|226. RIEFF, Simon.|
|"A foreigner came to George and me and showed us some quartz specimens, speckled with fairly coarse gold".|
|Blakeley, Fred. Dream Millions. 163.|
A couple of days after the remnants of the first C.A.G.E. Expedition returned to Alice Springs, Carrington, the Government Resident, sent word to Blakeley to call into his office and inspect several rich gold samples. Carrington considered the specimens the best he had seen in the district and the owner was seeking finance or partners to develop his gold claims, "In view of the fact that, so far, you have not landed the bacon out west, this might prove something worth going into". Sutherland thought the stone was excellent and Blakeley was pleased to learn that the owner, "a foreigner", had legal claims pegged and registered, but he would only discuss his terms in Carrington's presence. Blakeley's main concern being the locality of the claims, an area already well prospected and found wanting, but the prospector assured Blakeley that the old claims were a "long way west", of his new ground. After receiving approval from the Baileys in Sydney, arrangements were made with Fred Colson to drive Blakeley, Sutherland and the foreigner and his mate several hundred miles north of Alice Springs to inspect the gold show, Blakeley hopeful that something may yet come of an otherwise fruitless and expensive trip to Central Australia.
The first night out was spent at the old Barrow Creek Telegraph Station, and the party was underway early next morning. By lunch time they had reached the turn off to the gold claims and Blakeley's hope sank, it was the area that he was already familiar with, either from a previous visit or discussion with his old mate, Jim O'Neill. According to Blakeley, an hours vigorous argument ensured about the exact location of the claims, "it panned out that the foreigner meant that his workings were east of the old claims by three hundred yards". Blakeley, true to his ignorant best, refused to go further and, "bundled his stores off our truck and turned round, leaving them standing there". There is no record of what Fred Colson thought of Blakeley's foolish action, he would not have approved, apart from a gross breach of bush etiquette, Blakeley had thrown away a valuable contact in Central Australia. The stranded foreigner was the redoubtable Simon Rieff.
Rieff was a Cossack, born in Tbilisi, Georgia in 1893, and being a royalist was forced to leave Russia as a result of the 1917 Revolution. He and a mate overlanded through China and arrived at Bundaberg, Queensland, in 1917. From there they intended to travel to Western Australia with camels, but inexperience deemed otherwise, and his mate returned to Russia, leaving Rieff almost penniless and unable to speak English, but determined to establish himself. In due course he worked his way to central Australia, arriving there in 1919 and made Alice Springs his base and from there prospected and explored vast areas of the inland.
By 1927 Rieff was becoming well established, and sufficiently confident in his knowledge of the land...and camels, to apply for a grant to prospect and explore the Mount Winnecke district in the Toko Ranges where J. H. Cunningham had reported finding good gold some twelve years earlier. The trip to the northern Simpson Desert was a near run thing, and he, "perished half a dozen camels", barely escaping with his life, but with considerably more experience. That year Rieff also met Cecil Madigan as he guided the eminent scientist to a nitrate deposit in the western MacDonnell Ranges. Madigan, no mean judge of men, was immediately impressed with Rieff, "his expert workmanship, his energy, his quiet determination, and confident ability began to reveal him as a man of no ordinary type". What may have been a passing acquaintance grew into a lifelong friendship, having similar views and values and both men having lived a life of 'remarkable adventure'.
On the 22nd of September 1930, Rieff and his mate, George Birchmore, applied for a forty acre mineral lease in the vicinity of the abandoned Frew River homestead, near Hatches Creek, one of many mining leases that Rieff held in the Davenport Ranges over the years. The specimens that Blakeley inspected in Carrington's office a week later, came from this lease. Although involved in many mining ventures, the Arltunga goldfields, Harts Range mica mines, Tennant Creek and the Granites, Rieff's main mining interests were the extensive wolfram deposits scattered throughout the Davenport and Murchison ranges, and he established a comfortable family home at Hatches Creek. Two years later, having acquired a couple of vehicles, Rieff escorted Madigan and Eric Baume on a tour of inspection to the Granites goldfields. Madigan had been commissioned by a group of Sydney Newspapers to report on the suspiciously booming goldfield. After a couple of days careful assaying and prospecting it was Madigan's melancholy duty to report the field a duffer, and shares in Granites gold script crashed from 85 pounds to fourpence, but Rieff, who had been one of the first to peg position claims on the field was unfussed, "Simon was in great form during the return. (to Alice Springs) He had apparently done well out of the 'spinifex farms' he had pegged".
In December 1939 Rieff applied for Australian citizenship and Constable Hamilton at Alice Springs, who completed the application form, wrote that Rieff was "a successful businessman", and in answer to question 17, regarding Rieff's reasons for applying for citizenship, Hamilton wrote, "Married Australian wife and owns considerable property in Australia". The accompanying statutory declaration was signed by Louis Bailey, an occasional partner in mining ventures, and now a Justice of the Peace, Michael Terry's young mate from the 1930 expedition to the Rawlinson Ranges. Blakeley's 'foreigner' had become a man of wealth and influence in Central Australia and Blakeley never returned to Alice Springs, probably well advised not to after dumping one of the Centres prominent citizens by the roadside.
© R.Ross. 1999-2006
Baume, F. E. Tragedy Track. 51,53,136. Blakeley, Fred. Dream Millions. 163,164. Coote, E. H. Hell's Airport. 177-179. Madigan, C. T. Central Australia. 81,88,91-95,111,250. National Archives Australia, J. H. Cunningham Gold Prospecting Expedition N.T. Series A3. Control, NT1916/4514. Barcode,50306. BIRCHMORE, George Thomas and RIEFF, Simon Application Mining Lease 654. Series A1. Control,1930/194. Barcode, 44810. Rieff, S Naturalisation. Series,A659. Control,1940/1/2176. Barcode,505657.