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Ron Gough

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Ron was one of the real old timers. A Coober Pedy miner and one of the towns individual characters. His first visit to Coober Pedy was in June 1954 travelling from North Queensland with his friend Bert Wilson who was the first white person to be born in the mining town. In 1931 Bert's parents owned and operated the General Store and Post Office.

In 1955 Ron purchased for sixty-five pounds, the business lease of one acre which included four dugouts over the area of the General Store. He went into partnership with Bert to run and own the store,this stood on the site where the Desert Cave now has above ground apartments.

It was in 1957 that Ron´s T model Ford was in a head on collision with a vehicle driven by Steve Matusiak who for some reason had forgotten which side of the road he should be driving on. Although the cars were not going very fast the T Model broke her back. The partners decided that a better location would be where the Opal Inn Bottle shop now stands and so a move was made. This store was sold in 1965 to Beppi Coro.

The partnership with Bert was also a mining venture with the opal profits being split three ways between Ron, Bert and the store. The store supplying all expenses with Ron and Bert doing the mining. It was during this time when money was tight that Ron worked on Mabel Creek Station, cutting fence posts for 1/- (10 cents) each, until he had saved enough to go back mining.

Most miners would walk to work and Ron was no exception to this rule. It was while working a field called Ryans Hill he found his first payable opal. The parcel sold for five hundred pounds split three waysRon´s share was one hundred and sixty six pounds. Not a lot of money but enough to finance a trip back to Queensland.It was on this trip when camped at a place called Marla Bore (now the township of Marla 235 kilometers north of Coober Pedy) that the first atomic test was conducted at Maralinga, Ron heard the explosion even from a great distance of 375 kilometers as the crow flies.

On his return to Coober Pedy Ron moved into a dugout that is now the display home of The Old Timers Mine. The top dugout was used as a residence and the bottom was a store owned by Jack Brewster. It was Jack who connected the two with a hand dug passageway. Ron´s working conditions and the mining tools were very basic. Machinery was unheard of, dirt was pulled to the surface using a windlass built from wood, with a barrel cut from a tree trunk and a steel cranking handle. If a miner was working by himself, and most did then, he would fill his buckets climb up the shaft using holes picked into the sides of the shaft for foot holes, then winch up the first bucket of dirt then fish for the second using a grappling style hook, winch this up, lower his buckets down, climb down and repeat the procedure. Ron would use two picks, one heavy for shaft sinking and a lighter one for gouging and driving in the mine. All blasting holes were drilled by hand using an auger and a brace, with a hammer and gad being used in extremely hard ground. Light came from candles or a carbide lamp. This was pretty much the miners lot in 1955, hard work and dangerous conditions.

It was about this time when the fledgling tourist industry attractedRon´s attention with increasing numbers of tourists looking to experience an opal mine for themselves, he thought it would be profitable to start a mine aimed at servicing this new market. Sadly, as with most innovative ideas Ron came up against a wall of bureaucracy and red tape, however a partnership with Jeff Findley was struck when Jeff started Back of Beyond Tours. Ron´s dugout was on the tourist route and so was whichever mine he was working at the time. Seeing the overwhelming appreciation of the tourist being able to see opal in the ground was the catalyst for the first efforts to get the Old Timers Mine off the ground, or should that be in the ground.

Having put down a bulldozer cut on the boundary of his residential lease, which produced some two thousand pounds of opal, Jeff Findley took a residential lease covering the cut and adjoining boundary, to hold this ground for tourist purposes until further assessing the full potential of the venture. A mining claim would have been subject to the mining rules and regulations but in the light of what was to follow would have been the best course to have taken.

Coober Pedy is a town not unlike many other communities, and word soon spread that the ground Ron and Jeff had taken the lease on was opal-bearing ground. So another miner pegged a mining claim over the top of their residential lease and started to literally blast away the old hand dug mine. Approaches to the Department of Mines were futile. They were told that work could only be stopped when ownership of the land was disputed. Though the miner had Ron's bedroom pegged the Department of Mines could not stop him working. Ron was told that the only way to do this was to put a plaint on the claim and wait for it to go through the Mines Wardens Court. The plaint was set down for a hearing weeks into the future and during this time the miner continued to blast away, destroying the best half of this unique mine. On the day of the hearing the miner blasted out a major supporting pillar and pulled his pegs. This last act meant the Department of Mines representative condemned the cut and ordered that it be backfilled to make it safe and there went the best half of The Old Timers Mine.

Ron formed another partnership, this time with Rod Wells, and Ron gives this partner full credit for the push and enthusiasm that finally got his dream started. Had it not been for the finding of a pocket of opal worth fifty thousand dollars the project would have failed through lack of finance. Ron never dreamed that there was so much involved in setting up a venture like this. It was twelve months before the doors opened and The Old Timers Mine began (07/07/87)
After two years of operation Rod Wells sold his interest in the mine to the Gough family who continued to improve and expand the complex. The family's personal dug out was added and converted into a display home, and now a visitor can experience how life was for those pioneer miners of the 1920 era.

Sadly Ron lost his long battle with cancer and passed away 21st August 1991


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Winner 2008

Winner 2008

Old Timers Mine Contact

Trevor Berry
Old Timers Mine
ABN 60 769 754 688
Berryd Opals
ABN 35 015 925 246
Bus Hrs 61 08 86725555
Aft Hrs 61 08 86723802
PO Box 711 Coober Pedy
South Australia 5723

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