price for gold at US$420.00 per ounce, the reason for this hike being debated over many beers and long hours at the pub. Most agreed it was the fear created by the cold war. In the last year, all of the world's nuclear nations had detonated test nuclear devices; a new arms race had developed, and the cold war was heating-up rapidly. Still other knowledgeable drinkers bracing the bar were sure it was the fact that the Ayatollah Khomeini had declared a holy war, a Fatwa on America, confirming the USA as "The great Satan."
One thing I do know… it was all-good for my business.
'What's the big rush to get down to Halls Creek Stu, and why will the boys need your chopper when it's so wet?'
'Best time fir finding gold is when the ground's wet, we'd bin using Jacks road water binding trucks ta add some ground water, but this rain covers a bigger area. It's not hard ta figure out; damp ground with metal in it gives a much stronger gold detection signal than in dry ground.'
I could see that Stu did not like talking about his gold prospecting; however, I was fascinated at the amount of expensive resources that Stu and his partners were investing in this project, so I poked just a little bit further.
'Well I suppose the electrolysis reaction of water; metal and damp soil would give a better signal, but why use an expensive helicopter?'
'The most expensive part of prospecting is being in the wrong Goddamn place where there aint no fucking gold. After some heavy rain two of us fly the chopper out ta all the most likely gold spots and do a quick gold detection scan, ifin we gits some good signals we mark the spot fir future prospecting. We git faster an better results. It kin save a lot of time and money.'
Stu's manner was changing and I sensed that I was at Stu's limit of polite tolerance to my many nosey questions… but I had one more.
'Max is in the earthmoving and cattle breeding business, Jack is contracting his trucks out to the Main Roads, and you are in the helicopter flying business; can you guys find enough gold to cover costs and justify such a big change from your normal work?'
'Yeah we do all right and maybe a bit more, hell we've only bin at gold prospecting fir some seven months or so. The cattle business is low and there aint much MRD work around, much the same as there aint much chopper hire. Gold prospecting is paying some of the God-damn bills… hell it's better than sitting on yer ass at home, or drinking booze at a bar.'
With that last word Stu stood-up in his well-worn RM Williams boots, he then extended his right hand for a polite good-bye shake.
'Thanking you kindly fir fixing mah gold finder Nev-en.'
It was obvious to me that this matter was now closed to any further discussion and then Stu was gone out of the my office.
That handshake was to be the last time I was to ever shake that hand or for that matter see Stu with a right arm, as in four days' time the whole world would change for Stu… and his three gold prospecting partners.
The news came as a sudden shock to the town of Kununurra; Stuart Skoglund had been involved in a serious road accident while driving up from Halls Creek. He had collided with a road-train just the other side of the Dunham River Bridge, only fifteen kilometres from Kununurra. Stu was now on his way down to Perth where the surgeons will attempt to reattach his severed right arm.
Stu left my office and the half-drunk cup of coffee, driving straight to the airport. He then flew his Bell 47G-3B helicopter to his prospecting camp at Nuggetty Gully, just off the Old Halls Creek Road. The three partners, Max Lamoreaux, Jack Wightman, and a bloke call Nigel Dixon met Stu on landing at their camp.
The plan was simple enough and had proved most rewarding in the past. Stu would drop off a partner at different and likely prospecting spots then return in about an hour to relocate them to yet another likely spot. In this way, many good areas could be quickly identified for future close inspection, as such a considerable amount of potential gold bearing ground covered in a short time.
It was mid-December and building up to the start of an early wet season. The recent rains had worked there magic well. This rain helping in discovering a number of small gold nuggets, the prospecting group were quite pleased with their early good progress and worthwhile gold finds over the past four days.
Late on the fifth day 23rd December 1979, just after deciding to head back to the camp for the night. All of a sudden, Stu was astonished by one of the loudest signals he ever heard on his gold finder, or should that be Jack Wightman's gold detector. Two minutes of soft digging exposed a superb twenty-eight ounce, beautifully formed gold nugget, they had found the prospectors dream nugget… or had they.
As was the standard practice, this magnificent gold nugget find required the expected prospector's celebration.
Chasing last light Stu managed the two fifteen minute round trip helicopter flights from their camp into the Halls Creek airstrip. The last trip landing shortly after last light.
Halls Creek is the only town I know of in Australia that has a hotel and bar right next-door, within a short walking distance to the airstrip. By the time Stu arrived on his second trip from the camp, (The Bell 47G helicopter only has three seats) Jack and young Nigel, with the help of many locals were already well into celebrating their good fortune.
The word was out, soon the whole town was helping them celebrate; the time just slipped by all night and into the next day. Later reports from those that could still remember that boozy night and day, confirmed it was one hell of a party.
The old story began to circulate around Halls Creek about an almost identical nugget found ninety years ago. This important find remembered by the old prospectors who were bracing the bar that night. They were saying this is the twin to largest nugget ever found in the Halls Creek area.
Apparently, prospector Charlie Hall (whom Halls Creek named after) had also discovered a 28oz gold nugget on 23rd December 1885… yes the exact same day except ninety-four years earlier… also at the same place known as Old Hall's Creek. Just what were the odds of that?
Without doubt, this was to be a memorable occasion, however, not as memorable as what was about to happen over the next few weeks.
Christmas was just a few days away, and it had been a good year for Stu and the others in his prospecting group. A decision was made after they all sobered-up a little, to start winding things down for the end of this year. Jack lived in Halls Creek and so would remain and keep an eye on the helicopter until Stu got back with his engineer to fix a bit that had broken. The other three decided at 3:00 am in the early morning to drive back to Kununurra some 358 kilometres with their large gold nugget, about a four-hour drive.
Just before the Ord River Diversion Dam Stu noticed a long string of lights in the dark, a road-train was on the single road over the Dunham River Bridge. A truck was heading towards them, and so he pulled over off the road a little, as is the way in the northwest (trucks are given right of way) to allow the truck to clear the bridge.
It had started to rain hard just as the road-train approached; Stu was tired but happy the hot humid drive to Kununurra was almost at an end. The other two were sound asleep next to Stu when the three-trailer road-train thundered by. Most passenger vehicles did not have air-conditioning and like most drivers in the hot northwest Stu had his arm hanging out of the window to catch some of the passing cool air… and then it happened.
As can happen with road-trains, especially after the tired driver has changed a wheel, if care is not taken to make sure that the wheel sits firmly and aligned on the spider hub, the wheel will run slightly buckled off track, causing the vehicle, or in this case the trailer to run out-of-track starting a swinging movement.
The last trailer was whipping across the slippery wet road in the dark and rain; timing its last swing just clipping the side of Stu's almost parked Toyota. The back of the trailer smashed hard into the side of Stu's vehicle with a tremendous flicking hammer blow, smashing the driver's door and windscreen then ripping Stu's right arm off in a split second of irreversible time throwing his dismembered arm far into the bush.
Helicopter pilots require both feet and both hands to fly. In that instant in time, Stuart Skoglund's long and remarkable flying career had come to an abrupt end.
If bad luck or providence wanted to cause the maximum amount of damage to this man while still remaining alive, then this was most certainly it.
In a strange twist of fate on that very same day at the other end of that same road some 100 kilometres away in Wyndham town, and at almost the same time of five-thirty am, a Wyndham Meat-works inspector lost a right arm in exactly the same type of road-train accident… Just what were the odds of that happening, on that day, at that same time?
It was touch and go for Stu's survival; he was placed into an induced coma for the long emergency flight, waking up in a Perth hospital to learn the devastating news of his horrendous injuries. However, this was just the start to this frightening story; there was far more bad news to come.
Two weeks later Stu's close friend and gold prospecting partner Max Lamoreaux, (another American Ord pioneer,) was discussing a cattle deal with a buyer while sitting astride his stock holding fence, (a corral in American speak.) The deal was going well that day to sell one of Max's prize young breeding bulls, when a sudden wind came up as was normal for this time of the year, and blew Max's all-American Stetson hat off, landing at his side in the muddy stockyard.
Max being a well-practiced man at retrieving wayward Stetsons from his long horse riding experience, just bent down to expertly scoop-up his treasured Stetson. Suddenly the frisky young bull, attracted by the floundering Stetson lunged at it, just as Max was picking it up. The result was devastating. The young bull's horn goring Max in the head tearing his left eye out of its socket.
The horn penetrated deep into Max's head breaking through and exposing the Dura matter of the brain sack… Max was in a critical condition… he was dying.
Max was American born, and a confirmed new Australian. He was a hard working quiet achiever with more than a few business problems on his mind… Max did survive this terrible trauma, but he was never to be the same man again… ever.
It was in late January when we all heard the unusual and tragic news about Jack Wightman, another of Stu's prospecting partners. Jack was a tough man, a strong man, which was just as well.
It was not unusual for Jack to repair three or four truck punctures in a day, all by himself. This was just normal truck driving in the northwest. Like all truck operators a man had to be a competent mechanic and a tyre fitter, a sort of Jack-Of-All-Trades (excuse the pun Jack.)
When problems surfaced; single handed, the ever resourceful truckie had to develop some smart ways to get the 80 kilo truck wheels off and back onto the truck spider during a repair. Most standard situations required the use of two long steel pipes, used to lift the heavy wheel off and onto the spider hub. This difficult job always accomplished with much swearing, buckets of sweat and a great deal of human strength. Jack could provide all of that, and more. The more bit comes from the fact that Jack was always seen with a nice looking girlie hitchhiker.
Jack was a practicing gentleman, always trying to be a perfect ladies man. For all his many faults; Jack, who was in his fifties, got into more pussy than most horny young males that I have known.
Jack was all of five foot four inches tall in the old scale, and just about the same in width. A powerful little man, a ball of muscle with boundless energy, and spare energy to pursue his favourite second pastime shagging. (First being drinking) I would say that this necessity for Jack always to have on hand something to fuck surely saved his life that unforgettable day.
Bartering is the common currency in the northwest, that's a two-beer cartoon job mate, or lend me you truck and I will lend you my grader. Can't pay your bar tab, work it off and don't slack; give good value for the good deed. You have to earn respect in the north-west, and a man's word is his bond.
Jack needed the use of a back-hoe to dig a septic tank hole in his little truck-yard plot in Halls Creek, and John the Motel owner had one. The only problem was the backhoe had a rear wheel puncture, no problem. Fixing a puncture was an everyday job for Jack. The deal consummated on a firm Kimberley handshake and a beer; Jack would fix the puncture in exchange for four hours use of the backhoe… a done deal.
The tropical rain poured down hard that day, and it was a good thing as it cooled everything down. Nobody dashed for shelter in the tropics when it rained, it certainly did not bother Jack or his latest hitchhiker who was looking on as Jack went about fixing the puncture on the backhoe. Jack knew she was watching him as he strained in his rain-soaked thin worn footy shorts, going about the heavy task of dismantling the large tractor type wheel from the backhoe. He knew she would be turned-on by watching his muscular efforts… it had all happened before… it would end-up as an almighty fucking session after this work was done… he should save himself a little… he wasn't getting any younger.
It will not be long now as the puncture was now fixed, with a bit of luck he would be all finished in an hour. As per normal, he had attached the air compressor line to the tyres inflator nipple and turned the air compressor on. He was now getting ready to mount the massive tractor type wheel onto the eight wheel studs; the rain poured down… it was a cooling bliss.
The little air compressor on his truck rattled away filling the large tractor tyre with air as he struggled to mount the wheel on the eight studs. This was a bloody big wheel; it must weigh half as much again as one of his truck wheels. He was having trouble aligning the studs to the wheel holes, a problem he never had with his truck spider web hubs.
This was taking a bit of time in trying to align the studs to the wheel holes, the compressor continued to rattle on filling the massive tyre with air. Jack was straining with all his strength to pull-up the two long lifting pipes, raising the wheel to the hub. He had just yelled out to his new girl; could she kindly rotate the hub a little for him to align the wheel to the holes… and that's when it happened.
There was a tremendous ear splitting blast that shook the air. Jack felt himself propelled backwards as if by some Godly powerful, and mysterious force. He fleetingly caught the look of terror on his frightened hitchhikers face as he rapidly blasted backwards past her.
Was this some sort of a dream, what was happening, then everything went blank for a long, long time? Jack was in a deep dark painful place… he must fight with all his strength to reach the surface.
It is simple to explain but hard to imagine. Jack being an experienced truck operator went about the repair of the tractor style wheel in exactly the same way, as he would have one of his truck wheels.
The only thing was, Jack not being aware of the method of inflation, and the power of compressed volume air.
Normally truck tyres are inflated to around 85-110 psi (pounds per square inch) depending on the vehicle load. Whereas Jack was unaware that tractor style balloon tyres normally inflated to no more than 12-15 psi.
The massive air volume size of the tractor tyre, and the added water lubrication by the rain, and of course Jacks unfortunate lack of knowledge, all helped to contribute to this horrific disaster.
As bad luck would have it. The inside of the tyre-wall blew off the wet rim first, forcing the 160 kilo wheel and tyre to propel itself outwards with a massive blast of air energy, collecting the startled Jack who was crouched, holding the huge wheel with two long steel pipes, and in the direct path.
Jack suffered two broken legs, a broken right arm, and a broken left wrist. Jack's chest was crushed suffering nine broken ribs, punctured lungs and a lacerated heart… any normal man would not have survived this horrendous accident.
It was touch and go for a while as Jack put-up a brave struggle to survive this ordeal. His chance to survive was only there because he had a little hitchhiker girlie hanging around to keep his man fluids moving after a hard day's work, she was quick to call for help.
Although those within the town said that the huge explosion alerted the Halls Creek hospital of a pending accident long before the little back-packer girl called for help. Jack spent five months in hospital, one in intensive care, he never did return to his old self… but he was alive.
This was the third catastrophic disaster within a month to befall the finders of this new gold, this twenty-eight ounce gold nugget… there was now only one of the four original prospectors left who had not yet fallen under the curse of this new gold…
Nigel Dixon was only twenty-six years old, and the youngest of the four gold prospectors. He had been following the tragic stories of his three prospecting pals, and was now quite terrified at what might befall him.
He had never contacted any of his prospector partners, not even when they were on their possible deathbeds from their various, and most unusual accidents.
Nigel had refused to accept any of the gold spoils or any money from the sale of the gold… he was terrified. He figured out that he had but one option, and that was to run. Then again, to where, how do you run from an omen… a curse.
Nigel was expected to spend an after Christmas holiday with his family in the Eastern States… he never did arrive home; some weeks later he was eventually reported as a missing person. The Police investigation proved his bank accounts were unused, and his personal belongings never claimed from storage. Friends in Halls Creek, still to this day hold Nigel's belongings.
Nigel Dixon had disappeared from the face of this earth.
As of the time of writing this story, Jack Wightman is the only known survivor of this gold curse.
Having previously suffered horrendous injury, I am pleased to inform you that Jack, now in his eighties is well, and living in Perth in peaceful retirement.
Jack never did receive any reward or part of that large gold nugget; in fact, he has no idea what happened to the gold. He is happy with his remarkably good health, and that he still has a clear memory of those strange and dark events.
END OF SAMPLE