White Dam Opal Field – 2007


The photograph below is of the White Dam Opal field.

In July 2007, my wife Barbara and I visited Andamooka. We camped in the Andamooka Caravan Park which is on the main road into Andamooka township.

Andamooka is a small town but still has 2 hotels, a supermarket, bottle shop, Post Office, motel, and various places to buy opal.

There are some  historic buildings that have been refurbished. These are worth seeing as are a variety of very interesting and primitive dwellings used by miners in the past. Andamooka is almost a suburb of Roxby Downs. Many of the people working at Roxby Downs, approx 30 km away, now live at Andamooka and commute to work each day.

Mining has slowed in Andamooka and much of the field is deserted except for the occasional noodler. There are few miners who are bulldozing the old mined areas down to the opal level hoping to find any opal that was missed. This often involves excavating to depths greater than 20 metres and large heaps of overburden are left everywhere.

There is another opal field about 11 km away from Andamooka. It is called White Dam Opal Field named after a large dam carved out of of the white clay soil. Apart from the large open cuts in the field it is famous for it’s Ettamogah Pub. This fine establishment was owned and operated by Bill McDougall who raised over $240,000 for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. He accepted donations in return for a glass of his own home made “plonk” (wine). Unfortunately it was deserted when we were there but we did attend a barbeque at the site where we met some of the locals. I don’t recall any names but one local did stand out. He had only one arm and told us it was removed when he was young by a doctor who became infamous for removing limbs for relatively minor infections. I don’t know if this was true but it was quite macabre.

In 2015 I received some comments on the web site from Terry Franklin and I would like to quote Terry as he has some extra information on White Dam which you may find interesting.

I spent many a night staying at old Bill’s shack at White Dam as a kid, as my father was one of Bill’s best mates. My father and his army mates helped him build the original shack., and my brother and my father and I did the extension a few years later. All the signs around were donated from all around the world , many by Yanks who were stationed at Woomera. ( I supplied the Hanging Rock one from Victoria). Some have been stolen over the years by people who needed to take a souvenir from  the area and many have blown away in some serious dust storms (including the entire Irish Convention Room) but that’s another story.

Bill was one of the many people who strived to help the RFDS for its service to the community (including my sister whom they saved as a prem baby born in another even more remote town in SA).

Bill dedicated his life to raising money for the RFDS after needing their service and did this by giving any travelers passing through a welcome free glass of cold port or two (anything cold was welcome in the early days as there was no way of keeping anything cold outside of a Coolgardie safe) and then selling them a tee shirt or bottle opener or any other souvenir they wanted.”

Thanks Terry for the information.

It is now 2016 and I have had a comment from Chuck Knepper from the USA and quote it here for your information.

“I was one of those Yanks from Woomera who met Bill in 1979. We became great mates. Myself and two other Yanks bought the shack just down the track from Bill and did a bit of mining on our days off. Bill was probably the smartest man I ever met. On our first meeting he asked where I was from. I told him from a small town just outside of Gettysburg battlefield. He proceeded to tell me how many troops were involved, how many casualties etc. He knew everything about the battle even though he had never been there. We all drank a lot of plonk with Bill, except when the mining warden, Dick Betterman, came to visit. Then we drank scotch and milk. I will never forget myold mate Bill, at White Dam.He was one of a kind.”

Thanks Chuck. Without this sort of information these stories get forgotten.

Barbara has photographed some of the highlights of White Dam near Andamooka in 2007 and they are shown below.

The local pub at White Dam, Andamooka

This is Bill’s Ettamogah Pub. It probably would not meet standards required today but was no doubt a great success in it’s day. Bill obviously collected a few sighns that had been discarded and used these as decoration for his pub. The pub’s dunny as shown in the last photograph has obviously seen better days. I am not sure what the speed limit means.

Dunny at White Dam

Johno
johno@johnosopals.com

Johno is a retired Engineer who has enjoyed a lifelong passion for Australian Opal.

10 Comments
  • Terry Franklin
    Posted at 13:02h, 26 July Reply

    Hi I now this is many years after your visit and I hope you are still well and traveling. I just found this site and I thought I would help you on a little of the history of White Dam. I spent many a night staying at old Bills shack at white white dam as a kid as My father was one of bills best mates, my father and his army mates helped him build the original shack, and my brother ,my father and I did the extension a few years later. All the signs around where donated from all around the world, many by Yanks who were stationed at woomera, (I supplied the hanging rock one from Vic) though some have been stolen over the years by people who needed to take a souvenir from the area and many have also blown away in some serious dust storms, (including the entire Irish convention room, but thats another story). Bill was one of the many people who strived to help the RFDS for its service to the community (including my sister whom they saved as a prem baby born in another even more remote town in SA). Bill dedicated his life to raising money for the RFDS after needing there service and did this by giving any travellers passing through a welcome free glass of cold port or two (anything cold was welcome in the early days as there was no way of keeping anything cold outside of a coolgardie safe) and then selling them a teeshirt or bottle opener or any other souvenir they wanted. I hope this enlightens you a little about the history of white dam as Bill was, and is the history of white dam. Regards Terry Franklin

    • Johno
      Posted at 01:10h, 27 July Reply

      Thanks Terry. It is great to get extra information otherwise all of these stories will be forgotten. I will add it to the post.
      Johno

  • Reg Brody
    Posted at 06:00h, 26 March Reply

    Today is Easter Saturday! Have just read story in Flyting Doctor book by Swampy Marsh and was wondering if you still have a 10 km walk out to Old Bills Place at White Dam on this day? Being an old bushie myself (87) have flown throughout the “outback” and, reading the story of Old Bill brought back some wonderful memories of the characters I have had the pleasure to meet in my travels. Didn’t meet old Bill unfortunately. There is nothing like “the bush”. Keep up the great character!
    Reg Brody

    • Johno
      Posted at 23:31h, 01 April Reply

      Hi Reg,
      Thanks for the comment. I have checked with the Andamooka Progress Association and they are planning another Andamooka to White dam walk but have not set a date as yet. Johno

  • Chuck Knepper
    Posted at 16:07h, 30 June Reply

    I was one of those Yanks from Woomera who met Bill in 1979. We became great mates. Myself and two other Yanks bought the shack just down the track from Bill and did a bit of mining on our days off. Bill was probably the smartist man I ever met. On our first meeting, he asked me where I was from. I told him a small town just outside of Gettysburg Battlefield. He proceeded to tell me how many troops were involved, how many casualties, etc. He knew everything about the battle even though he’d never been there. We all drank a lot of plonk with Bill, except when the mining warden, Dick Betterman came to visit. Then we drank Scotch and milk. I will never forget my old mate, Bill at White Dam. He was one of a kind.

    • Johno
      Posted at 23:34h, 30 June Reply

      Hi Chuck,
      Thanks for taking time to comment. It is great to hear from people who were there. I will add your comments to the post
      Johno

  • Peter
    Posted at 04:38h, 14 February Reply

    This Peter I lived and worked at white dam for two years and spent some time at the pub and saw the pantie collection hanging in the bar.there is a lot of dirt between opal and the heat in summer is just one of the joys of white Dam,the town of Andamooka is one of the great towns in the out back I have spent many days and nights there in good company.

  • Peter
    Posted at 04:43h, 14 February Reply

    I have some photos of white dam when I was there and the shack where I lived and the open cut and few other details if you would like these photos send request by E-Mail oldangrey1666@yahoo.co.au

  • Les trasy
    Posted at 12:27h, 08 April Reply

    Bill was a lovely man I grew up in the opal fields and lived there from 1967 to 1992 I can remember that he would give you a card board pad and you would push out a little rolled up bit of paper i think it had a number on it and then you would give him a 2 dollar note and he would offer you a glass of port in return he only wore a long white tea shirt thongs or boots and had a beard and thick black framed glasses I think he had a shirt with the sherif of white dam on it and people from all over the world would Visit that was good as when you arrived you were more likely to meet some new people from some where around the world my dad had been Woking in Womera painting the US Air Force houses he meet some guys from the base and they took him to Andamoonka white dam to do some opal mining the bug bit and he moved us from pimba to live in Andamoonka that was in 1965-1966 Mike Trasy is me dad his in his 83 plenty of good photos from those days Les Trasy

    • Johno
      Posted at 00:14h, 09 April Reply

      Thanks for the comments Les.
      Any chance of getting copies of the photographs so I can put them on the site for people to share?
      Johno

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