291. WHITE RANGE.       

"The White Range is a veritable mountain of gold, supplying the exact centre of the continent with a golden heart".

Errol Coote, Hell's Airport. 189,190.

Errol Coote, now the Field Manager for the Central Australian Gold Exploration Company, despatched Philip Taylor and Paddy Tucker to Ayers Rock about the 13th of October 1930, it would be their job to establish a base and landing ground at Ayers Rock and from there Coote would make aerial searches to the west for Lasseter or his gold reef. Tucker reckoned on a fortnights camel journey to the new base leaving Coote many days to idle away in Alice Springs. To pass some time he travelled to the Hartz Range with Fred Colson who was delivering supplies to the mica miners. While passing through the Arltunga Goldfields Coote correctly concluded that the gougers diggings and potholes scattered around could not have supplied all of the ore crushed at the gold battery and pondered the source of the missing ore. He answered his own question, "Six miles from Arltunga, in the geographical centre of Australia, lies the White Range ~ It supplied a lot of the gold ore for Arltunga.", writing in the same vein as a penny dreadful share spieler, Coote gave a page and a half of Hell's Airport to the unexploited wealth of the White Range that, "from the summit to ground level contains approximately four thousand million tons of gold producing ore -- one of the biggest gold propositions in the world"

Coote quoted generously from a 1920 interview by Northern Territory Times and Gazette of E. C. Playford, the Northern Territory's Chief Mining Warden, who had recently completed an inspection of central Australian mines with special attention to the White Range leases. Playford noted that the goldfield was a low grade proposition and would require large quantities of machinery, fuel, and supplies for a large number of men", and emphasised the need for cheaper transport to make the mines payable. Thereby revealing a subtle agenda, Playford with the best interests of the Territory always in mind was using the inferred wealth of White Range as a lever to extend the railway north from Oodnadatta or to connect with the Queensland rail network, "Should the railway be built Mr. Playford went on to say, these mines will be the greatest in Australia".

At about the same time as the second C.A.G.E Expedition drifted into Alice Springs, after their failed venture to the Peterman Ranges, a Pitt Street Miner by the name of Bertie N. Black acquired the White Range leases and set up Arltunga Goldfields Ltd. He immediately sent two mining engineers, A. D. Robinson and Charles TheBon to the White Range to report on the prospects of the mountain of gold. (Black had the prospectus written before he had received the experts reports) TheBon, who had an especially sharp pen, wrote that "In some reports it was mentioned that the deposit was worked in a crude manner by native labor, as a matter of fact it was the only way it could have been worked - had they employed White labor, I would definitely say they would not have paid for battery charges". His colleague also noted that cheap Aboriginal labour was crucial to the earlier minor success of the field and apart from noting the lack of water, fuel, mining timber and skilled labour, added that the extreme hardness and sharpness of the White Range ore would use a great deal of mining steel and mill parts. TheBon concluded his negative recommendation with, "I regret to say I cannot recommend you gentlemen to exercise the option, or to spend any more Capital in developing or testing White Range Gold Deposit, which is an extremely low grade proposition. I would say that 80% of the deposit can be termed as MULLOCK." Robinson , who carried out the assays, agreed although he did find one positive feature,  "The formation is of considerable geological interest, but of no commercial importance whatever".

Coote airs a myth that occasionally appears in Australian folklore "In the old days many of the convicts from the Eastern states escaped and made their way into Central Australia. Some of them stumbled on to White Range", where they forced or coerced the the Aboriginal women to hand sort the richest ore. It's not clear which convict era Coote was referring to, the days of convict transportation to the colonies had ended more than 60 years earlier, a generation before the White Range was heard of, on the other hand, if he was referring to the more recent escapees from the states prisons, then he could be right. For many years this remote part of Australia had a reputation as a haven of sorts for wanted men and misfits and mining fields were the preferred bolthole where others cheap labour might eke out a living for a miscreant. Such was the case at White Range, Fred Cavenagh, formerly the battery manager at Arltunga, attributed the demise of the field to dissolute whitefellows, cohabitation with the work force and alcohol. (An especially nasty local brew was known as 'Blind Tiger')

A couple of interesting by-lines appeared in the press article attributed to Playford, perhaps to emphasise the difficulties in working the White Range he added that "A thousand head of stamps would be required to work it on a profitable basis". A 1000 head gold battery is an enormous engineering enterprise for just one small isolated gold field, perhaps the West Australian goldfields could number a thousand head of stampers in their heyday. A number of years later Harold Lasseter wrote to Texas Green outlining grand plans for his gold reef" The reef would carry 1000 head of stampers if water were available"! During his travels Playford, "met Dr. Basedow, who is touring the Centre, accompanied by Mrs. Basedow, for the dual purpose of inspecting the mica deposits and reporting on the condition of the aboriginals in the centre ~ Dr. Basedow drives a big wagonette with four camels." Eleven years later Basedow wrote the forward to Lasseter's Last Ride.


R. Ross. 1999-2006                                                                                                                                                                         20100322

Errol Coote, Hell's Airport. 188-190. Northern Territory Times and Gazette,1920/10/19, pg2.