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The bomb maker


Research is important in this game, a man has to delve deep then have it confirmed   .. get the Provenance into good shape.

So I sent off an email to BD, the Mulga Man.


Hello Byron, I hope you are well.

Would the tools found in SM’s suitcase be suitable for making a small improvised explosive device?


That was fifteen minutes ago … so while I’m waiting for the old lad to get back to me I thought I’d give a theory a shot, particularly with PeteD’s recent work concerning the wartime alliance between Irgun and the IRA.


Fascinating Links Between Irgun and IRA


If a man’s job was to build a small explosive device from, say, a stick of dynamite lifted from a building site, would he carry his own tools? Would he risk it?

Say he did. And say this is how he did it.

Slits open the stick of dynamite with a knife.

Brushes the black powder out and onto a small sheet of zinc,

then funnels the powder into a bottle.

Leaving only the wick to construct,

which he trims with scissors.

Or he may have been a 3rd officer, responsible for marking a ship’s cargo.



11 Comments Post a comment
  1. If, on the one hand you had the police thinking that SM was indeed a 3rd officer, and his tools were used for marking up cargo, then you would expect Analyst Cowan to be able to easily recognise the black powder he shook from the brush …
    The fact that he didn’t identify the substance may suggest there was a gap of some importance between the two authorities.

    September 27, 2019
  2. Byron Deveson #

    the explosive material in sticks of Dynamite or similar civilian high explosive such as sticks of gelignite could be removed by cutting open the sticks but the only advantage of doing this would be to obtain loose material that could be packed into any shape. But high explosives require a detonator of some sort, something that produces a shock wave above a certain velocity. A very energetic electric spark can detonate high explosives in some circumstances but a simple fuse (heat) will not set off high explosive unless an intervening detonator is used. A detonator contains a high explosive that is heat sensitive (ie. that can be detonated by a fuse). Burning is an accepted method (with certain provisos) of disposing of dynamite or gelignite.

    I am inclined to think that SM’s kit was for mineral prospecting or mining work and this could include powder monkey work in 1948. The piece of metal foil or sheet in SM’s kit doesn’t look like any common metal sheet/foil but it does look like a piece of used platinum foil which would be an essential piece of prospecting kit in 1948. I base this on the wrinkled appearance of the piece of metal and it’s specular reflection (dirty silver with a yellowish green cast).

    In 1948 the USA was frantically looking for secure supplies of uranium (significant uranium was only discovered in the USA in 1949) and South Australia was one of the very few known significant sources of uranium in 1948. Remember that in 1948 the USA was not exactly a friend or even an ally of the Commonwealth countries. In many ways the USA was a potential enemy.

    At the end of WW2 the 1940s equivalent of today’s “Swamp” thought that the USA and the Soviet union could divide the world up between them, and relegate all the old powers to the sidelines. Today the “Swamp” seem to think that cosying up to China and relegating Russia to the sidelines is the smart strategy.

    Ever wondered why none of the European countries did anything to help, and everything to impede, the USA during the Vietnam War? Payback for perceived back stabbing at the end of WW2, that’s what. Australia was forced into supporting the USA in Vietnam because the Soviet Union had supplied Indonesia with bomber aircraft (and probably crewed them as well) capable of bombing Melbourne and Australia did not have the aircraft required to intercept them. Hence the mad scramble for the F-111. The Soviet Union had also established a secret naval force, probably nuclear equipped (with submarines), in West Papua (Irian Jaya). Remember that Australia and Indonesia were locked in a not so cold war around the PNG border with Irian Jaya. Australia was running incursion raids into Irian Jaya and shooting up the Indonesian military. The USA was neutral in all this.

    In short, SM could have been a US agent (or a Soviet agent) snooping on South Australia’s uranium deposits. Equally, SM might have been posing as a prospector in order to get inside the Woomera rocket and atomic testing range. Or maybe SM was multi-functional and was doing both?

    September 27, 2019
    • The black powder .. ? What could Cowan have missed?

      September 27, 2019
  3. Byron Deveson #

    Cowan missed everything Pete. He didn’t even keep a sample of the black powder. If he had done this we would have a good idea of what sort of job the brush was used for. Even in 1949 an average analyst could have identified, or at least partially identified, the black powder. 1949 was the heyday of micro-chemical teststing, where very small samples could be identified by chemical and physical testing on a micro scale. Cowan doesn’t appear to have even looked at the black powder under a microscope.
    The only question in my mind is “was this creative incompetence” and, if so, why and on whose behalf?

    September 28, 2019
  4. Byron Deveson #

    the black powder could have been exactly that, black powder explosive.

    September 28, 2019
    • Thanks BD, appreciated.

      September 28, 2019
      • More: Byron, could an effective wick be made by impregnating a cloth or fibre material with powdered explosive ?

        September 28, 2019
        • Byron Deveson #

          yes if black powder was used. But most explosives would be useless because they would burn too quickly. A wick/fuse is used to impose a time delay.

          September 28, 2019
          • Set it and run ? Light it and throw it ?

            September 28, 2019
  5. It certainly isn’t a geologist’s field kit. It’s missing essential equipment to even be a test kit for at mineral t that I know of. If the black powder was a reagent (just add a fluid) to test for a specific mineral etc, then there maybe the foil is what it’s mixed on with the sample using the knife, but the best that this method would get you is whether the specific mineral or element is present, not the percentage, at least not without a lot more equipment, but then again a simple geological survey kit would contain some rather crude tests, like a piece of porcelain for a simple scrape test, a rock pick for a crude visual test of unoxidized rock surfaces etc. If Bryan is right about the foil being platinum, then I wonder if the powder contains a chemical that would react in unwanted ways upon any other surface? Could it oxidize, create a poison, explode, release phosperine / arsenic / a nerve agent If mixed on a reactive surface?
    Reminds me of a story from Australind of what happened when the police suspecting a sample of TATP to be an illicit drug and mixed the sample with a drug testing reagent. They soon found out it was TATP the hard way. Needless to say that prpxedures for testing unknown substances where significantly changed from there on in.

    September 29, 2019
    • Byron Deveson #

      I agree that it isn’t a complete prospector’s or geologist’s field kit. I suspect that the suitcase was rifled and anything worth much was stolen as the suitcase languished uncollected at the railway station (it was unlocked when the police retrieved it). And then I suspect that the remaining contents were “weeded” by the Police/Security people. And that is why only two, maybe three, items from a prospecting kit remained (the platinum foil, the brush and the magnifying glass). The brush and the magnifying glass could be found in many kits in 1948 but the platinum foil would only be found in a prospector’s kit. Mineral testing in the field by prospectors, rather than chemical analysts back at the lab, is the only significant use for platinum foil that fits with the rest of the presumed story of SM. Only a very small number of people would recognise that the metal foil was platinum, and only a subset of those would realise the significance, that SM was involved in mineral prospecting.

      September 30, 2019

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