36. BRIDGE, Leslie. G.       

"I make the suggestion sincerely, in the belief that gold in large quantities in Central Australia is most likely".

L. G. Bridge, letter to John Bailey, 10/07/1931.

Leslie George Bridge was the financier and motivating force behind the Second C.A.G.E. Expedition, and by his own admission, smitten with gold fever. The cure cost him nearly 2300 Pounds, a very large sum of money in Depression era Australia. Bridge was not an original shareholder in the Central Australian Gold Exploration Syndicate, and quite unheard of in Lasseter affairs prior to his forthright correspondence to John Bailey in early July 1931, where he expressed great concern that other unnamed parties were planning to peg Lasseter's Reef and usurp the Company's legal and moral claims to the bonanza .

Bridge was a wealthy Sydney businessman with interests in the wool and sugar industries, and a keen, although sometimes misguided, advocate of Australian development, he was notably aviation minded, and made occasional headlines with long aerial tours of inspection through Queensland and in 1938 travelled 26000 miles in 24 days. He was said to be a breezy and vigorous personality and a man of some leisure, apparently with enough time and money on his hands to take over the management of C.A.G.E. and be defrauded.

Bridge wrote three letters to John Bailey, the Chairman of C.A.G.E., and they make heavy reading, several incidents and personalities mentioned in the letters have become part of the Lasseter legend and have been artfully incorporated into Lasseter's Last Ride. There are several repetitive themes throughout the correspondence; appeals to Bailey to use his influence with the Federal Government to secure favourable conditions for the Company, and frequent use of pathos to reinforce the Company's moral claims to Lasseter's Reef, "Lasseter gave his life to the venture" and the Company's debt, indeed the Country's obligation to Lasseter, "and, of equal importance, to the Lasseter dependants as well,".  He believed the mantra of the times, almost a cargo cult, that Australia's desperate economic circumstances were, "in the greatest measure accounted for by our present shortage of gold", and that Lasseter's Reef and the certain discovery of large deposits of gold in Central Australia would relieve the country of its, "present tragic condition". Therefore the, "forthcoming Expedition should be regarded by them, (the Government) as being of  National Importance", a common appeal by rouges and visionaries whose ambitions are bigger than their cheque books.

His first letter on the 8th of July, began with an imperative, "Dear Mr. Bailey, As a matter of urgency, I would like you to give instant attention to combating the rumours about outside syndicates at present contemplating expeditions for the purpose of "jumping" Lasseter's Gold Reef ". Bridge never stated who those outside interests were, although one was apparently Alice Springs based and accused of vulture-like methods and double crossing. Bridge may have been alluding to Paul Johns, the last white man to see Lasseter alive, and perfectly capable of scavenging an underhanded deal, or Fred Colson, always under suspicion by Lasseter and Coote for being in league with Fred Blakeley, with the intention of pegging the reef before Lasseter. Colson's necessary presence on the First Expedition, (he was not a shareholder in the Company) is usually given as the reason for Lasseter refusing to divulge the exact location of the reef to Fred Blakeley. Lasseter of course did not have a precise location to divulge.

This letter also mentions, the connection between Lasseter and his Bush mate from Boulder City, Johannsen and his mate, who were speared by the Aboriginals at Sladen Water. This incident, never more than a rumour and possibly a deliberate fabrication, appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald the previous day, and was used by Bridge  to reinforce his contention that several expeditions were on the way to Central Australia and likely to jump Lasseter's reef. Ion Idriess turns the rumour to advantage in his bestseller and explains why Lasseter and Johannsen failed to rendezvous at Lake Christopher. Bridge also mentions the noble sacrifice and near deaths of Captain Pittendrigh and Mr. Hamre last December, and the Company had spent its entire capital of 5000 pounds in its, "determined endeavour to bring success to the venture". As far as Bridge was concerned, The Minister, Arthur Blakeley, was more or less obliged to protect the Company and Lasseter family interests.

"Before concluding, I would like to place on record the suggestion that, in the event of the desired area being granted by the Commonwealth Government, it should be officially known as 'Lasseter's Reef'. If this were done, it would certainly place for all time the record of a brave and fearless man, and pay a suitable remembrance to his tragic end."

The following day the Public Trustee declared Lasseter intestate, clearing the way for the Baileys and Bridge to examine the 'secret documents' left by Lasseter for safekeeping at the Bank of Australia. One of the documents was written in invisible ink and gave vague and colourful  directions to the reef, but without the all important reference point, making the document quite useless. From the scant information available, most of it Lasseter nonsense,  Bridge and Bailey deduced, or perhaps fabricated, a map of the area to be reserved to the Company by the Government, "based upon the secret location document left by the late Mr. Lasseter under seal at the Bank of Australasia, and fully supported by the particulars contained in the letter found with his body by Mr. Buck and addressed to his wife". This letter, reproduced in Lasseter's Last Ride, opens with the oft quoted lines, "Dear Rene, Don't grieve for me. I've done my best and pegged the reef," Lasseter's statement that he had pegged his reef convinced Bridge that the Company had legal rights to Lasseter's Reef.

Bridge instructed Bailey to forward his letters and the map, together with a covering letter, to Arthur Blakeley for his urgent and favourable consideration. In Canberra several senior and canny bureaucrats were waiting for Jack Baileys letter, alerted by previous correspondence and Baileys reputation. They noted that Lasseter's precisely located reef was somewhere within an area of 4600 square miles, more or less centered in the South West Aboriginal Reserve. Bailey received a firm reply from Blakeley, under no circumstances would the Government allow any part of any Aboriginal reserve to be excised or reserved for mining purposes, unless a mineral deposit of Lasseterian proportions was first discovered and proven, irrefutably! Prospecting however, was not discouraged in the Reserve, and Bailey was reminded of the Northern Territory, Mining and Aboriginal ordinances and strict adherence thereto. As a concession, more in the interests of the Aboriginals than the Company, Blakeley decreed that only one prospecting expedition would be allowed in the South West Reserve at any one time.

This restriction on access to the Reserve was conveniently interpreted by Bailey as a grant of Charter to the Company, and it was widely publicised that the Government had protected the Company's interests. These deliberate misstatements on Baileys part regarding the Governments involvement in the Lasseter affair, again caused Arthur Blakeley considerable embarrassment and he had to reassure the South Australian Government, and various Aboriginal protection societies, that no part of the South West Reserve had been excised for mining purposes. 

Bridges last letter to Bailey dated the 20th July expressed satisfaction that the Company has secured the "powerful protection of the Federal Government and the Government of Western Australia, by Charter to the Company of the areas in which it is now definitely known the Lasseter Gold Reef is situated ". Having settled the threat of claim jumpers, Bridge then urged Bailey to use his Government contacts to assist the Company select the Geologist and Mining Surveyor to accompany the next expedition to Lasseter Country. Bridge insisted only the best men be employed so the public might place some confidence in their reports as to,  "whether the great unexplored spaces of Central and Western Australia, into which the Expedition is to go, actually do or do not contain gold in large quantities". The Governments Geological adviser, Dr. W. G. Woolnough unequivocally recommended H. W. B. Talbot, "He would be worth any other three men in my opinion". Talbot and his colleague, Torrington Blatchford, the West Australian Government Geologist, did accompany the Expedition and reported the venture as more or less a farce.

Bridge wanted it made clear to any  who joined the expedition, that their safety and well being was assured as, "both Mr. Buck (who will be leader of the Expedition) and Mr. Green are thoroughly experienced bushmen, and both have practical and intimate knowledge of the territory in which the Expedition will operate". This choice of personnel was Bridges worst decision as Manager of C.A.G.E. Buck had some limited experience in Lasseter Country, was not considered a practical bushman, and certainly not a leader of men. Buck arrived in Sydney on the 3rd of August and there is no record of the discussions between the Leader and the Financier of the Second C.A.G.E. Expedition, all Buck had to say about the meeting has become widely quoted, "He described his visit to the Sydney home of the wealthy sponsor of the last search, saying: He asked me into his drawing room. The carpet came up to me hocks. I didn't know if to take off me hat or me boots". Frank Green, the prospector on the Second Expedition, was an arch villain in the Lasseter saga, and involved with the Baileys in several wild cat mining schemes, his bush experience was limited to remote mining and railway camps and out of sight of the Law. A couple of years later he married Lasseter's widow. Bridge concluded his letter on an optimistic note, "It would indeed be a wonderful thing if, through our Company's efforts, we really were able to unmistakeably start Australia quickly on the road to a new prosperity".

Shortly after the Second C.A.G.E. Expedition disbanded at various points between Alice Springs and Sydney, Bridge wrote to Pastor Albrecht at Hermannsburg, thanking the Mission staff for their assistance during the Expedition and according to Albrecht, Bridge finished his letter with, "More than 2000 just thrown away. It is a big price to pay for the cooling of gold fever." Bridge had very little to say about Lasseter and his reef thereafter, until 1951 when Neville Harding created his own headlines with yet another rediscovery of Lasseter's Reef. Bridge supported Harding's venture, confident that sooner or later gold would be found in Lasseter Country and added that, "Lasseter's maps which showed that the reef was about 200 miles from where previous expeditions had searched were now held for safe keeping by his bankers in London". Bridge's revelation would have caused Lasseter, an Anglophobe, some angst, the British finally had the secret to his gold reef.

LASSETERIA

R.Ross. 1999-2011                                                                                                                                                                             20110527

Central Australian Gold Exploration Company Ltd. Papers 1930-1932 Mitchell Library MLA3043. F. W. Albrecht. 1964, Letter to Lutheran Almanac. A. E. George. Korumburra Times, 12/09/1952. National Archives Australia. TITLE, Central Australian Gold Exploration Synd. Assistance to Prospect. SERIES A431. C/S 1948/1143. pages 34-62. Coote, Errol. Hell's Airport. 256. Ion Idriess, Lasseter's Last Ride. pg. 238.