I’ve been working in the Central Highlands now for nearly three months. This is an area about 500km North West of Brisbane and is home to probably about 50 coal mines due to massive deposits across the Bowen Basin.
My day-to-day job has been to go to mines and train engineers and maintenance crews in the latest version of SAP, a powerful computer system used to run these operations. I have been based in the town of Emerald which in my opinion, is one of the best settlements in the area and has a population of about 10,000 which makes it probably the largest.
Coal miners – a dirty bunch
Many people have perceptions of what miners and mining is all about, and I have to say that I have been really impressed by the guys I’ve trained. Yeah they can be a bit rough and ready or for people who know Australia, they’re much more rural-natured. These are hands-on kinda guys who generally want to do a good job and have accepted the compromise of a town lifestyle for a higher wage and work in remote locations. Having been underground at a couple of mines, I’d say it takes a certain breed to be willing to work in the rabbit warrens which make up about 30% of the sites. In addition, most of the maintenance crews work night shifts at times which is a whole different kettle of fish and I’ve read that this kind of shift work can actually shorten peoples’ lives. Although I work here, this is not something I’d ever choose to do and I have respect for those who do.
Not having many friends in the area, I looked for a pastime for the evenings I’ve been here and have been really pleased to find a couple of pubs which run free poker evenings about 5 days per week. During these sessions, you are given around $5,000 in poker chips which you use to play against and knock out the others. Those who finish in first to third place receive cash prizes of up to $175. Of course I’d like to win (I’ve come 2nd, 3rd and 5th and regularly make the top table), however it’s far more about the connecting and having fun which is appealing to me and I’ve made a few poker buddies.
Mining for Sapphires
Next to Emerald are the towns of Sapphire and Rubyvale. As the names suggest, they relate to the precious stones which can be found in the area. Incidentally, Emeralds cannot be found in Australia and generally come from South America – the town of Emerald is named after ‘Emerald Downs’ which is a farm in the area which was seen to have fields which were emerald in colour, hence the name.
I have spent a few weekends fossicking (looking for stones in dirt) and frequenting the Sunday Sapphire markets where the locals sell their wares. I recently procured about 250 stones for $20 at the markets which I have sorted (with the stones I found myself) and have sent off to Thailand to be cut. (I chose to send them away as the cost to cut them overseas is 10% the cost of cutting them locally.)
I have also purchased a few amazing stones and am designing a piece of jewellery to have them set in to. I am also building myself a treasure chest and will use some of the stones (including an 18 carat white topaz from Mt Surprise) in the mix.
I’m not sure what my next project will be after this … potentially Western Australia, maybe even Canada or perhaps back in Brisbane to develop some courses. When chatting to the other trainers, when asked how we’re going, we say that we’re ‘Living the Dream’ and I have to say that I adore what I’m doing here and despite longing for consistency and a regular home base, friends to spend time with and the trappings of ‘normal’ life, I wouldn’t change my life right now and feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to live life in the way I am.
Here are a few other random shots of what I’ve been up to:
Are you ‘Living the Dream?’ What would your life look like if you were? Do you want to work in mining? I’d love to hear your comments and observations.