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WHAT IT TAKES TO WORK AT AUSTRALIA’S DEEPEST MINE

October 2018

 

What it takes to work at Australia’s deepest mine

Simon Goldie is a global program director in the Energy, Resources and Marine sector at Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT). Experiencing life as a miner has always been one of his goals. When the opportunity came to explore a copper mine owned by CWT client Glencore in the Australian Outback, Simon was more than ready to go. Below is his first-hand account.

My journey deep inside a mine began in my home base of Perth. The destination: Mount Isa, the deepest mine in Australia, 5,187 kilometers (3,223 miles) away. The trip involved a four-hour hop across the continent to Brisbane, an overnight stay, followed by a two-and-a-half hour flight deep into Queensland, Australia’s great north west.

Gearing up

Upon arriving in Mount Isa, we headed to the mine office for a pre-safety check, sign-in process, and to get suited up in full mining gear. Our kit—all 10 kilograms (22 lbs.) of it—included a bright red jumpsuit, respirator, helmet with headlight, emergency oxygen supply, and a communication unit with a GPS tracker.

After going through a final safety check and confirming we understood the unique signals we can make with our headlamps to communicate from a distance underground, we were set. A rush of excitement filled me as I had never experienced anything like this before.

Into the mine

Inside Mount Isa Mines’ underground copper mine are 950 kms. (590 miles) of mining tunnels. Instead of taking the shaft, our hosts drove us in two utes (car-trucks popular in Australia) down the mine’s winding decline road so we could explore the plethora of tunnels.

The utes were customized with a three-seater bench in the ute’s tray, complete with safety seat belts. There was room for only one passenger in the air-conditioned cab. I opted to go al fresco on the way in to get a true experience.

We drove for 10 minutes down a completed open-pit zinc mine to the portal entrance of the underground mine, then descended 300 meters (984 ft.) into the shadows.

At the tunnel entrance, the adrenaline went up another notch. Within seconds, we were engulfed in darkness, except for the orange glow of the flashing ute light that illuminated the tunnel walls as we drove through.

A truly unique sensory experience

Almost immediately, my senses began to go into overdrive. It was like being on a slow moving roller coaster with a persistent strobe light flashing from behind.

Then there was the sound. Every few minutes, the low rumble of huge fans in the distance grew louder as we drove nearer, which would build to a roar as we drove past.

At 1,000 meters (3,280 ft.) below the surface, we stopped at one of five ‘crib rooms’ (air conditioned breakout room complete with fridge, microwave, toilets, etc.) used by miners on breaks. We explored a service area for equipment and trucks that was bathed in floodlights, while overhead, small blasts could be heard--the boom, boom, boom rumbling through my chest.

One mile below

The temperature rose the deeper underground we went. Soon, we hit a milestone. Literally. We were one mile (1.6 km) underground. This was the deepest we were going to go, although the tunnel continues for another 300 meters (984 ft.) beneath us.

After the obligatory photo op, we drove to a vast open area, 30 meters high (100 ft.), where they crushed freshly blasted rocks to be taken up to the surface. The heat from the machinery easily brought the temperature up to 40 C (104 F), which huge fan blasted fresh air into the area. The miners working the machines were covered in sweat and guzzled water down by the liter.

The final stop was to the rock face itself, almost like a small siding, with a giant drilling machine that looked like it was from a sci-fi movie. This, I thought, was what mining is all about. Digging rocks out of the ground.

Into the sunshine

We then started our 40-minute drive back out of the mountain, only this time, I had the pleasure of experiencing it in the air-conditioned cab, facing forwards! When we finally got to the tunnel entrance and was hit by sunshine, there was a real sense of accomplishment as well as exhaustion.

The four hours we spent underground was an experience I will never forget. I came out of Mount Isa with a renewed appreciation for the people who work in the very many roles across the mining operation, how hard they work, and the important work that they do.. It has deepened my understanding of the role we play in the success of the Mount Isa Mines business, and depended my commitment to easing the journey for these hardworking Australians in any way we can.

Blog author: Simon Goldie, Global Program Director, Energy Resources and Marine (ERM)