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This article is taken from PN Review 105, Volume 22 Number 1, September - October 1995.

Underground Man Iain Bamforth

So what haven't you done in Broken Hill?, asked one of my friends mockingly.

Been down the mines, I said.

That made four directions to go from Broken Hill. Bush, which was everywhere uninhabited due norfu, west and east; downriver, sheer poetic licence since the Darling river from which the town derived its drinking water ran at its closest point nearly a hundred kilometres east; and t'Adelaide, where the Flying Doctors would take you for free-of-charge if you sliced your tendons - those were the original three.

So I went underground, in the South Mines, down to Level 25. Level 25 was a kilometre under the surface of the earth. It was black, damp and very warm. I had to wear gumboots to protect my feet and a hard-hat to take any knocks. A few weeks before I had read Fanny Kemble's diary entry when she had visited the excavations for the Thames Tunnel in 1827: she was nearly overcome by an 'indescribable feeling of subterranean vastness'. She, however, was about to enter the age of the technological sublime; here in the mechanized gloom, it was definitely post-heroic.

From what I could see this was a smooth functioning warren of cables and sewers and service tunnels. Giant mastodons came up the ramp from below, their lights flaring. Most of the work was mechanized and the miners seemed to be occupied with machines, rather than coming muscle to stone with the rockface. ...


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