Mongolata Gold Mine: Burra in the Mid North region of South Australia
When you browse through Mongolata Gold in Commercial Street Burra.. it's not hard to see just what captivated Kevin Wallis as a young lad. This place is crammed with rocks.. from malachite... to flourite... to gold.... some of the purest to be found anywhere.
"So this is one hundred percent pure?"
"So is this higher quality?"
"Yer oh it's perfect.. It's pure.. You can't get any better than that."
It's worth up to two thousand dollars which explains why you'll often find Wally.. as he's known to his mates... at his other office.
Here he enters another world... full of possibilities and the promise of gold.
"When you first find it.. It's a real adrenalin buzz. And after you've had it a few weeks you just leave it lying around like anything else.. And er when you haven't got anymore.. When you've sold it all.. When you haven't found any for a while... When you find another piece you get that real buzz again.. It's like your first piece."
"And that's what get's you hooked."
"Yer. When you see the gold glittering in the face.. It's quite good."
And Mongolata wouldn't be a real goldfield without a few tales of "gold fever" and the strange things that people do in the search for their fortune.
"As with so many gold mining ventures there was a little bit of skullduggery going on behind the scenes. The man who first established this mining operation harry byles found out about this spot from another bloke named teddy bywaters. He got him drunk at the local pub.... Discovered the location of the gold and beat poor old teddy to the claim."
It's said.. all this drove poor Teddy crazy.. and he'd wander around in the bush at Mongolata.. trying to throw others off the scent.. claiming his real find was down there in the scrub. No-one one believed him... and soon Harry Byles had some nuggets on display in a shop window in Burra and the rush was on. That was back in 1930. By 1933 the Premier had opened the new battery.... but by the then the Depression had hit hard.. the gold price collapsed.. and many miners stayed on here for mining rations alone.
"So this is the boarding house?"
"Yer … This was.. Bill carpenter started this in 1933 to feed the miners.. And make a bit of money doing that."
"And how many miners were there."
"No one knows... Uhm because gold wasn't worth much in the depression there were no records kept."
"Well it was an eatery.. There used to be a big dining room on the other side that would seat fifty blokes at once. And they used to charge them fifteen shillings a week for a three course meal everyday.. So those who were earning some money could at least eat well. The rest of the blokes who lived on the field lived on rations or rabbits or whatever they could get their hands on."
Many of the blokes left the field at the outbreak of World War Two and the mine finally closed in 1954. Now Wally runs all this himself.. including the old battery.. which for many years stood as a monument to years of hard work.. open to the elements.. until Wally built this shed. And he still has hopes that the old mine vault will one day burst at the seams.. as it did in 1935 at the time of the great Mongolata Gold Heist when two wheat bags crammed with gold, were stolen.
"The detectives came up from Adelaide.. They questioned all the miners.. But of course no one admitted to stealing the gold. The mine manager was above reproach so he wasn't questioned at all by the detectives.. Because they were the good guys and didn't steal. (laughing).. But I'm not going to tell you what happened in the end you'll have to do a mine tour to find out... (laughing)"
"Great a mystery at the end of the tour."
For tours of the Mongolata Gold Mine contact Kevin Wallis on (08) 8892 2233 or drop into Mongolata Gold at 3 Commercial Street Burra. Tours are $10 per adult and $5 per child. If you have any more questions please email firstname.lastname@example.org