Thursday, 12 June 2008

Underground Mining - PART 1

My first working experience in the real world took place after taking a redundancy payment and leaving my flaccid Government job.

I went gold mining. Underground. Bit of a change really.

The early 1990’s were a time of opportunity so I jumped in my Torana and left Darwin on a whim. The crossroads at Katherine made me toss a coin to choose which way to go. I went west. Western Australia.

It took a while to get to Perth as I drove down the coast looking for a fishing trawler to work on. I found it’s a closed industry. You’d have to kill someone to get on one. Once in Perth I decided to be a miner. I found the shonkiest mob of mine-worker trainers in the paper. They promised high paying jobs at the end of their course. The trainer, an ex-surface driller, knew it all. No worries, here’s my money, teach me to drill.

The course lasted two days and consisted of the most basic surface drilling information.

An introduction to the drilling equipment. (Slide show.)

How not to get squashed or killed. (Shows us missing fingers on his hand.)

How the various rigs worked. (Noisy, dirty and you buggers better move your arse to keep up with the drilling rate.)

And how to use a massive pair of steel Stillson wrenches to break out rods. (We had no rods so we took the paint off all the veranda poles at the training facility and left sharp metal splinters for the next person who leaned on it.)

None of us had ever driven a truck before so the trainer hired a 12 tonne rigid and let us take turns grinding the cogs of a Road Ranger gearbox in an effort to get the truck moving. We were expected to sink or swim if we scored a job and had to drive one for real. His way of weeding out the useless ones. Fair enough. Using the Eaton box came naturally to me after years of battling with the gearstick in my Torana's rooted gearbox. Some of the other guys couldn't work it out. Less competition.

At the end of the course we were handed a badly photocopied list of drilling companies. I naively thought we got to choose which one we wanted to work for. That wasn’t the case. They’d pulled the names from the telephone book and had no prior relationships with most of the companies.

It dawned on me that we’d paid out good money for a worthless certificate and were in no better shape for preferential employment than a bloke off the street.

Not to be discouraged I sent my creatively reworded resume to every name on the list. A week later I scored a job. I didn’t even know I’d applied to an underground operator. I didn’t know what a Kempe compressed air diamond drilling rig was, and I’d never heard of the small town that I had to find on the map.

My employer probably could believe his eyes when a young skinny bloke turned up on his doorstep with zero experience and a big mouth.

He probably didn’t think running around the massive storm drain system under Darwin, ‘inspecting it’, counted as underground experience either.

(See - Underground mining - PART 2.)

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