Sunday, 23 October 2016

CANBERRA BOYS VISIT CONDOBOLIN IN 1965-"Gold Fever."


CANBERRA BOYS VISIT CONDOBOLIN IN 1965

INTRODUCTION
  The following factual yarn, which is subtitled "Gold Fever," was written by my dad, the late Roy Wheeler, after a trip we did to Condobolin in 1965. Roy had an interest in finding and restoring veteran and vintage motorcars. Although it is an interest he did not pass on to me, I have fond memories of accompanying him with my brother, the late John Wheeler, as we searched around western NSW looking for old cars and old car parts. During those times we met some very interesting people, including one old bloke named Stan Symonds. Stan lived by himself on a property several miles from Condobolin. As the trip was done in August of 1965 I would have been one month short of my 13’th birthday.  
Dave Wheeler 

GOLD FEVER
by Roy Wheeler
   He was about 81 years old, short, spare, unwashed with bushy eyebrows and plenty of ear and nose hair. His name was Stan Symonds.
   Stan was a bachelor and he lived contentedly on his run-down sheep farm several miles from Condobolin, an isolated central western town in NSW. He had his two dogs for company and they had the run of his two-roomed house. One room was for sleeping and the other room was for everything else. There was no bathroom or laundry to complicate Stan's life. I suspect the dogs helped to keep him warm on winter nights.
   We arrived about dusk on a cold August evening in 1965, having been told there were rumours of an ancient car near his house. He was a bit wary at first but soon warmed to us and invited my two boys and me in to sit by the fire.
   The old car, a 15 hp sleeve valve Daimler, built in or around 1910, had been left on his farm by a rabbit trapper back in the 1920's, after it had broken down. It was unlikely the rabbit trapper would return to claim it after 40 or so years.
   We looked at what was left of the car by torchlight and hurricane lantern and quickly agreed on a price. We then got down to the real business of the evening.
   Stan had gold fever. He was convinced he had gold on his property and for the last 20 years he had been digging a hole in the back paddock. He was sure he was close to the gold now, and in spite of the cold and the darkness, insisted that we drive him across the paddock to see his gold mine.
   The hole was about 2 metres wide and quite deep. Carrying the hurricane lantern, Stan climbed down two splintered ladders, wired together to give the necessary length. He pocketed some rocks and climbed out.
   Back in the house he took one of the rocks and held it in the fire with some blackened tongs. He explained that when heated the rock would give off gold gas, proving he was close to the real stuff. My boys weren't quite sure they could see the gas, but I made Stan very happy by telling him I was quite sure that gold gas was coming off.
   The next day some of the remains of the old car were soon loaded on the trailer and we arranged to return in a week or two to take the  rest of the vehicle. The work done, we squatted in a circle to enjoy a good cup of tea. Stan liked the homemade biscuits so much we had to leave them with him.
   Ceremoniously, he then presented us with a jar of water to which a handful of dirt from his mine had been added. According to Stan, if you shook it and peered into it, it behaved like one of those new fangled TV sets. Last ANZAC day he had shaken his own jar and had seen a Scottish pipe band leading the march into town. It was more evidence that he was getting close to the gold. We were duly thankful. 
   Stan confided that he was very worried now that he was soon to become very rich, because there was a woman in town who had her eye on him. And because he was related to her in some way he was concerned about the possibility of siring children that may suffer from the sorts of problems he had seen with inbred stock.
   After picking up the rest of the old Daimler not long after our initial meeting I had no further contact with Stan and have often wondered what happened to him. It was not gold-bearing country and I'm sure he never found his gold reef. Did he die in his paddock, did the old ladders collapse leaving him trapped in his mine, or did the woman in town get him? I can't imagine him in a retirement home, well-washed and without his dogs.

   The photo above, taken in 1965, shows the late Stan Symonds on the left, and John Downes on the right. John and his family were our neighbours when we lived in Ainslie and are still good friends with our remaining family. John assisted us pick up the remains of the 1910 Daimler, as shown, not long after Roy had purchased it from Stan. 
    I looked up Stan's name and found an entry in the Condobolin Cemetery which indicated he died on the 17/12/1971, aged 85. This means he would have been born in or around 1886 and that if he was alive today he would be around 130. He lived in a very different world. 
     What I remember about Stan was that he was a very nice old bloke, but I do not know anything about the life he lived other than the fact that he told me he was a shearer at one stage. Did he go overseas as cannon fodder during WW1? Was he ever married? Was he raised on his property and did he inherit it from his parents? Was he affected by the early stages of dementia when we met him or was he always the way he was? Some older Condobolin residents who knew Stan may be able to answer these questions and give us an overview of his life. I can be contacted by email via the "Contact" button at the top of the page or you can leave a comment if there is a space below provided. If not click on where it gives the number of comments, or "no comments" should you be the first to comment. 
Dave Wheeler 23/10/16
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