If Sue Cooper has a problem with her telephone reception, it is a 10-hour round trip for a Telstra Remote-Area Service technician in a four-wheel drive to fix it. If she needs to refuel? That’s a three-hour round trip with a 2000-litre tanker on a dirt track. And if she needs medical attention? Build your own airstrip in order for the Royal Flying Doctor Service to land.
Welcome to Sue Cooper’s life, six to seven months of every year, as an opal miner in western Queensland. One of Sue’s mining leases is on Mount Margaret Station, a pastoral lease that operates as a cattle station. Located about 50 kilometres west of the township of Eromanga (Australia’s furthest town from the sea), Mount Margaret was once Australia’s largest sheep station, occupying 600,000 hectares.
Sue is a relative through marriage, and I visited her mining camp in late 2016. To give a sense of scale out here, the “bush paddock” containing Sue’s small mining lease is a rugged, fenced-off corner of the property comprising 69,000 hectares – roughly the size of Singapore. Often Sue, her partner and her children are the only people out here.
“We’re never lonely,” says Sue, “because there’s a dam near our mine site. So we have lots of wildlife visitors. Brolgas, goannas, kangaroos, emus and mulga snakes (or king browns).
“It’s the snakes that give us trouble. Most of the time they’re shy and stay out of your way, but during mating season it’s not uncommon to have a female chased through the camp by a couple of amorous males. As one of the longest venomous snakes in Australia, at about eight feet [2.5 metres] each, that’s a lot of snake to dodge! You just have to be quick and get out of their way.”
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