Standing on the balcony of York Hotel, looking down on Hannan Street, Niall “Boomer” O’Kelly still couldn’t come to grips with everything that had happened. He had no sense of appreciation of the sumptuous surroundings in which he found himself. For the first time in his long life, he knew the true meaning of fear. Having worked as an explosive expert in the mines most of his life Boomer had seen his share of death and destruction. Healthy fear was a close companion that would keep you alive, but that fear was nothing compared to what he was feeling this morning. More than 30 thousand souls had made their lives in Kalgoorlie and as far as he could tell he was the only one left alive. His friends were gone, his enemies too, not that he had that many enemies…friends either for that matter. He had always been somewhat reclusive, but now that no one was left, he felt bereft and lonely. He wasn’t sure how to face the coming days. But, Australians are nothing if not resilient so he knew he had to pull himself up by the bootstraps and get on about the business of living.
By God, if he was still alive, there must be others. As he considered this possibility, his meticulous brain went to work automatically to formulate a systematic plan to search the town and find others, if there were any others. “I reckon is anyone else is still about, Kalgoorlie Hospital might be a good place to start.” He set out in the general direction of the hospital, avoiding the more direct route of Maritana Street, walking through the neighborhoods in Cassidy and Dugan Streets before getting in the big street. He had the idea if someone was still alive they might be laying low in their houses. If that was true they might see him and come out in the hope of finding out just what the hell was happening to their little town. He experienced a little involuntary shudder as he went past Frank Vukovich’s place. Frank was the local undertaker who had taken over the business his father had established after the old man died. Boomer had an idea he might need to get in there soon enough, but today wasn’t going to be the day.
The task most distasteful to him was burying the dead. God knew there was going to be a lot of them. Putting them in a mass grave seemed disrespectful somehow, but the idea of digging 30 thousand graves wasn’t very appealing either. He knew if he didn’t get as many of them as possible under the ground soon there would be no living here. The stench would be unbearable and god only knows what diseases might be floating round. “Best thing to do is get on with it, mate”, he said to himself. He wasn’t sure how long he had been standing, staring at the little funeral parlor, but he took his own advice and started walking again.
After half an hour of steady walking, Boomer looked up at the façade of the hospital. He wondered again if he had the nerve to go inside. Almost all his life had been spend drilling and setting huge explosive charges in the mines. It was a dangerous job and he knew that at any moment he could be blown to bits by a single careless move or a second of inattention. That fear was nothing compared to what he was feeling right now as he contemplated wandering the corridors of this hospital, possibly filled with dead bodies. Perhaps no one was in there. Wouldn’t they have seen him approaching and come to meet him? He decided to stand for a few more minutes to see if anyone emerged. As he did he looked round himself at the abandoned vehicles scattered in the car park. He looked beyond the car park at the houses in Shamrock and Victoria streets. No movement. He looked back toward Dugan Street, but his view was obstructed by the row of trees planted along the street, but again no movement in any direction.
“Enough of this I got Buckley’s chance of finding anyone, but off we go…” The electric automatic doors weren’t working so he pushed the side door open, surprised to find it unlocked. As he slowly panned around the reception area he was unnerved by the eerie quiet. This was his first visit to this hospital so he began to wander the corridors on each floor, peering into rooms as he passed. Each empty room tightened his nerves so they thrummed like the longest string on a harp. He was acutely aware that if he did finally meet someone it would probably scare him shitless.
Emerging from the stairwell into the third floor Boomer heard voices. He stood stock-still, listening to determine the location of the sound. He could just see the line of the desk that served as the nurse’s station. “Shall I march in, or announce myself from here?” he wondered. Either way, it was going to be one hell of a shock to the owners of those voices. He decided it was safer to call out from the door rather than risk injury by startling the speakers. “G’day, g’day” he sang out. The voices went silent. After a few seconds that seemed more like minutes a tentative voice asked “Who’s that?”. Boomer felt a relief he could never have imagined as he called out his name and asked if he could come round to the nurse’s station.
As the desk came into view Boomer was treated to a beautiful view; seven people were sitting on and around the desk chatting. After introductions were made all round everyone seemed to be suddenly filled with questions. “Do you know what’s happened?”; “Have you met any other people?”, “Where have you been staying?”, and on and on. He explained that he had been on holiday and had treated himself to a trip to the outback.
He had been camping alone for the better part of a month. When he began to near Koolgardie he couldn’t overcome the nagging feeling that something was wrong. There was absolutely no traffic for one thing. He saw no one in their gardens and when he finally got into the town proper all the shops were closed and no one was on the streets. He stopped at York Hotel to make a few calls, but the lines were down and no one was in the building, at all.
Three of the women and one man were nurses; a second man was a janitor. The other two were patients; an elderly woman and a boy who appeared to be about 14 or 15 years old.
Oldina, one of the nurses, appeared to be the one in charge of everything. She had a no-nonsense way about her that suggested she like things to be orderly and well maintained. The current state of affairs was making her distinctly edgy. It was clear from her motions she wanted to get things back on track again. The other two nurses, Wilma and Simon were clearly accustomed to being led by this formidable woman despite the fact she appeared to be at least ten years younger than either of them. The janitor was Roger. He had the aura of a throwback to the 70s; laid back and mellow, he didn’t seem particularly bothered by recent events. As far as he was concerned it was just another shitty day in paradise.
Minnie, the grandmotherly looking woman asked Boomer how he thought they might best get back on their feet and return to some kind of normal life. The question, having been asked seemed to enliven all the group. It was as if they had been waiting for his arrival to determine the course of events. Boomer didn’t much cotton to the idea of being elected leader of this rag-tag group but it seemed there was no other option.
“First thing we have to do is get the bodies of all these people under the ground before the stink drives us to the outback” Boomer replied. “It’s not going to be an easy job, but I’ve been giving it some thought. First we need to get over to Bergmeier’s or out to the mines and get a front-end loader and dump truck. We’ll go street by street, house by house and collect everyone we can find and take them out to Super Pit and bury them in there.”
All color drained from their faces as they heard Boomer’s plan, but no objections were raised. They all knew it was an unpleasant duty that was going to have to get done and Boomer allowed that the sooner they got started the sooner they could call it done.
Minnie suggested that before doing anything they should have a bit of lunch. “Minnie, that’s a bonzer idea!” exclaimed Boomer, who hadn’t eaten before walking over to the hospital. “What’s available?” The matriarch informed him that since she’d gotten feeling better she’d been cooking for “the staff” in the hospital’s kitchen as she toddled off to begin cooking.
The young boy, Erik, who had been silent until now told Boomer that Miss Minnie was probably the best cook in the whole wide world! That raised some chuckles and enthusiastic nods from the group.
After a delicious and filling lunch of meat pies and fried potatoes, Boomer, Simon and Roger set out for the mine where they would pick up a dump truck and front-end loader. They planned to meet back at the hospital to collect the younger women and begin their grisly work. They found an ambulance out near the Emergency Room with the keys in the ignition. This would serve as adequate transportation to the mine where they would leave it when they found the equipment they needed.
Boomer was struck again by the quiet of the streets as they made their way out of town. In stark contrast, the engine of the ambulance sounded, in his ears, like a jet engine. As they alighted from the ambulance at the mine Boomer felt more normal than he had since this whole catastrophe had begun. He was in his element now and knew just where everything was located and how to access it.
Fimiston Open Pit, better known as the Super Pit is the largest open cut gold mine in Australia. The enormous oval gash in the earth, just southeast of Kalgoorlie is 4 km long, 1.5 km wide and nearly 500 meters deep.
Because the mine operated twenty-four hours a day, keys were rarely taken from the vehicles, but left for the oncoming shift. Boomer had no reason to think there had been any deviation from that custom. He asked whether Simon or Roger could drive a truck or loader to which Simon replied “I worked as a truck driver for three years before going to nursing school, so I can easily handle it.” Roger too had some experience with the trucks. That left Boomer to drive the loader. After a short conference they decided to bring two trucks rather than one in the hope of halving the time needed to clear the town.
The sound of the trucks and the loader rolled across Koolgardie like the thunder and wind of a summer storm. Linda was in the garden, tossing cracked corn to her beloved brood of chickens when the sound reached her ears. She stopped still as a statue to make sure she had actually heard that familiar sound of dump trucks on the Great Eastern Highway. “What the bloody hell…?” She looked over at Sophie the greyhound and Brown Dog to see whether they heard it as well. She saw four pricked up ears and four eyes filled with curiosity. Yep, they’d heard it too, she wasn’t going mad!
As she ran toward the highway, Linda was sure she would never get there in time to wave down the trucks and find out what was happening. Her nostrils flared as she attempted to harvest enough air to keep her legs pumping. With every second step she moved her eyes in the direction from which she expected to see the vehicles emerge. At last she saw the exhaust pluming from the front-end loader followed by two dump trucks from the mines. Again, she repeated “What the bloody hell…?” Her mind raced. Was the mine working again? She knew all her neighbors were dead and assumed the majority of the town was, too. Where did they find people to operate the mines? Just how greedy were those bastards that they would resume operations now?
Linda stooped on the side of the highway, hands on knees trying to catch her breath as she waited for the vehicles to get closer. When she thought she could breathe somewhat normally she began to wave her arms in the air. Suddenly, she was a little scared. Fear was a very rare companion for her, but she wondered whether she wanted to be seen by these people in the trucks. What if they were the ones who unleashed whatever the hell killed off her beloved little town? The sounding horn of the loader told her it was too late for second thoughts, so she decided to stand her ground. If they tried any funny business she would deal with that when the time came.
As the loader came closer she was able to see the driver. Hell, it was Boomer driving it! He was certainly no bad guy. Linda’s heart raced beneath her ample bosoms and she felt flooded with relief as Boomer brought the tractor to a stop. “Bloody hell Woomz! What the hell are you doing out here?” The two old friends shared information and Boomer laid out the plan they had concocted. Linda advised him “I can operate one of these loaders! We can speed it up and get the job done quick, fast and in a hurry with both of us working it!”
“Good on ya, Lindy!” It was decided that Linda would go back to the mine in the first truck to transport the bodies for burial and retrieve another front-end loader to expedite the work. For the first time in days Linda felt really good again. Her usually sunny demeanor had taken quite a beating after finding that everyone she knew was gone.