Monday, February 07, 2005

Down,down down to the ends of the earth @16.

I was reminded recently when searching through photo albums going back some 50 years of a holiday taken when I was a young girl of 16 years.The snap was of me and my Mother Jessie standing outside our tent at Bucham Caves (pronounced Bukan)
These caves are well known in Australia and visited by overseas travellers now,not so much in the 1950's.
We had gone there camping ,Mum and Dad and my brother John.Our 1st trip in a borrowed car,as my Father Bert had just got his licence.Not enough money to but a car ,he had to wait until he had the cash which he insisted on ...House to pay for firstly.My Dad was keen to go down these caves as he had worked on a big dam project called the Snowy Mountains Scheme,one of the largset dam building schemes in Australian history.
So here we were,I had never been underground or up in a plane for that matter .."Nothing to it " said Dad,
There was a guide at the entrance who had a lantern and a few small torches for the youngsters.You were not allowed down under 10years of age....So we entered ,Dad firstly then John and Mum and I.
The smell was the first thing I noticed. Cold,a deep cold and a chilling feeling.Not a lot to see until we descended further.
By this time I was starting to have trouble breathing .It was so cold ,but still I pulled the high neck sweater away from my neck.
I asked if I could go back as I had started to shake,no one else seemed effected and as my Father said "Most people feel like this at first,you will get used to it ,give it a bit longer".
Five minutes seemed like an hour,and my hands and legs wouldn't stay still.
I felt giddy,the next thing I remember was sitting on the ground with my back resting against the cave wall and looking up at stalactites hanging above me and the guide and my family looking down on me.
I had spoilt my Fathers' dream.When helped up by him ,I was still wobbly.We returned to the surface and there I stayed for some hours dozing on and off I was told.
Nothing more was said,Dad and my brother did the trip down that afternoon and talked and talked how wonderful it was.
I didn't care if they had met the lock-ness monster down there I was never ever going down underground ever again.
That night I had what is termed as a nightmare .I woke in a lather of sweat and thought I was dying.I wanted to tell everyone in the family that I wasn,t going to be alive after that night..I could not be pasified.Mum got me a pen and paper as I had insisted on, and I wrote out where all my possessions were to go (Not that I had much) having just finished school and about to start work at Swallow and Ariel biscuit factory in the February.
Next day Mum pumped fluid into cups of tea,cordial and water and loads of sugar. I spent the rest of the day between the tent and the toilets.
I don,t remember a lot of when we came home or if the holiday ended abruptly.The matter was not spoken of again and only a photograph remains of a young teenage girl with brown curly hair standing in the sunshine outside a tent with her arm around her Mothers' shoulders.
And I might add that to this day I have never ventured below ground even declining an offer to go down into a submarine docked at my local pier. "No thanks " I said "I'll give it a miss"
Looking back, that experience left me with a very high regard for any miners who do this for a living ,as far as I can see they should be paid whatever they deserve,instead we see them having to fight for their rights with the mining companies who after all,do not own what they take out of the ground,it is only leased to them.
The profits they make for their shareholders far outweigh the wages of the miners.
In closing I hope I can call my story.
"Mining underground is not all that it is cracked up to be"

Lois (Muse of the Sea)
PS When I see Madam Muse again I will show her the photo of Mum and I and that terrible experience down in the mine.


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