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Mike Leahy's Diary

Day 27: Extracting Gold

Mike rock crushingI'm working with Mikey B. today, which is cool. We have to break up the rock that we collected on Mount Rangitoto and chemically extract gold from the powder.
It takes half an hour to film me breaking a rock with a sledgehammer, largely because I can't hit it when wearing safety glasses. I take them off just as Martin calls for 'action' and hit the rock first time. He doesn't notice that I'm not wearing them.

I start making stuff - which, in all fairness, is later re-built by Derek and John. I'm a biologist who was once a mechanic. I can mend things but making things out of wood and rope is difficult for me. I can weld though, so persuade the powers that be to allow me use of a MIG welder. I've soon constructed a 'hammer/pounder' and a 'bash plate/container' in which to hit the rocks. While welding up the 'hammer' (made out of a broken tow bar and an old bulldozer idler wheel) I have to repeat many bits for the camera. To compound my problems I didn't have time to clean the metal up properly. Any mechanic would wince as they watch me weld on TV.

Finally I finish and begin to crush rocks. The assembly works really well and the rocks in the collection pot soon become small fragments and dust. It doesn't last long, however. First the welds start to break, and then a fraying rope causes a pulley to fall from the roof beams, narrowly missing Derek and his forty thousand pound camera. Whoops!

Mike putting his back into itI spend the rest of the day crushing rocks with a sledgehammer and a pair of broken Toyota Landcruiser half shafts. I suspect that most of the next day will be the same. Crushing rocks by hand really isn't that interesting. In five programmes I have done next to no science and absolutely no biology. I'm more than a little perplexed. Breaking rocks is also very hard work: prison chain gangs do this kind of stuff, as do unfortunate Indian children as I had found out in Himachel Pradesh earlier in the year but I'm not used to it. After a couple of hours my gloves are ripped to shreds and my hands are blistered. I have broken up half a sack of quartz rock. Five and a half to go.

By mid-afternoon the other scientists are back. What I am doing is very noisy. I have to stop regularly to allow filming to progress. I'm pleased - I need the rest because I'm still feeling very ill. Anyway an early day will do no harm.

We are back at the huts fairly early and go for a sauna.

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Photo: Mike Leahy
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