Written by Ron Kitching and received 14 April 2010.
This short story has been available to read at the Tennant Creek Brisbane reunions. Ron was writing a book of memories and offered these short stories. A very enjoyable and memorable read.
We, (Glindemann and Kitching Enterprises), did our first drilling in Tennant Creek about 1954-55 for National Lead. Dick Ellett was the Geologist in Charge.
We drilled the little anomaly that later became the Juno Gold mine. We missed the target and Dick made the remark that if it was that small National Lead was not interested in it.
We later did a hole for the Bureau of Mineral Resources O/AC Peko Wallsend. Then for years we drilled for Australian Development.
We later got lumbered with the contract to drill out the Warrego Gold mine. A few Tennant Creek stories follow about that episode.
DEALING WITH TERRIBLE TED
In the early 70’s Peko Mines N.L. called tenders to do a substantial drilling contract underground in their Warrego Mine near Tennant Creek. I visited the mine and discussed the programme with the Engineers responsible for the prosecution of the work and at that time I was not keen to do underground drilling in the developing mine for a number of reasons.
The main reason was that the contract called for a precise starting and finishing time. Normally this would not have worried me. In fact I like working for a company which sets specific goals. But in this particular case, the development drives and drill cuddies, in which the drilling was to take place were not even underway. Also for such a concentrated effort, which included the mine’s responsibility of putting in the drill drives and cuddies, experience dictated that nothing could be allowed to go wrong if we were to start and finish on time. Also a late start or late finish for whatever reason, invited severe penalties.
The other reason was that there was no access cage; men, and equipment had to travel up and down in the same bucket that hauled the waste and any ore bought to the surface. And furthermore everybody got wet through as water poured down the shaft 24 hours a day. Not an attractive proposition to start with.
The Area Manager for Peko’s mines in Tennant Creek was Ted Davies. Ted had previously had a great career at Mount Isa Mines where he started as a miner and finally became Mine Manager of one of the world’s great underground mines. Ted’s long suit was planning and organising.
Ted took the position in Tennant Creek as Area Manager, managing five underground mines, three of which were high grade gold mines and the other two, the Gecko and Warrego were then regarded as copper mines but had known minor gold values in the ore. Warrego was the biggest, with a then known resource of five million tonnes. This was later upgraded to about eight and a half million tonnes.
In any case, Ted called a meeting in his office in Tennant Creek to discuss the matter. I decided to fly to Tennant Creek to consider the whole thing. Ted was affectionately known throughout the industry as Terrible Ted. As the nickname indicates, some people thought he could be unnecessarily tough and at times, unreasonable to deal with too. While this may or may not have been the case, he knew how to get things done properly and did not spare incompetence.
He was a stickler for rules and iron discipline. I did not mind that. I remember when he was underground Superintendent at MIM; he was once visiting a crew underground when he noticed a man collaring a hole without using his safety goggles. He stopped the operation and asked the man, “Do you want one of these?” and slipped his hand from his pocket and slid open a match box in which resided a plastic eye, from its cotton wool bed, the blue eye gazed out accusingly at the offending miner. Of course the offender hastily stated that he did not wish to have an artificial eye. Ted then told him that unless he stuck to the rules and wore his safety goggles, he would not only earn a plastic eye, but would get a week off, even dismissal, if caught again breaking safety rules. And he was a bit of a terror when it came training young engineers. For instance when a young man was being trained to make a technical presentation, Terrible Ted would sit up at the back and disrupt the proceedings using untoward and unexpected tactics. The object was to get the young man used to the sort of situations which sometimes occur at such meetings, in order to reduce the chances of his becoming flustered in a real situation. It was not always popular, but it was effective. The effect was to get young men to prepare for such occurrences and be relaxed and learn to cope with them. But one has to be careful with some young men, as, if a bit on the timid side, such treatment can have an adverse effect.
To return to Tennant Creek. I planned to be away overnight, and apart from me and the pilot, had an empty aeroplane. So I rang Ken Finlay, the Manager of Mount Isa Mines and told him that considering the circumstances, he could, if he wished, send any of his young engineers with me to have a look at the fast developing Tennant Creek copper and goldfield. As it turned out he had a young engineer visiting from Sweden. The young Swede jumped at the opportunity to visit with me.
At that time, gold mining at Peko’s Juno Mine, was in full swing. At that time, it was Australia’s richest gold mine, (it was averaging 2.5 ounces), and the young Swede was keen to see it all. So I made the necessary arrangements for him and my pilot to go underground at the Juno, while I was at the meeting with Terrible Ted and his staff. After I drove to the Peko office for my meeting with the management, I handed my Avis car to my pilot and directed them to the Juno Mine, which was not far away, and where they were to be escorted underground by the Mine Manager.
Then came the meeting with Ted. He was accompanied by Brian Williams, Chief Geologist for Geopeko in Tennant Creek, and Norm Moorwood, then Mine Superintendent at the Warrego Mine. I had already made a trip underground at Warrego the previous month. It was not a happy experience, as I mentioned earlier, the only way up and down was in the bucket while water poured all over the occupants going down and up. I was informed too, that such access would only be available at 8am, noon, 4pm, 8pm and midnight daily. I could also see that the mine was not really well organised at that point.
It is well to inform readers that underground, most of the mining equipment is powered by compressed air. So, on checking, at the compressor room I could see too, that for all of the operations necessary, they were going to be short of compressed air, especially compressed air at the required volume and pressures of minimum 100psi at the four drills and pumps I proposed to use underground.
So on entering the meeting I was not particularly keen to do the job. But if we did do it, I planned to use the new Swedish Diamec machines. Although none had yet been imported to Australia, they were a huge advance technically on existing underground exploration drills.
Ted ran the meeting in his usual professional way discussing point by point and recording the necessary points for future records and discussion. I told him of my plan to use Diamecs, were we to be the successful contractor and told him why. They were in fact, the only machines capable of completing the job on time. I also requested that electric cables be installed so we could use electric Diamecs as obviously there was not enough air available. He immediately ruled that option out, as we were told that by the time we were to take over, all development mining would be completed, and so there would be plenty of air at the right pressures. I very much doubted this and in fact, my doubts were well founded as it turned out.
I then requested that we be given space in his new caravan park which was planned to be built. I got a severe reaction from that comment. “No”, Terrible Ted thundered, “we are not going to have drillers around our caravan park, they are too untidy,” and he went on to tell me about some of the unfortunate experiences he had with an opposition company.
“We plan for you to make your own camp down at the seven mile dam,” he said. I replied that I refused point blank to camp down there, as it was too far from the job. I told him that I wanted my men to be within two minute walking distance of the mine gate. Ted thought that this was an unreasonable request and demanded to know why.
“Look Ted, I have a vast experience in this business. I can already see in my mind’s eye, me, or my foreman, waiting at the mine head frame for drillers who are late for whatever reason. And I proceeded to give him and his fellow officers a multitude of examples. I did not seem to be making much of an impression, when a timid little secretary knocked at the door and upon opening it said, “Excuse me Mr. Davies, but I have an urgent message for Mr. Kitching”. “Well then,” shouted Ted impatiently, “give it to him.”
The poor girl turned to me and said “I’m sorry Mr. Kitching, but your men at the Juno Mine have rung to tell you that they cannot start the car.”
I immediately turned my attention to Ted and said innocently, and hopelessly, “Me battery’s flat”. Brian Williams and Norm Moorwood nearly fell off their chairs laughing.
Ted assumed a stern expression and scribbled something into his minutes. When I got a copy late that afternoon, his remark was a follows:
“Mr. Kitching flatly refuses to accommodate his men further than walking distance from the mine gate at Warrego. Therefore arrangements will be made to accommodate him and his men on site.” We were to be accommodated in the company’s new caravan park.
I have always maintained that it was one of the very few arguments I ever won with Ted, and it all happened by accident. Had I paid the men and the girl to co-operate and deliver the famous line at the critical moment, it could never have happened. Somebody would have missed a beat and ruined the opportunity.
We loaded the tender to cope with the inevitable delays I foresaw, and just as well. As the company caravan park was not even half completed, we ended up having to build our own caravan park near the mine gate, and at our cost and time. It was a beautiful little park capable of accommodating about 28men and their families. Complete with separate laundry, bathing and toilet blocks for men and women, my Foreman Don Stevenson and I built a picturesque driveway, landscaped the site and built vegetable and flower gardens, once the flowers bloomed and the vegetables grew it was a picture and we later won the industrial section of the tidy towns competition for the Tennant Creek area.
I had my mechanic in his spare time build an iron gate which when closed read in steel letters a foot high at the top: “El Rancho Costa Plenty”. It amused Ted if nobody else. He used to delight in showing the sign to visitors.
Although we did not have as much compressed air as requested, and in spite of other difficulties, the four Diamecs were a great success and the job was completed on time due to the efforts of all concerned, especially the co-operation of Mine Manager, Ken Foots and Mine Superintendent, Brian Speechly. They were both experienced, and always friendly and helpful. And my Foreman, Don Stevenson, a wonderful manager of men and who was highly respected by both mine management and our crew, was a tower of strength in what was a very difficult job.