Monday, 22 March 2021
I was 20 years old when I first went to work at the Cannington mine. As a second year mining engineering student, it was the formative experience of my career. I clearly remember the first time I went underground to work on service crew, and later on as a nipper offsiding jumbo operators. If you have never worked underground it's very hard to describe the teamwork that's required and the sense of togetherness that's quickly established in such harsh conditions. It's often hot, loud, dark and unstable. Large vehicles move quickly past, and of course the dangers associated with rock falls are ever present. I recall some years later, this time working as a nipper at the Ridgeway mine just outside Orange, I was returning from changing the drill bit on a jumbo. I turned my back to the cab and felt a gust of wind come past me. I heard no sound, but behind me several tonnes of rock had fallen, dashing the jumbo booms to the ground. It was an amazing thing to see.
It was a dangerous place, but we were there for each other. Mining crews are like that. They might rib you a little bit, and as a project manager, much later in my career, I enjoyed a bit of banter with the crews. A good crew looks after its own. In many ways the whole mining industry is like one big crew. Although it is spread all across the world, mining is still a small industry. We all know each other; we know someone who worked with us on another site somewhere. The industry goes through ups and downs. In the good times we grow in numbers, the pay is good and the rosters get a little bit easier. Long-term know to put a bit of money away in the bank during the good years. That was certainly the best advice I ever got from an old driller I worked with at Northparkes.
Young engineers often get a bit of a hard time in their first years, but we also get a lot of good advice. The best miners know to invest in their graduates because their future safety depends on it. Again, mining is an industry where we have to work together. In the down times that can be hard. I recall the end of the mining boom. As redundancies swept across Perth I remember the uncertainty into which many of my own team were plunged as our clients scaled back operations, this time at the Argyle diamond mine. I remember the tears in the eyes of the grown men and women on my team who I had to break the news to. I remember the fear in my own wife's eyes as we faced my own redundancy shortly afterwards. But even in those dark times we were together. The support and mateship within the mining community is always there. It is always there at the end of the phone or maybe across the table at the pub sharing a quiet beer.