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U3A Writing: The Prospector

John Ricketts tells of a lonely gold prospector.

He would appear in the town about twice a year. I saw him once riding on a mule with two donkeys in tow going down the tarmacked street like a ghost from a previous age.

This was in the early fifties. He was a gaunt white-haired man who must have been in his sixties. He wore a battered bush hat, a tattered, patched jacket over trousers with holes in the knees. I watched him ride up to the QueQue hotel which was as anachronistic as he was. It had been built in the early years of the century and had hardly changed. In front their was a hitching rail. You crossed the pavement which was overhung by the first floor, through bat-wing saloon doors you entered the bar. Behind the bar was the gold scale, still in its case with the sliding doors. Until just before the war it was in use but then the law was changed and all gold had to be sold to a bank. In front of the bar was a brass rail as a foot rest and spaced out along its length were brass spittoons. However they were not to be used for their original purpose. They were filled with sand and used for cigarette ends.

The old man rode his mule to the back of the hotel, into the stables (the garage) AS soon as he had seen to the welfare of his mule he and donkeys he made his way to the bar where he had his first beer on the slate. Then he made his way across the road to the bank where he weighed in his gold. Usually he sold it all and collected his cash due though, on occasions he left some on his account at the bank. Sometimes when he had not collected enough he had to raid his nest egg.

Straight from the bank he went into Solman’s, a provision store and bought supplies for his next trip into the bush. He always bought a couple of shirts and a pair of working trousers which he took back to the hotel with him. There was a little room at the back, used mainly as a store room, with a single bed in it. He washed and changed into the new clothes, then went into the bar.

There he stayed from morning until it closed at night when he staggered or was carried to his lonely bed. During the day he talked to whoever offered to listen. He told stories of his days in the bush, of his brushes with leopards, of his times of near starvation when he was stranded by a flood which came so suddenly that he was cut off form his camp without any food. The only taboo subjects were where he had been prospecting and where he was going in the future.

He had been prospecting for nearly forty years. He had always been successful enough just to keep body and soul together with occasional bigger finds which prevented him being discouraged. He must really have had the gold fever in his blood. He gave up everything, marriage , friendship, companionship, comfort and the rest in his restless search for gold.

He must be dead now and his bones are lying beside some auriferous stream in Rhodesia. I wonder if he had any regrets at the end.


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