By Ian Williams
Three years, six at the most. That’s as long as Rob Hancock was ever going to stay in the remote South Australian opal mining town of Andamooka.
He arrived in 1985 with business partner Jim Blackmore to run the local hotel while the massive Olympic Dam copper-uranium mine and its thirsty miners established themselves down the road.
But Andamooka has a dusty charm and lifestyle that can seduce – and Rob found himself hooked. That’s turned out to be a stroke of luck for both the town and its community.
In the 40 years since, Rob has become one of Andamooka’s most enthusiastic civic leaders and a tireless volunteer, helping to turn the town into a popular outback tourist destination.
“For a community this size we have wonderful services and it’s mostly done by volunteers,” says Rob.
“But I couldn’t do the volunteer work if it wasn’t for Jimmy and my wife Liz letting me off some of the other stuff. It wouldn’t happen without them.”
Rob and Jim have been running their own liquor store since 1988 after selling the lease for the hotel and, like most people in Andamooka, they spend some of their time searching for opal.
“We hadn’t been here long when a local miner invited us out with him and uncovered a rather large quantity of opal and we couldn’t believe it,” says Rob.
“That was a very unfair thing to happen because we’re still doing it – once you’ve been exposed to a big find it sticks with you forever.
“Personally I think it’s the best sport known to mankind but boy, it does have its highs and lows.”
When he’s not mining for opal or running the liquor store, the father of four can usually be found doing his voluntary work – an estimated 20 hours a week.
He’s been treasurer of the Andamooka Progress Association for the past nine years and is a member of the Town Management Committee.
As a result he also helps manage the town caravan park and is involved in the local Community Development Program which gives remote job seekers an opportunity to support local projects.
Every long weekend Rob is also closely involved in organising town barbecues which have become an important social gathering, particularly for miners living in isolated areas.
But one of Rob’s proudest achievements is the close bond developed between the Andamooka Progress Association and the Kokatha Aboriginal Corporation, the traditional owners of the land.
“It’s been a terrific relationship with the Kokatha people giving us extra land for the camp ground and playgrounds and we’re in ongoing talks about the opal fields,” says Rob.
“They’re bending over backwards to keep the place as open as possible and we’re trying to make sure the place is looked after properly, which is going to be great for Andamooka.”
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