header

Page 48





More at Lightning Ridge, then on to Mitchell.

Amigo's Castle

Our tour included a look at Amigo's Castle. This castle is Amigo's home and he built it single-handedly out of ironstone. He started construction in 1981; underground there are dungeons, trapdoors and tunnels - all part of Amigo's opal mine.

Amigo's Castle

Amigo's Castle

The only access to Amigo's tower is via an underground tunnel. The sign in the tree reads Air Mail. Don't ask me, I don't know! Amigo's Castle has got to be a step up on the shacks of Fred Bodel or Father Cooper on the previous page. This town is full of weird characters.

Another strange place we passed on our tour had a sign outside proclaiming it was ASTRONOMERS' MONUMENT - Universe Observatory. The sign was painted on an old car boot lid which was propped against a tree. The place was under construction though deserted both times we saw it. And each time the words Electricity substation came to mind.

Observatory

I wonder what the planning authority made of the plans for this - assuming they ever saw them.

Our tour guide next took us to a house known as the Black Queen. There was a reason for the name but the explanation left me confused. This house was constructed mainly by a woman and she relied heavily on coloured bottles for lighting effects. Empty bottles, I might add. Who emptied them was unclear.

Bottle window

One of many 'bottle windows' in the Black Queen house.


Lamp

Pam

The clear glass bottles were all capped on the outside to prevent insects carrying in nesting materials. The caps were punctured to allow the bottles to breath and prevent condensation.

The owner of the house had a priceless collection of old oil lamps. Many were beautiful but the one that intrigued me was a 'whorehouse lamp'. It had a solid copper shade which contained three lenses, a red, an amber and a green. The lamp was left in the window with the appropriate lens facing the street. If prospective 'clients' saw a red spot (see right) they would know the lady was busy. If amber was showing it meant she would soon be available and if the green was showing, come on in!

After the Black Queen we visited a disused walk-in mine where we went underground to see what a miner's working life was like. There was even a cinema down there but, of course, it had been installed to educate tourists, not so that miners could watch movies during smoko.

The picture (left) shows Pam about to descend into the mine.
Behind her is guide Barbara, her Duracell batteries still full of life.

One of the displays down in the mine depicted the figure of a miner who, according to the placard, was using the tools of his trade. What we saw was the dummy slumped on the ground with several empty beer bottles around him.

From the walk-in mine we called at a business which cut, polished and mounted opals, ready for sale. We were treated to Devonshire teas and shown lots of finished jewellery. One thing that I learned is that a black opal is not black. Did you know that? A black opal is a coloured opal with a natural backing of black potch to enhance its colours.

Right, so what is potch? Good question. According to the Macquarie Dictionary, in this context potch is commonly the matrix stone in which precious opal is found. Is that what I said? I'm not sure. Perhaps you'd better look on the Internet. Oh, and thank you Macquarie. Perhaps I should have been listening instead of sneaking back quite so often for another scone with jam and cream, but you have to get your priorities right.

I think that just about covers our opal tour. I took a notebook and pen to take notes for you, but Mrs Duracell spoke so fast that if I'd written down one fact I'd have missed ten more, so I tried to remember it all. Or some of it. About all I actually remembered was her voice, but I did take some pictures of the opals.

Opals

Pretty, aren't they? These were just a very small sample of what was on display.

As you'll have gathered by now, Lightning Ridge was full of innovative but inexpensive ideas. Another was utilised by the Tourist Association. For one dollar the Information Office would sell you a guide to four self-drive tours around the outskirts of town. These were called Car Door Tours, and there were red, green, blue and yellow tours. Puzzled?

Car door sign

It's very simple and very effective. If you'd decided on the Red Car Door Tour you'd follow the numbers on the red doors and refer to the information sheet to find out what is of interest near each one. The doors didn't look at all out of place against a background of rubble, scrub and scrap metal.

You have reached Red Car Door number three.
Go right for number four.

Now Lightning Ridge is a mining town where men are men. One morning Pam said she needed help to hang out the washing, the line being too high for her to reach. Being an obliging sort of bloke I readily agreed and we walked across to the laundry which was adjacent to the toilet block.

You peg, she said. Here, put this on, and she handed me her apron with a large pouch full of clothes pegs. We started pegging out the washing.
You carry on, said Pam, and I'll go and get the second load. And off she went.
Do you ever get the feeling that you're being watched? I glanced around. It was about eight o'clock and there was a lot of traffic to and from the toilet block for morning ablutions. The passers-by were all staring oddly at me. I looked slowly down. The apron around my waist was brightly decorated with teddy bears. Above me, pink knickers fluttered in the breeze. From my hand hung a bra.

That's it for our stay in Lightning Ridge. As we've found before, opal attracts bizarre and unique characters resulting in the town having, not only a fascinating past, but also a very interesting present.

The Town of Mitchell

The town of Mitchell, population nine hundred, takes its name from the famous explorer, Major Thomas Mitchell, who passed through the area in . . . well, a long time ago. He was looking for a way from Sydney to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Major Mitchell was named after a parrot - or should that be the other way round?

The 440 kilometre run from Lightning Ridge to Mitchell was a dream. We only saw one truck all day and that was coming in the opposite direction. We sailed along the straight, flat, empty roads with cruise control locked on, the engine humming, and the sun shining. All I had to do was stay awake and steer around the squashed kangaroos along the way. All together: Ahhhhhhh. That's what Pam says whenever she sees one. Sometimes it turns out to be a lifted tread from a truck tyre.

Mitchell is situated in Queensland's Booringa Shire. Yes, we were back in beautiful Queensland, the state we love best! The Booringa Shire covers 27,793 square kilometres and has a population of nineteen hundred people. Simply stating figures means very little to most people, so let me put it this way.

What a great way to escape from the kids! Go and sit in your 14 square kilometres Joe, and don't come out until I tell you.

At first sight, Mitchell seemed a sleepy little place. At second and third sight it still seemed a sleepy little place. The receptionist at the Major Mitchell Caravan Park was very friendly and a real character. She made us welcome and we immediately felt at home - even more so when our new neighbours invited us to join them for 'happy hour'. The park, on the banks of the Maranoa River, was very nice. The fees were ridiculously cheap, and we were sure we were going to enjoy our stay.

We went to bed happy, but during the night we discovered the whereabouts of all those trucks that we hadn't encountered during the day. They were waiting to roar and clatter past the caravan park all night, - semis, 'doubles' and full blown road trains. The Warrego Highway, the main route to Brisbane, passed one hundred metres from our pillows. It had a series of bumps where it crossed the segments of the Maranoa River bridge. A loud thump heralded each new arrival as the heavy truck hit the first bump, followed by a series of thuds, thumps, rattles and jangles as up to sixteen axles encountered bump after bump all night long.

We went for a walk around the town the next day. It was a pleasant enough town and very clean but . . . well, not spectacular. Just about every town has one claim to fame and in Mitchell it was the Kenniff brothers. I'll tell you the story because it makes a great yarn.

The Amazing Story of the Kenniff brothers.

Once upon a time there was a family of scallywags called Kenniff who settled near Mitchell when the police in New South Wales made things too hot for them. They bought themselves a farm and brothers Paddy and Jimmy set about stocking it with horses and cattle - other people's horses and cattle. The Law could never quite pin them down until one day in March, 1902, Constable George Doyle accompanied by a cattle station manager, Albert Dahlke, and an Aboriginal tracker called Sam Johnson came across Paddy and Jimmy at a place called Lethbridges Pocket, a deep circular valley. PC Doyle and his men captured Jimmy but Paddy got away.

Bridge

That bridge over the Maranoa River - the one with bumps between each section that make every truck so noisy. The Welcome Swallows were nesting in the corners of the concrete. In 1990 the river rose over the top of the bridge.

(I only included this picture to break up the boring old text a bit. It has nothing to do with the story.)

While PC Doyle and (unarmed) Albert held Jimmy, tracker Sam was sent back to where they'd tied the pack horse to get the handcuffs. Sam heard five shots and, deciding that they were not from the revolver of PC Doyle, began hurrying back. Until, that is, he saw both the bad men riding towards him.

Discretion is the better part of valour, said Sam in Aborigine. (Well, he might have.) Letting go of the packhorse, he bolted into the scrub.

The bad guys didn't find him, leaving Sam free to go for help. When the rescue party arrived back at Lethbridges Pocket there was no-one there. A search was mounted. In the fullness of time the horse of PC Doyle was found wandering, spattered in blood. The saddlebags contained about 200 lbs. of charcoal. This was sent for whatever passed as forensic examination in 1902. It was found to contain bones, teeth, buttons and . . . a police revolver, all burned. It was thought that the brothers intended to dispose of the ashes in one of the deep gorges in the area but the horse had wandered off. Later still the ashes of an intense fire were found containing more metal objects that were identified as belonging to both PC Doyle and Albert.

A reward of £1,000 was offered for the capture of Paddy and Jimmy and in due course they were arrested and stood trial. Both were found guilty and sentenced to death.

Courthouse

The Courthouse in Mitchell where I researched this information.

A huge controversy then arose over whether the brothers had received a fair trial. Nobody seemed to doubt that they were guilty but the conduct of the trial left a lot to be desired.

Due to all the irregularities the case went to appeal where Sir Samuel Griffith sat as Chief Justice of the Full Supreme Court which was required to decide the points of law raised as a result of the trial. Sir Samuel was judging the conduct of the trial that he, himself, had presided over! Eat your heart out, Law and Order.

The tracker, Sam, was the chief prosecution witness but, as an Aborigine, he was held in very low esteem at that time. Additionally, at the crucial moment he was out of sight of the place where the murders occurred. Doubt was expressed at his ability to differentiate between shots from PC Doyle's Webley revolver and the guns of the brothers, especially in a steep valley. His evidence of the timing of the shots varied. Another Kenniff brother, Tom, was close by and possibly other family members too.

The appeal court upheld the verdicts - now there's a surprise - but Jimmy Kenniff had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment because when finally captured, he had no pistol. Forty years later a child found a rusty revolver under a rock at the place where Jimmy had been arrested. Paddy Kenniff was hanged and Jimmy went to gaol for life but was released after twelve years. He behaved himself thereafter and was well liked wherever he lived until he died of cancer in 1940 at the age of 69. Tracker Sam, later promoted to Corporal, had died of influenza in 1919 so Jimmy took with him to the grave the truth of whatever really happened at Lethbridges Pocket.

Interestingly, a 'moot' appeal to the High Court of Australia was heard in Mitchell in 2002, one hundred years after the original trial. Eminent judges and QCs took part and the legal codes and common law interpretations of 1902 were used to decide the case. The verdict on Paddy was upheld but Jimmy was 'freed' for lack of evidence. That is not to say that he didn't do it, only that there was insufficient evidence to convict him. End of subject. Promise.

Hot Spa

The cool pool at Mitchell, and beyond, the hot spa.

Kathy Mitchell

At the Tourist Information Centre in Mitchell we found a hot spa, a very nice café and lovely, friendly and very helpful staff.

Kathy Mitchell of Mitchell. Kathy is lovely, she
never stops laughing and she makes great coffee.

When we arrived in Mitchell we enquired about water restrictions and were told there are none - use whatever you want. The lawn sprinklers on the street verges were running in the middle of the day. After some of the bone dry towns we visited and the dire situation of the Snowy Mountains Hydro system, it seemed somehow incomprehensible.

Beneath Queensland is the Great Artesian Basin and it's from there that Mitchell and many other inland Queensland towns draw their water. This vast underground reservoir is said to be equal in area to one quarter of the Australian continent and to contain enough water to last - at present rates of usage - about 200,000 years. This we learned from an information display at the town's Tourist Centre.

The artesian water is potable and is piped to the population just as it comes from the ground. It is tested regularly for bacteria etc, but is untreated. It has a very slight sulphur smell most noticeable in the shower but is otherwise fine. Moreover, the water that comes from the tap might have been in the artesian basin when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

In all, there are over 1,000 bores drawing from the Great Artesian Basin. Some bores produce water hot enough to boil an egg. Some go down a kilometre - over 3,000 feet in the old money.

Honey

On a different subject entirely, we'd heard that there was a very good show in Mitchell starring Honey, a part Arab quarter horse. The show took place every second day in a paddock within walking distance of the Caravan Park, so we wandered round to have a look. We soon found the place but it was deserted. Since we were a few minutes early we waited. A passing car slowed down and the driver leaned out and told us to go on in, he was just going to get Honey. We undid the chain securing the gate and went and sat down on one of four metal forms that were positioned behind a yellow tape.

A minute later a different car parked near the gate and a couple alighted and came towards the gate. Being a gentleman I went and opened it for them. As they came in they held out a ten dollar note to me. I explained that I was a spectator like them. As they went to sit down another couple drove up, alighted, offered me a ten dollar note, etc. Hardly had they entered than a third couple arrived and offered me ten dollars. By that time I was beginning to regret not taking the money.

Honey trotting

Soon we heard the sound of a galloping horse and Honey came careering down the road on her own. I opened the gate wide but she galloped straight past and entered the next driveway, disappearing behind a house.

She reappeared in her arena in front of us, still in a hurry.

John, her owner, drove past in a leisurely manner, parked his car and wandered over to talk to us, totally unperturbed by Honey's antics. This was a horse with attitude! John described himself as a 'horse whisperer' - he whispers but Honey doesn't listen.

It was immediately apparent that Honey and John were extraordinarily fond of each other but that Honey had a mind of her own. She was quite prepared to obey John - but only when she was good and ready. At no time during her act did John mount Honey, she performed riderless. She was not offered any incentive, either, John gave her no sugar lumps or apples, just affection and tongue-in-cheek abuse.

For John she would climb onto a stool that was only large enough to accommodate her four feet (see picture below). She would balance on a see-saw, she would push an empty drum around and take it to John, then upend it so he could sit on it.

Honey would walk up behind him, lower her nose and push him in the backside to make him 'hurry home from the pub'. When he lay down in the dirt she rolled him forward with her nose. If he grabbed her tail and sat on the ground she'd tow him around the arena.

She would walk to a gate in the middle of the arena, push it open with her nose, walk through, then push the gate closed. If John scratched her back she would lift her head high and close her eyes. John complained that if he scratched her back, she should scratch his, so she twisted her head around and rubbed his back with her nose.

When John asked her to count to five, she pawed the ground five times. He asked her to count to four and she did that too, though only at the second attempt. John put his left foot onto a log and pretended to tie his lace. Honey stood alongside him and put her left foot on the log, her head down in the same pose as John (see second picture down).

John pulling Honey's tail

Honey could stand on a stool . . .

After the show Honey came across to be patted, stroked and tickled. She wasn't so fond of being patted, what she liked was to nuzzle up to your chest while you scratched her cheek. We'd seen her out and about earlier in the week with John riding her bareback. One day we saw her grazing by the river while John snoozed in the grass.

John and Honey checking shoes

John and Honey check their shoes. Honey was a real honey. We all fell in love her.

Well, that's your lot for the town of Mitchell. On Page 49 you'll find us in Blackall, a small town between Tambo and Barcaldine. Any wiser?

Footnote: This re-working of Page 48 was completed on 12 May 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.