Shifting Sands

Nathan has never felt like he fits into his adopted family or his opal-mining community in the South Australian desert. At fifteen, his extreme dyslexia means he is looking down the barrel of unemployment.

Then he finds an abandoned mineshaft and discovers something much more incredible than opal potch.

But now that he knows exactly who and what he is, and why he doesn’t fit in, he has a choice to make. A choice which will change his life forever…

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ISBN: 978-1503073616


Nathan found the spaceship at the bottom of a fifteen-metre mineshaft.

He wasn’t supposed to be down the mineshaft at all. His uncle’s rules were pretty clear, and most of the kids in Bright had the same rules. You could noodle. which meant you could pick through the mullock-heaps discarded by the miners and maybe find some piece of opal they’d missed, but you stayed clear of any shaft your family didn’t own.

Nathan didn’t care. This shaft was almost twenty kilometres from where most of the other mines pockmarked the moon-bleak plain around Bright. And the whole area was dotted with pilot holes, most of them unmarked and unsealed and a danger to everyone, animals and people alike.

But this wasn’t a pilot hole, dug a little way then abandoned. This was a proper mine, its shaft shored up with wood scoured white by the desert sun. And it was so old that the work had been done by hand; the marks from the hand-tools showed up clearly in the light of his helmet. Nathan had found it purely by accident, on a day he’d been trying to outrun his own frustrations, when he’d just picked a direction away from town and school and mounting anger, and trusted to his solid-core tyres not to split on the gritty, stone-flecked ground.

Instinct had taken over, a niggling sliver of this way, this way… and he’d ended up here, almost a kilometre off the main highway.

After that first visit he’d gone to the library and looked up the old mining leases, fighting to understand them through the dyslexia which made the letters twist out of shape and break apart. A kind of dyslexia unique to himself, or so the several doctors his uncle and aunt had taken him to had said.

Big hairy deal. Unique or not, reading was still a major effort.

He’d had to get the librarian to check for him in the end, using the numbers on his GPS. But the mine wasn’t listed at all. Someone long ago had mined there without a permit, hoping to strike an opal seam.

Not that easy, Nathan knew. His family worked several shafts and most months they barely made enough to pay the bills. Aunt Naomi made up the shortfall by working at the tiny Bright Hotel.

Tourists came to Bright specifically to sleep underground. They also paid for guides to show them how to fossick safely.

Maybe he could do that when he left school. No reading needed.

He hadn’t told his aunt and uncle about the mine. It was his, something he didn’t have to share with his cousins. Not that he was stupid. He knew mining was dangerous, so each time he went there he left a note with the date and the mine’s GPS co-ordinates under his pillow. If something did go wrong, if he set the bombs wrong or the fuses were too short and he didn’t have enough time to get out before they blew, at least his uncle and aunt would know where to look.

He felt bad about taking half a kilo of ammonium nitrate. Uncle Dan would miss it soon enough – he kept good records – but hopefully Nathan would have something to show by then. He’d been down the shaft twice now and noticed potch in the rough walls of the tunnel only ten or so metres in from the shaft. Maybe the bloke who’d sunk the mine hadn’t seen the faint streaks of colour. Or maybe he’d died before he could mine it. A lot of people did, especially back in the old days when they didn’t have winches and blowers and generators. But Nathan knew mining. He’d helped his uncle in the four claims they owned since he was eight years old, and in the last year Uncle Dan had taught him how to make the ammonium nitrate ‘bombs’, how far apart to drill the shot holes, and how to set the detonators and fuses. He’d even let Nathan plan one of the blasts and follow it through.

Nathan knew he’d be lucky to pass Year Nine, even with all the help he was getting from the teacher aides. He was dreading Year Ten. But if he could find opal, he’d prove to his family – and himself – that his dyslexia wasn’t going to make him unemployable in their tiny town.

Better than helping others fossick by a long shot.