The gold fever was raging everywhere, and young Kracke was one to get it too.
So after nine months, I’d saved enough money to take me to Maytown, the capital of the Palmer Goldfields in North Queensland, 160 mile inland from Cooktown.
On my arrival in Cooktown, I found that I could only get to Maytown on horseback, or walk, as I had never been on a horse in my life.
I ventured my passage with the mailman who was taking passengers on horseback charging seven pounds, ten shillings for use of the horse.
The mail used to make sixty miles each the first day and second day, and the third, forty-four miles by dinner time into Maytown – all over rough rocky, mountainous country.
Not being able to ride or handle a horse, the mailman drove me along with the packhorses carrying the mail, and needless to say, after the first day’s riding of sixty miles, some parts of my body were reduced to mincemeat.
The second and third days, I had to be lifted from my horse.
The township of Maytown was mostly all bark houses. Fully every other house was a hotel, and the streets constantly full of drunken people. Any kind of drinks were a shilling.
The population at one time numbered to eleven thousand whites and thirty thousand Chinese.
Murder by blacks was committed every day and a person couldn’t go anywhere without firearms. The miners used to have their rifles lying along side of them while they worked and even everyone would carry a revolver in his belt.
Well after my two weeks rest from my ride into Maytown, I thought I would try my luck at getting gold.
I got my tin dish, pick and shovel, and pegged out a claim in Jessops Gully. My next door neighbors were Chinamen, to the left and right of me.
A claim was fifty feet along the creek.
The first piece I washed, I had a nice piece of gold, a little over 600qt. The next one, another nugget a little heavier, and I can express to you my joy in mining the gold, and I thought I soon would become a millionaire.
But my fortune very soon turned and I never even got a single color of gold after that.
I was beginning already to let my head hang down and thought it wasn’t such a great game after all, when, about three o’clock in the afternoon, the Chinaman to the right of me gave a terrible howl. I thought a snake had bitten him, or perhaps the blacks had speared him.
I ran over to him, and to my surprise Johnny had found a big nugget weighing over 100 ounces, and worth about 450 pounds.
This finished my looking for gold. I got fairly disgusted that an old Chinaman could find a lump of gold like that.
So, in the beginning of 1883, I found myself working tunnel, at the King of The Ranges mine on the Ida, a township three miles from Maytown, wages four pounds ten shillings per week.
I had to do mostly night work, and no doubt some of you may remember or know of the big comet in that year.
This comet, I could see every night when trucking my mullock out of the tunnel, right in front of me.
The Tate River Tin Mine
In May, 1884, after I had worked six months in the mine, Fisher Brothers asked me to manage a store at the Tate River Tin Mines, right in the middle of the Cape York Peninsula, on the fourteenth degree.
The mines were in the banks of the Tate River and twenty-five miles from the junction with the Lynd River.
To get there I had to go to Cooktown, then by boat to Port Douglas, and then to ride again for 165 miles inland, with no roads, only bridle tracks that in some places could hardly be seen.
The Tate Tin Mines, the township as I will name it consisted only of the store buildings. This formed the whole town.
The mining company would post forty to fifty men there in the wet season. That is to say from eight to ten weeks a year, and the rest of the year, I would be the only inhabitant, the miners all going away to the coast and civilisation.
The store was built of logs piled one on top of each other in a pig-sty fashion with holes bored through to enable one to put the muzzle of a rifle through.
The roof had two layers of canvas about twelve inches apart for coolness and the floor was made out of ant bed mixed like mortar which by the way makes a very good floor if mixed with bullock’s blood or salt it’ll become really hard
Around the store for a distanced of over 100 yards, every stump, tree, or shrub is cleared away, so that the blacks can’t sneak up on you, and even then, many deeds were committed by them by dragging spears with their toes, and so come around the house.
Every house had only one door, and the kitchens or fireplaces were always built in the front of the house instead of in the back. This is done on account of the blacks so you can’t be cut off from your house and perhaps find the blacks having possession of your house.
At the time I am speaking of, it was a practically unknown country.
The nearest house, if you could call it a house, was built of bark and saplings and was 100 miles away owned by a blacksmith who used to shoe the packhorses if required.
The only comfort we had was a telegraph repeating station twelve miles away, and a monthly mail service from Port Douglas, right across from Normanton, a distance of 350 miles on horseback.
Storekeeping was on a different style. Altogether for weeks, I wouldn’t see a single soul, not sell a penny’s worth, but then, all at once, packhorse team after team would come and take the stores away by the tons.
Sometimes the store would run short. It happened to me especially in the year of 1885, when seventy miles away, a gold rush took place.
About three hundred men with horses actually stormed the store one Sunday morning.
Men tried to help themselves for fear there would be nothing left for them, and long before I had all the men served, I found the store practically empty.
My takings for the day amounted to nearly 800 pounds.
With the store, everything is combined. Store, butcher-shop, public house, post office, mining registry, and so on, all businesses in one.
I was storekeeper, publican, butcher, postmaster, a kind of government resident, and a sworn-in constable. I even had the handcuffs, leg-irons, all sorts of things, but never used them. Wasn’t fool enough to. Everyone had firearms, and perhaps better shots than I was.
On three occasions, I was surrounded by hostile blacks, and on the last occasion, I managed to get my blackboy to ride 100 miles to Herberton to get police protection. Inspector Stafford arrived with ten black troopers and dispersed the blacks.
Unfortunately, my blackboy was himself killed by blacks.
I may here mention that in North Queensland in those days, troopers were stationed about every 100 miles.
A detachment would consist of thirteen black troopers and a white sub-inspector of police.
The troopers were blacks from southern Queensland and therefore were very frightened of the northern blacks.
They would take great delight in shooting them.
They wore a blue red-lined uniform with red cape, but once they were on duty to disperse the blacks, a polite way the government used to call it, they would be naked, having only the cartridge belt and cap on, and carry their 577 calibre rifle.
Northern Queensland – The Country
The climate in north Queensland is very healthy as long as one looks after himself. Myself, I never had a day’s sickness in the twenty-two years I was there, although people were dying like sheet at times from malaria fever etcetera.
From what I could see, it was a man’s own fault. They would live like blackfellows for months at a time on damper and salt beef, and even this was poorly cooked. They would then come to a shanty, and drink for weeks at a time.
The spirits I assure you, were not the best and mostly made out of sulphuric acid and brimstone, mixed with a little tobacco to give it the color of rum.
Surely a man wouldn’t last too long on that stuff even at any time.
The country is swarming with kangaroos. They are in mobs numbering over 100 at times. Possums are to be found in every hollow tree.
Snakes by the thousands, some of them very large. The largest I have seen, and which is to be seen in the Brisbane museum now, was a carpet snake that measured twenty-two feet. I’ve shot one myself sixteen feet long.
There are crocodiles in the river but they are harmless, but towards the coast, especially in the Daintree River, there are plenty of saltwater crocs. These are monstrous brutes – maneaters of the worst class, and one can hear them after sundown roaring all along the river, like so many bulls.
I may here tell you a way we used to catch the crocodiles.
We select a big tree growing a few feet from the bank of the river. A big kind of fish hook with two barbs weighing from twenty to thirty pounds fastened to a big bullock chain is tied about six feet from the ground to the tree. A live dog is tied alongside the hook, and we would plant ourselves.
The dog for certain would start howling and Mr Crocodile would come and spring for the dog, and as you could imagine, take the hook too, with the result that the crocodile was hanging in the tree.