Have you ever had a gutful of work and thought about just chucking it all in? Yeah I did too but the practicalities of it meant an alternative source of income would be needed. Maybe it was a midlife crisis but we were looking at buying a caravan and saw a metal detector in one we viewed. And that prompted the thought, let’s go prospecting. I had done some metal detecting 30 odd years ago with some of the first detectors to be brought into Australia, but quickly found my patience was not good enough for me to persist for more than 10 minutes, probably fortunate because we were always in the right spot, and if I had found gold, I probably would have stopped my studies and quit my job.

We quickly chose a week that I could take off, and investigated hiring a metal detector with the view of checking the recalibration of my patience quotient. Then came a few weeks of research and planning, looking at likely gold spots and leases in the area. An old map of one area showed two old cemeteries in a place that I had visited some years before and this piqued my curiosity, as one of the grave yards was reported to have vanished. This area was to become our alternative search area, both for gold and ghosts!

My wife Julie and I eventually took off with camper in tow and my brother, Steve and my son, Daniel in Steve’s Troopie and my nephew, Luke, and his wife, Sarah, in a 100 series. Our start was marred when my wife discovered her dunny seat was left at home, and we couldn’t get another en route.

Our first pick of spots was west of Payne’s Find, but an unusually wet winter had made many roads a bit treacherous. And there was disappointment all round when we found the road we wanted was closed. There is no mobile service out there so we couldn’t check with the shire. But right at the start of the road was a good specimen of a sandalwood tree, and scratching a few dead sticks produced that delightful aroma, so the stop wasn’t a complete waste.

Our alternative plans then become more important, and on the side of the track, a laptop was fired up to check other spots. But that cemetery further north beckoned my unconscious mind. So I suggested we head up that way, as alluvial gold was found in the area in the early days. We got to Mt Magnet reasonably early and I decided that we had enough time to look for one cemetery and then make camp.

I was quite elated to navigate cross country and find the fence of the Lennonville cemetery exactly where it is marked on the old map. I have been hunting down old graves and cemeteries and recording the information for my web pages  for some years now. We had a quick look around and decided that, with the afternoon sun fading, we should find a decent spot to camp.

With three cars we split up to look for the very best place, but secretly I was heading towards the other cemetery. The ground was a bit soft in some places due to the previous wet weather, so I was pretty cautious moving on old tracks, but always threading my way towards my goal. I got into some much softer ground but with a trailer on the back, it was hard to back up, so I scouted ahead on foot and saw that it wasn’t too bad and was only a couple of hundred metres before the ground rose to a stony area, with the cemetery only a few hundred meters beyond.

What I didn’t realise was that we were on some low lying ground. The surface gave way under the car and the mud was very slippery and offered no traction. I called Steve and Luke on the radio and told them not to come through and wait till we got out.

I pulled out the winch cable and started the slow process of winching forward from tree to tree.

Steve went to find a way around the boggy section so he could pull us out from the front. Luke followed him. Julie and I kept winching.

Before long, we noticed the radio banter stopped while we were busy winching. What we didn’t know was that Luke had got bogged and Steve dropped his trailer to rescue his son, and he also got bogged, about 2km away from us. They were unable to get out and as I had the only winch and was still moving slowly forward I got Steve to come back to us. By this time night had fallen and we had run out of nearby trees and were using a winch extension strap on the steel winch rope. The only trees that were close by were at such an angle that even with a pulley we couldn’t use them.

Mud was everywhere and was very difficult to move from under wheels and car. After a few hours we were almost out with only about 10 metres to go. The extension strap was stretching too much and the car wouldn’t move, but when a bit of power was put to the wheels the strap acted like a snatch strap and the car moved forward about 6 inches.

Steve had in the meantime walked through the bush and homed in on our car lights and horn. As he stood by the car we tried one more time to move forward but the winch wouldn’t pull properly. I went to the front of the car to check things and suddenly the winch started to reverse, I called to Julie to stop winching and she said she wasn’t doing it, I knew something was really terribly wrong.

Everything went in slow motion from then on. I opened the bonnet and noticed a mist over the motor, and the only thing this could be was smoke. In a mad rush I grabbed a set of spanners from the rear of the car and started to undo the main battery lead to the winch as it was clear there was something badly amiss down there.

As I was hurriedly disconnecting the lead I watched in horror as the insulation simply fell off the main lead exposing all the copper wires, and the terminal burst into flame. I yelled to Steve “get some cutters quick” and got Julie to give me a can of coke. Steve came back with a pair of fencing pliers. I used them to try to cut the cable and because of the heat generated the terminal had expanded and luckily came off. Then the can of coke was shaken up and used to put out the small fire.

While the auxiliary battery was now disconnected, the winch still had a power path back to the main battery through the isolator. As I was cutting this connection Steve yelled out that another fire had started, this time at the front of the car behind the bull bar. I grabbed two more cokes and poured them over the winch controller which went out with the power now fully removed.

The adrenalin was coursing through us and the realisation that we were really stuck started to sink in. My hands were shaking as we understood how very close we had come to setting the car on fire. Julie had even said on the radio to Luke “It’s all over, we’re on fire”.

We walked dejectedly back down the track to where the other two cars were bogged. On the way we decided to set up an impromptu camp where Steve had left his trailer on higher ground. A fire reset our moods a little and something quick to eat made us feel a bit better.

We just couldn’t sit there so we decided that we had to get one car out so we walked to Steve’s car. We had already determined that Luke’s vehicle was beyond a simple manual extraction. We wanted a positive outcome before we hit the sack for the night.

Steve’s car had simply run off the track and got stuck in some slippery mud. We removed heaps of the sticky stuff and lifted the car with the hi lift jack, put in lots of sticks and weeds and small stones gathered over a wide area. After several attempts and false starts we got it free to some very loud cheers. But it was short lived as in the dark Steve couldn’t see the track behind him and slipped off the firm ground once again. This time no amount of work was going to get us any where, so late in the night we trudged back to the camp, and considered our options.

We decided to sleep on it and re-assess the situation in the morning. Julie and I walked back to our car and camper, in the dark with a torch whose battery started to fail. What more could go wrong we thought to ourselves? It is very eerie walking in the bush at night, with no moon and overcast skies. I lit a small fire to cheer us up and we climbed into bed for a restless sleep. I dreamed of all sorts of ways to get out.

Next morning we plodded our way back to the main camp through the bush, leaving ribbons on trees to mark the way back.

After a quick breakfast we again attacked Stephen’s car. After many hours we had moved it no more than a few metres, but still couldn’t get it back on the firm track. So we grabbed the hi lift jack and walked back to my car, which only had a couple of metres to go.

We used the jack and packed rocks and sticks under the wheels and made a road in front and behind the tyres. We used the jack as a winch and tried to pull free. However, in the light we could see that the camper hitch was now acting as an anchor. It was one of those fully articulating things and was extremely difficult to get off. It required us to move forward, which we simply couldn’t do. Plus the tension on the hitch made removing the pin very hard. But by rocking forward a bit and then backward it came free. Up to this point we had been using the winch cable to stop us from sliding backwards and we were reluctant to remove it. We just couldn’t get over the last little ridge to freedom.

So in a desperate move we took off the winch rope and moved backwards a little more. I had a go moving forward, but there was not enough momentum and the wheels started spinning. I had been stopping as soon as a wheel spun because they simply dug a bigger hole. I rolled back as far as I could go, probably no more than 1/2m and then powered forward, as the car hit the little ridge it paused, and I thought that the wheels were slipping, I momentarily removed my foot from the accelerator in disappointment, then quickly realised the car was still moving forward, so I re-applied power and the car clawed its way out to the cheers of relief from everyone.

Elatedly we turned around and then proceeded to recover the trailer, which we were able to drag from the mud relatively easily. It took us a while to pack up the bits and pieces, re-hook the trailer and clean up the area, before we started looking for some high ground to get back to the campsite.

Once there we unhooked the trailer and moved towards Steve’s car. I reversed up to it and hooked on a snatch strap and quickly pulled him free. By this time it was lunch. So we made ourselves a cup of tea and a meal with the food we now had at our camp.

After lunch Steve and I got ourselves ready to recover Luke’s car. I had tried to remove the winch rope from my car as it wouldn’t come free. It turns out that in our jerking forward the rope had become jammed and this is what caused the winch to overload and caused the controller solenoid to melt causing a short circuit and the resulting fire.

Anyway, we drove around to Luke’s car and dragged that free from the bog. Back at the camp we set ourselves up a little better, and then took out the detectors and had a fossick around. We searched for a while but found only rubbish. We poked around an old settlement and due to the amount of debris, just looked for relics. We decided to stay here for a couple of days. Steve and I walked to the old cemetery site and while we found the area there is absolutely nothing left of a grave or fence, even though about 13 people are recorded to be buried here (check out the lonely graves page). We helped Luke clean the mud from his car wheels and he and Sarah headed back to Perth. After they had left we did the same to our cars, even removing the wheels to scrape mud from the brakes.

Next day Steve and I drove off and looked for the elusive yellow stuff. We found lots of small bullets and shot gun pellets, a very old rifle range and tin cans but no yellow. That evening we decided to move back to the our preferred area, as Luke had rung the shire for us and even though the road closed sign was up, the road was now open.

During the night it rained heavily again, which didn’t worry us too much at the time. But when I walked up the track first thing in the morning, I saw that water was running rapidly through culverts and a shallow creek that yesterday afternoon had been dry was over its banks. We quickly packed up and moved off, and it was clear we should not stop as the ground had turned to goop again, and even the small creek was tackled without slowing down. Julie and I made it to the road and some firmer ground, but when Steve and Daniel came through, the mud stopped them again and they couldn’t get traction. Once again I unhitched the trailer and recovered Steve by dragging him all the way to the harder ground. We shook the mud from our hands and then headed into Mt Magnet.

Once on the road again we soon drove back to the track we first wanted and headed to the west in the direction of some very dark clouds. Oziexplorer got us to where we expected a side track, and as Steve and I got to check how good the track was and whether we could drive down it, the rain started. I had a rain jacket and kept walking but Steve raced back to the shelter of his car. The rain was very heavy and my pants quickly became soaked, but at least the track was passable and would lead us to higher ground.

We looked for a campsite for a while which was unusually difficult, because everything was wet with water pooled everywhere, but after some time we found a nice place under some trees. It was late afternoon and once again some old graves were calling me. I went looking for those as well as scoping out the area for prospecting.

My research had told me what feature we needed to look around and I was heading to the patch I had earmarked and found a few fresh holes. So fresh they had no water in them. When this dawned on me, I looked up and with a start saw a bloke about 100m away prospecting, totally oblivious to my presence. I walked to him and had a quick chat which revealed he had stumbled onto a small patch of nuggets, the exact place I had been planning to look. Whilst it was sad that someone else got there first, at least it proved the research worked.

For the next few days we walked literally miles and dug hundreds of holes, but it was not our turn to get rich. However, the country was beautiful with the wildflowers popping up everywhere.

On the last afternoon I decided to hunt down the two or three graves. But nothing in the area matched the description I had with me, and I began to doubt we were in exactly the right place where a few large nuggets had been found nearly 100 years ago. After some wandering around (always in radio contact with our camp) we stumbled onto an old fence line mentioned in my notes. We followed this and slowly the ground started to resemble the descriptions that I had been reading and rereading.

We found the graves on a small open rise as well as the old mine mentioned in the research. After spending a bit of time looking over the mine and the ruins of a stone building, we walked a different way back to camp. Then I realised we had been searching in the wrong spot for the gold all the time. We got back to camp and started to detect in the new area. Still we found nothing, our time was up and darkness was rapidly falling.

These lonely graves are a sad reminder of the difficulty that the early prospectors and settlers dealt with. One was small child that died in the summer from “teething” which is no more than an inconvenience these days. One man died of the dreaded typhoid that took so many of the early miners in nearly every location in WA.

Early the next morning we packed up and little bit sad as work was still on the agenda as we had found nothing of any monetary value.

We were back in civilisation on the freeway when a rear wheel fell off the car causing us to come of the road and require a tow back to a service centre.

We had found no gold, and instead of making a few bucks, we had spent a fair bit on equipment hire, fuel, burnt out winch, broken snatch straps and damage to the car. But as always we had a thoroughly good time and saw part of Australia most people never get to see, and we saw it arguably at its best. Also, as my wife pointed out much later, we had worked as a team to rescue the cars, sharing ideas and effort and not letting a bad situation get the best of us, and even in our exhaustion and disappointment, still able to crack jokes about Toyotas being twice as likely to get bogged as Nissans.