Prospecting in Australia


ONE of the most fascinating pursuits on earth is that of prospecting for minerals. The prospector looks upon the whole world as his hunting-ground, and is equally at home in the icebound valley of the Yukon or in the dense tropical forests of New Guinea. Brazil is the same to him as California or Australia, and he knows all the world’s waste places by the track of his footsteps. The writer is one of that legion of wanderers; he has chased elusive fortune everywhere, and now thinks that North Queensland, in Australia, is the world’s most prolific treasure tract. In North Queensland almost every known mineral exists somewhere between the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Pacific coast, and probably there are many others as yet unknown.

Finding minerals in North Queensland is an easy task; there, the sun always shines, life is pleasant, its requirements easily procured, and, as if by some magical influence, neither cares nor worries afflict anyone once the civilized coastal towns are left behind. Men from all parts of the world plunge into the vast region beyond the Great Dividing Range, and promptly become lost to all outside interference. Some may have reasons they never tell for being there, but most are chasing fortune in the shape of gold, silver, copper, molybdenite, wolfram, tin, and dozens of other minerals, simply because they love a life of freedom and know that their gain will be yielded from nature’s treasure-store and mean no loss to their fellow men.

In the glorious North prospectors become a law unto themselves in some things. They certainly obey the law of the Commonwealth of Australia, but, inside its general principles, also follow what seems to be a natural law in the country. They want to be on the move, and this impelling feeling is the reason why, after having actually developed a mine, they leave it, and pass on to the scene of the latest reported ‘find’ of some other mineral. They mark their abandoned properties on a more or less crude map, nevertheless, and know that, if luck goes against them in their new venture, their old mines will probably be as they left them, when they care to return to them. In the interval, after the first rain, tropical vegetation covers up all signs of previous work, unless a chance bush-fire discloses the old ore-dumps and other relics of the abandoned mines. Other prospectors usually pass by any signs by chance disclosed, as each, having a map of his own ‘finds,’ respects the unlegalized rights of the man who has gone before him. Besides, any mine will most likely be flooded with water, as a result of the last rainy season, — December to February, — and the trouble of unwatering would be too big a proposition for those who did not know what the water concealed, but knew they could get all their requirements by passing on to the next untouched outcrop. The writer has his own map showing the locations of over a hundred mines, all more or less developed, and they are certainly not worthless.

The mineral at present commanding the most attention is molybdenite; but wolfram, which is also used for steel-hardening purposes, because of its tungsten contents, is a close second.

Copper, tin, lead, antimony, and bismuth are also abundant in the great north; but, as their prices depend on the demand for them, that price is small, at present, owning to the prevailing bad trade-conditions. Silver is found everywhere associated with lead, and gold seems to have a home in all places where one would least expect to find it. But as the prospector always moves on, often when he has really proved his mine but has got the ‘ moveon feeling,’ there are probably many hundreds of vegetation-covered mines in North Queensland now, the value of which will never be known because their original owners will never reclaim them.

The men who frequent the great plateau are seldom miners by profession; in fact, they include wanderers from all parts, and of all professions, and consequently, many quaint partnerships are formed. My last associates were a careless band of optimists such as could exist only in North Queensland. My partner was a famous professor of mineralogy in New Zealand, but he does not yet know that I discovered that fact, although I was instrumental in naming him ‘the Professor.’ He was full of ideas, and could make a stew which no Chinese cook could equal. We were ‘tinscratching’ on a creek which fed the Tate River — when it flowed; and, at the time, tin commanded a price that made every ‘scratcher’ feel like a Ford or a Rothschild. Near us were several other groups of partners, which included a doctor, a lawyer, an ex-banker, a parson, and about a dozen others of no special calling that they spoke of, although one of them thought he was a poet. We pooled our ‘black sand,’ and, when opportunity offered, sent it to the buyers. Money was easily earned, and our camp soon threatened to grow into a township, when, suddenly, all was broken up because someone discovered a rich gold formation a few miles farther west. The professor opposed the idea of shifting camp to the new gold-field, but, as tin fell in price just then, I was able to convince him that gold nearly five pounds an ounce in value offered a better paying means of living the simple life than tin at under two hundred pounds per ton.

We moved, and made the gold pay us well; and an inventor fellow had just succeeded in rigging up a wonderful electric-light installation for the camp, when the rainy season stopped. The creek then ceased to flow, and his source of power disappeared. We could have got on all right without electric light; but as Peter the Poet stumbled across a big wolfram lode in the hills near, just then, and we knew we could return to the gold next rainy season if we cared to, we again shifted camp.

The wolfram proved to be a fairpaying proposition but its treatment troubled us. Our primitive methods enabled us to extract only the mineral in the highest-grade ore, and we had to discard fully fifty per cent of the ore we mined. We could have sent all our ore to the nearest government reduction works, where nearly all the wolfram would have been extracted at a comparatively small cost; but to do so meant the cutting of a road to the nearest railway, and we did not feel inclined to be roadmakers.

Rich finds of antimony were made by someone about this time, but the question of treatment was too big a problem for even our inventor fellow to tackle at the time —and that antimony still lies there. Molybdenite then coming into demand, owing, it was believed, to some new uses for that mineral in the steel trade having been discovered, a general camp-fire consultation was held. As almost every man knew of some molybdenite ‘show’ he had some time previously abandoned for no particular reason, a half-hearted break-up of camp ensued, and parties went their several ways. Thus, there are several hundreds of tons of rich wolfram ore lying: around those abandoned shafts to-day, and, probably, many thousands of tons awaiting raising from their lower levels.


I knew of many quartz reefs carrying molybdenite, and consequently the professor, the parson, the doctor, Mac, Boston Bob, the poet, and some others, including, of course, myself, eventually established a new camp about twenty miles from the mining town of Chillagoe. Molybdenite there, according to Mac, existed in a richer formation than was known elsewhere in the world. The others did not know what America or other countries of supply yielded, and as we could break out the flaky, silvery-gray mineral, averaging three per cent metallic contents, by hammer blows, from innumerable surface outcrops, we did not care much what the rest of the world produced. We ignored the existence of the government works, erected specially to purchase and treat all ores, at a central point down the railway line, and contented ourselves with picking, by hand, the pure flakes and particles which were shed from their quartzy environment on being shattered. We sent our products to the buyers direct, as we had done with the wolfram. Molybdenite was £400 per ton at the time and, even with our extremely primitive methods, afforded us a returning currency more than we required.

But the inventor fellow was at his deadly work again. He somehow discovered that at least fifty per cent of the molybdenite remaining in the quartz, from which the larger pieces had been already picked, could be saved without much labor. By partly crushing the discarded rock in a crude hand-battery, and arranging that the powdered ore resulting would slide gently into a pool made in the creek which supplied us with water, most of the valuable mineral would float — if provision were made for getting rid of the barren material. We soon improved upon our method of crushing, and made the creek do most of our work. It, was a permanent creek, having its sources in some adjacent limebluffs which acted as huge sponges during the rainy season and yielded water from their porous reservoirs all the year round until the next rainy season. Probably, the presence of lime in the water of the creek was an important factor in the flotation of our molybdenite; but, of course, I am not telling the whole story of the inventor fellow’s discovery.

The mineral gained so easily amply paid us for our efforts in obtaining it; and, although perhaps half was lost by being carried away in the creek, we did not worry. We knew that the lost portion did not go very far down the creek, and could be collected ‘some day,’ if the demand for molybdenite made that process worth while.

But the news of our improvised plant spread far and near, and soon so-called mining experts and others came along to see what was in the idea. The idea itself was almost all, but few really believed that the water of the creek did so much for us — and we did not explain. The camp soon became so popular that we found it necessary to keep half a dozen tents specially reserved for visitors, and to employ a cook. Most of our old comrades rejoined us, and many other wandering prospectors pegged out ground along our creek. Our camp thus grew daily, and seemed as if it were to form the centre of another township, and all our shafts were deep in the heart of the rich lode of molybdenite. The professor was writing a book about butterflies or ants — I don’t know which — in his spare time, and Peter the Poet was producing ravings, which we were forced to listen to, at an appalling speed. The doctor found a kind of shrub which, when dried and smoked, had some marvelous effect on what he called the bronchial tubes. He wrote a book on the subject, but all the men in camp, including the parson, were very rude when asked to smoke his preparation. During this period the inventor fellow had brain spasms every day and had to be kept under strict supervision.

One day a couple of enterprising but courteous city men arrived, dressed in garments which reminded some of us of Sydney, New York, or London. But they were neither British nor American, although they spoke better English than any of us, excepting Boston Bob and the professor. They were the representatives of a big French steel company, and in about half an hour after introducing themselves offered to buy all our properties. They were extremely frank, and told us that the demand for molybdenite would soon be greater than the known resources of the world could supply. They were acting on the assumption that normal trade-conditions in Europe and America would soon be restored, and were anxious to ensure their own peoples’ requirements.

The professor, as usual, objected to our doing business. He said he was tired of building new camps and wanted to get his book finished without another shift. We concluded the deal, notwithstanding, and probably the buyers got a bargain. We knew where to find several outcrops a few miles away, however, which had every indication, according to Big Sam, who was our most experienced prospector, of proving to be more than equal in depth to the mines we had sold. If good trade-conditions should bring about a boom in molybdenite, we thought we could take full advantage of our knowledge.


That night we left the camp, as it stood, to the new owners and some of those they were able to employ; and the returning Etheridge railway train, which runs once a week, took us to Chillagoe, where the wild hilarity of visiting a hair-cutting saloon, and other things, almost made us reckless. We also got the names of the ‘certain winners’ in some big Melbourne event about due; but as each man heard of a different ‘certain winner,’ the information was a bit perplexing.

We had now sufficient funds to enable us to tackle some big proposition, and as we had got tired of the strenuous life of Chillagoe, which consisted of a ceaseless round of eating, sleeping, and drinking, with sometimes a Salvation Army meeting or a picture show in addition, we decided one day to get on the move again. We all knew of some abandoned copper mines about thirty miles to the west. Why they had been abandoned, we did not know; but that fact did not matter, as there are seldom reasons for anything in North Queensland. The price of copper, like that of all other metals, had fallen at the time; but as the mines were already developed, we calculated that we could make them pay, even if we had to hold back our products for a time.

But we did not proceed straight to those mines. We knew they would wait for us, as they were too big for any other band of men, then in the district, to handle. The country between was known to be very rich in mineral wealth, and we decided to make our journey a prospecting trip.

In some respects that trip was wonderful. During the ten days that we traveled toward our promised land, we found outcrops of almost every known mineral. Most of us could tell what they were by sight, but the professor’s or Mac’s crude though careful assays were necessary, to determine the percentages and values of the minerals carried in the various formations. The inventor fellow wanted to stop at every new find, and always had some plan in his mind for the efficient treatment of the ore; but, in most cases, we only marked them on our maps, with the intention of coming back to them ‘some day.’ Wolfram and molybdenite seemed to be everywhere, and tin could always be found in the gullies.

Near our destination, we struck a belt of silver-lead country, and as silver commanded a fair price at the time, we sunk pot-holes here and there, and were somewhat surprised at the high values contained in the reefs. The ore was in massive chunks weighing anything up to a hundredweight. It was really galena (a sulphide of lead), but it carried about two hundred ounces of silver to the ton, and over 30 per cent of lead. We could easily have cut a bush track from that part to the government smelters at Chillagoe; but the inventor fellow said we could concentrate the ore on the spot by simple flotation methods, and thus, by getting rid of the poorer material, raise the value to perhaps a thousand ounces of silver, and, allowing for losses, 70 per cent of lead per transported ton. But the absence of water settled the matter, and, thinking that we might return and build a water-conserving dam before the next rainy season, or ‘some day,’ we resumed our journey, riding transversely over five miles of country for every forward mile traveled.

That night we struck an abandoned camp which, judging by the great heaps of ore lying around the old shafts, must have been an important one at some time. Remnants of tents were still standing, and windlasses remained over the shafts as they had been left. It was dark before we could find out any reason for its abandonment. Most of us thought that its members had simply got the ‘move-on’ feeling and left; but Peter the Poet surmised that, all its population had gone down to see the Cairns races, and, having lost all their money in that city by the sea, had heard of some fresh mineral discoveries nearer, and thus had never returned.

I knew the country thereabout well, and going back in memory to the men I had known who previously had frequented the district, although I had never heard of the camp, I thought that, to a man, they had suddenly left for the war, as most other prospectors had done, and had not returned. The doctor said nothing, but seemed to take a great interest in the old bottles and tins littered about, which were mostly of the medicine variety.

We set fire to the long grass which had overgrown everything, and, after attending to our horses, dined extremely well, discussed matters of more or less importance, said unkind things to the poet, and went to sleep under the stars.

But the inventor fellow could n’t sleep. Perhaps something had gone wrong with the Southern Cross constellation, from his horizontal point of view, or he may have had one of his usual brain spasms. He got up and wandered among the great ‘blows’ and outcrops now showing, where the fire had done its work. Mac joined him very soon, and a few minutes later came Boston Bob and the parson. They had a night of it, but before morning they kicked up the others to announce the result of their perambulations in the darkness. This was to the effect that an outcropping reef of copper carbonate, carrying about an ounce of gold to the ton, formed the ridge upon which the old camp had been situated, and that the bottom of one of the shafts sunk through its heart was left in a 35 per cent copper-sulphide ore, of unknown gold contents, but with a silver value of at least forty ounces per ton.

The news was surprising, but the chief element of surprise lay in the question why such a treasure-store had been abandoned. After breakfast, almost every shaft was examined. They proved to have been sunk on the ‘underlie’ of an extraordinarily rich copper lode; and even with copper at only £60 per ton many fortunes were waiting, because of the gold and silver the lode carried, in addition. There were huge dumps of ore already ‘at grass’ (on top of the ground awaiting transport), and it seemed as if we had really struck something good. The inventor fellow at once began evolving a scheme of treatment for the ore which would save transportation, and the professor took many assays. The parson and the poet worked hard with pick and shovel, Mac, Boston Bob, and Sydney Charlie saw about repegging the ground, others got busy putting up our tents, Big Sam went out with his gun to replenish our larder, and the doctor wandered off into the bush, thinking.

A hard day’s work in the fierce heat of the North Queensland sun earned a rest when sundown came, and we were all, excepting the doctor, who had not returned, helping Mac in the preparation of our evening meal which, thanks to Big Sam’s prowess, would be original and varied, when two riders rode into the light of the camp-fire. We recognized them at once as the two affable Frenchmen who had bought our molybdenite properties, and welcomed them in the usual hearty bush style, gave them a tent, and saw to their horses. Then we waited for them to explain their business, if they had any; but we also awaited our dinner with more expectancy, and we were anxious about the doctor, who was not gifted with great, bush knowledge and might easily have got lost.

‘What horse won the Melbourne Cup? ‘ someone asked, abruptly, as we squatted round the fire to share what the gods, Big Sam, and Mac had provided.

One of our visitors mentioned a name which was not that of any of our ‘certain winners,’and we all became reflectively silent. This silence was broken by the doctor’s arrival, and in answer to our questions he explained, briefly, that he had been exploring. All laughed and some passed sarcastic remarks, but the doctor would say no more. He took his place in the circle round the fire, and the meal proceeded in a silence strangely incongruous in our camp. At last the professor forced matters to the point of interest.

’I suppose you fellows have come to ask us to take back the mines you bought from us?’ he observed, addressing the two strangers.

‘No,’one answered, hesitatingly; ‘the fact is we sold them over again and — we do not know how to put it rightly — we have been chasing you gentlemen all over the country to get some more from you.'

We all breathed again; but Boston Bob, who was an expert in the art of hiding his feelings, inquired casually, ‘How much did you get for them?’

’Oh, we do not wish to hide anything from you,’said the second man: ‘We got exactly double the price we paid you — ‘

‘You only got double!’ Bob exclaimed in disgust. ‘You are most assuredly greater fools than we were. Molybdenite is going to be almost priceless soon, and —

‘Yes, we know that,’replied the same man; ‘but you see we are business men, not prospectors like you fellows. We can sell mines but we could never find them.’

‘You couldn’t help finding a mine in this vicinity if you survived falling down the shaft someone else had already sunk on its outcrop,’the parson remarked.

‘This reef beside us is the biggest copper proposition I have ever known,’ added the professor, reflectively. ‘You can see, even in the dark, that there are many hundreds of tons at grass already.’

‘But you did not put that ore there,’ laughed one of the men. ‘I will make you a sporting offer, now, of a thousand pounds for your rights — ‘

‘All right,’ broke in the doctor; ‘the reef is worth many times that figure, but it has not cost us much.'

We were all very much surprised at the doctor’s words. He was not a business man, and his knowledge of the value of a mineral outcrop was about equal to that of Peter the Poet or the inventor fellow on medicine or theology; but of course we had to stand by what any of our comrades said. *

We passed a pleasant evening smoking, telling ghost stories, and, in a way, studying astronomy. Next morning the deal was effected and the men rode back to Chillagoe to register the leases which we had not yet even ‘claimed’ ourselves. (We afterward found out that the astute French gentlemen thought they had purchased the mines we had set out from Chillagoe to find; that town having been greatly excited over our mission, after our departure.)

We took down our tents and rode westward under the doctor’s leadership, and soon we understood why he had sold our rights so cheaply. He led us to a little, crudely fenced-in square, and a wooden cross inside informed us, in rough letters cut out in it, that three prospectors lay underneath, having ‘pegged out from plague.’

‘I found this yesterday, boys,’ the doctor said as we halted, reverently. ‘That cross explains why the place was abandoned. I knew that you fellows would never work their old shows. Most of us knew them.'

We passed on, sadly. Most of us had known them, and we recalled that a mysterious epidemic had visited the land while we had been — elsewhere. Those men had returned from the war before us, and had met their earthly end in their own country. We were all thinking according to our various intelligences, although Peter the Poet and the inventor fellow were most visibly moved, when the doctor said: ‘Did those French fellows happen to mention, last night, what horse won the Cup?’

Mac told him, and the doctor seemed very thoughtful for a moment. Then he suddenly remarked, ‘ Boys, life must be a kind of a dream after all. I have been a failure in every thing I am qualified to make good in, yet I gambled a hundred pounds on that horse at ten to one. Let us go back and get rid of that thousand pounds and have a good time in Cairns.'

We also were silent for a brief space. The parson was the first to speak. ‘Well, you have only won what your mates have lost, so we ‘ll go on with life’s dream where we are; you can give your money away without much trouble.'

Somehow, all seemed to agree with the parson. To a prospector a good time means prospecting, and we were prospecting. The doctor became thoughtful and left the leadership to the inventor fellow, and an hour before sundown we reached the old abandoned copper-workings we had set out to find.


We found four Chinamen in possession, but that fact did not trouble us, as they were only working the surface outcrops, and treating, in their own way, the discarded ore left by the oldtime miners. And their leader had once been my cook! That night we again dined well, thanks to Ah Sin, my former servant; and, a little later, when we stretched ourselves for sleep under nature’s perfect canopy, we again watched the constellations of the South move in their mysterious ways.

Next morning we started to work. We set fire to the long grass which had overgrown and almost hidden the old workings, incidentally, also, burning much primitive mining plant which would have been of much service to us. Before sundown we had fitted new ropes to most of the wooden windlasses still standing over the old shafts, and had carefully examined the shafts and the formations through which they had been sunk, taking all due precautions against possible accumulations of gas at the lower levels. The reef outcropped along a line of about two miles, and, on the surface, carried masses of copper carbonate which averaged 35 per cent in value, according to the professor’s assay.

In a few days everything was in working order. We left the surface workings to the Chinese, who were all good fellows and knew some things in connection with mining that we did not know; but, according to the law of Queensland, they could not themselves hold a mining lease. I need only say that the inventor fellow learned more of the science of ore-treatment from them than is known, generally, or written in any textbook, and that the professor added a chapter to his book.

It was the lower and ‘constant’ levels that we were after, however, and we called into service an old steampump and a derelict boiler left by the last workers. The inventor fellow did the rest. The main shaft was pumped dry, and the levels underneath cleaned out. Those proved to have been driven along a lode of dense copper sulphide which we had to cross-cut to find the width. Why such a huge body of ore had ever been left was a mystery we could not solve; but we soon ceased trying to find an explanation, and day by day we opened out new ore-bodies. The transport of our ore to the smelters in Chillagoe proved, at first, to be a very difficult proposition; but the inventor fellow and the Chinese evolved a system of concentration, which I must not explain, which did much to do away with that trouble. By its means it was necessary to transport only three tons of ore to yield one ton of the metal. We cut a track to Chillagoe and employed horse teams to convey our concentrated product to the smelters; but later on we bought, at scrap-iron prices, some old traction engines lying at rail-head, and the inventor fellow, helped by all, made them do wonders in the way of transportation.

We were now happy. We owned a first-class mine and, being able to work it ourselves, were free from all labor troubles; but the reason why such a property had become ours so easily was still causing some of us much thought. The explanation came, however. One night an old prospector rode up to our camp-fire and shared our repast. I noticed that Big Sam occasionally looked at him, curiously.

‘Are you boys making your show pay all right?’ the stranger asked, casually, during a lull in the general conversation.

‘We think so,’ the banker answered, modestly, ‘but we have n’t yet worked out all the costs of transportation and smelting.’

‘That’s what killed us,’ the man said, quietly. ‘There weren’t any smelters at Chillagoe when we worked this place. We had to pack all our ore on horses and, when copper dropped to fifty pounds, it didn’t pay us to send it over the ranges to the nearest smelter. I reckon you ‘ll find mighty good stuff in the east drive. — Has any fellow got a spare pipe and a bit tobacco ?’

The change in the subject was strange, but the man was evidently trying to hide his emotions. We all rose to get pipes, but Big Sam instantly handed him his own, in full going order. ‘Have mine, Tom,’ Sam said; ‘I haven’t seen you for ten years.’

‘No, Sam, I ‘ve been wandering among the South Sea islands, pearling, for a bit; then I went to Mexico after gold. But this old place kept calling me all the time and, though I ‘m too late in getting back to it, the ghosts of my old mates will know I did my best.’

‘You ‘re not too late, old man,’ Sam said kindly; ‘only you ‘ve got new mates. Tom Riddell is welcome in any camp that holds Big Sam.’

With one voice, all approved our comrade’s words, and our muster-roll became twelve.

Old Tom Riddell, whose name is known everywhere throughout the world as a pioneer, proved a valuable asset to us, and soon we found it to be to our advantage to employ any chance men who came along. Our camp quickly grew into one of the chief mining-centres of the district, and the inventor fellow erected a suctiongas plant and made it serve many purposes resulting to our comfort. He attached a dynamo and an air-compressor, and thus we had electric light and, somehow, by means of the aircompressor, cold water to drink—a luxury unknown in North Queensland away from the coastal towns. The Chinamen diverted the water pumped from the mines into bark channels they made themselves, which led into selected ground they formed into gardens. There, by reason of the water and the tropical sun, they grew fruit and vegetables in a magical way, and our camp soon became famous far and near for its civilized attractions.

Popularity by no means pleased us; and the inventor fellow, Peter the Poet, and the parson were told to exercise their particular gifts less strenuously. But the evil had already been done, and our camp grew into a town, almost miraculously, and many other parties opened out new mines along the reef. The town was eventually surveyed and proclaimed by government officials, named by the professor, and is now in big print on the map.

But the glamour had gone for us. To preserve our dignity as the founders of the town and the owners of the chief mines, we had to wear collars, pay some attention to our dress, and live in our respective houses. Life was no longer an existence of untrammeled freedom, and we began to think of going back to some of our old molybdenite shows, where a common campfire and our tents would again afford the glorious good-fellowship which most of us craved.

While discussing things one day in a large cool chamber down one of our chief mines, one of our employed men brought us word that three fancydressed men from Melbourne had arrived and were anxious to see us. They were invited to come below, and when they saw the enormous formation of the lode, they could not hide their amazement. ‘We are business men,’ one began, ‘representing American interests. We are looking for copper mines in anticipation of a trade boom. Life is very short, and we have not time to go into details. We know all about your mines from the official smelter returns and — ‘

‘The Bird of Time has but a little way to fly —’ chimed in our poet; but Big Sam threw an ore-bag over his head, and Mac sat on him and thus prevented him from saying more.

‘You are looking at the formation of one of the biggest and, perhaps, the richest copper lode in the world,’ said the banker. ‘It has been proved for two miles in length, is five feet seven and a half inches wide, at the narrowest part, and probably extends in depth to a place not geographically defined, though popularly supposed to be nearly as hot as North Queensland.’

The would-be mine-buyers looked mystified, and, I think, some of us gave the banker’s place a name.

‘We can’t calculate on extreme depths not proved,’ one of the men said, seriously. ‘We ‘ll allow you the measurements as they actually are.’

Boston Bob became our spokesman, and we came to terms very soon. Probably we sold the mines for a fraction of their value. Indeed, the new owners told us we were fools, when the deal was completed. Perhaps we were; but we were tired of the place and did n’t trouble to explain that we knew of about a hundred other properties, that we were prospectors in preference to being miners, and that the amassing of wealth was only a secondary thing, which we could not help.

The new owners attended promptly to their own business and employed every man available to work the mines; but we suffered a few days’ agony, doing nothing. One afternoon, while some of us were swimming in the Walsh River, about a mile away from the town we had brought into existence, the parson said, ‘Boys, we are wasting our lives; I ought to be seeing about building a church, and you fellows forming a progress committee. Our town will be very famous some day.

‘I know what I am going to do,’ I said: ‘I am going home to the Old Country to study a bit, and get some special machinery made; then I am coming back to work some of the molybdenite shows I know.’

‘Then we ‘ll all go home,’ said the doctor. ‘A trip would do us good and I want to get some books in a place I know in London.’

I knew that place, too, but did not feel called upon to say anything; but the idea of a trip either to Britain or America was hailed with delight.

That night, nine members of the twelve rode out on the bright moonlit track we had cut ourselves, toward Chillagoe. Those left behind were the parson, old Riddell, and Boston Bob. The parson felt he had a mission, Riddell would not leave the country, and Boston Bob guessed he could be happy where he was until our return. Our farewells were, as far as I can remember, ‘Good-night, old men, we ‘ll see you again, soon.’

The poet and another saw them again, I expect, before morning, as, about half-way to Chillagoc, they announced that they felt they couldn’t leave their mates—or the North. Next morning, six men sold their horses in Chillagoe — I was the seventh, but having left the country so often previously, and liking my horse, I gave him into safe-keeping instead of selling him — and boarded the train for Cairns.

At Mareeba, an important junction town down the line, we saw the first newspapers that had come our way for a long time. They reported, among other things, that the demand for the rare minerals was increasing; and, while we were waiting at the station, the doctor and another informed us, abruptly, that they had changed their minds. ‘We find we cannot leave the North,’ the doctor said; ‘Mareeba is as far away from the lime-bluffs as I ever want to go. You fellows can bring me back the books I want.'

Five of us reached Cairns, but only four boarded the steamer for Sydney. Next morning’s train carried the other back to his comrades — and a campfire. At Sydney, the banker thought he would like to try to form a syndicate to work some of the deeper level molybdenite deposits we knew, and, eventually, only two men boarded the Niagara for Vancouver and the homeland.

The professor is already on his way back and the inventor fellow has got the doctor’s books and will not be long behind him.