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Bye Bye Bulga



On July 25 the underground shafts at Bulga Underground were officially sealed and we said goodbye to one of the Hunter’s benchmark mining operations.

Throughout the Bulga Underground history there have been three very successful mines: South Bulga, Beltana and Blakefield South. Each have made their own substantial contributions, and together they are responsible for building Bulga’s illustrious reputation not just locally, but internationally.

During the 36 years of operation Bulga Underground set many records with record tonnages and production levels surpassing other underground mines. They demonstrated plenty of innovation and problem solving, working with international partners and being recognised around the world for their achievements.

It’s a reflection on the high standards and professionalism shown throughout the life of the mine that its record coal production and ground-breaking innovations were achieved without the loss of a single life and they can be proud of the legacy they are leaving behind.

The Bulga people

Over the years, the Bulga underground operations have seen 825 permanent employees and over 1000 contractors working alongside each other and each playing a part in the making the mine a success.

Operations Manager, Charlie Spence says one of the biggest strengths of Bulga has been the underlying workplace culture and the pride and dedication of the workforce.

“South Bulga started on a shoestring and right from the get go there was a strong sense of ownership among the workforce. You felt like you were part of something bigger than yourself. We were breaking records and having a good time doing it. The underlying workplace culture always made you feel empowered and it made it a great place to work.” Charlie said.

It’s certainly been an employer of choice in the industry and many who have worked at Bulga have gone on to make a mark in the industry.

Setting records

Bulga broke many records when it came to productivity at all three of its mining operations.

In 2005, Beltana broke the Australian longwall production record, with an output of 955,049 tonnes. This achievement was quickly trumped when one million tonnes of coal, from longwall and development, was mined in a single month. Beltana was the first coalmine outside China to achieve this level of production, and the mine received international recognition as one of the best underground operations/workforces in the world.

Keeping up the same incredible levels of production was Blakefield South. In 2014 a record breaking 1 million tonnes of coal was produced for three consecutive months, a substantial achievement for an underground mine and a milestone in Australian mining.

When the decision was made to close the underground operations, the workforce at Bulga saw it as an opportunity to go out strong. For the last year of operation, they smashed out their budget and production goals. Although the forecast was for 4.1 million tonnes, they did a whopping 6.2 million. This goes to show the committed attitude of the entire workforce right to the very end.

Community committed

Bulga has always strived to be not just accepted by the local community but welcomed. Whether it was working with the vineyards it operated under or working with dairy farmers whose property they drilled gas through, it was always about working together for mutual benefit.

What is unique about Bulga is that their activities took place beside and below the thriving Broke Fordwich wine tourism area, the only mine to ever mine underneath commercial vineyards. It involved 2 years of extensive planning, consultation and trials and was a success.

They’ve mined under Charlton Road 16 times, Broke Road 3 times and privately-owned vineyards, farms and properties with little impact.They’ve even mined under the irrigation & town water supply pipelines and powerlines, without any interruption to supply.

Throughout the life of the mine they supported countless local events, ran community BBQ’s, working bees and family days, and directly funded many local organisations, most significantly, Broke Public School.


The first coal was cut underground on 23rd March 1992.

On the 4th May 2018 the final coal was cut marking 36 years.

Total coal cut was 106,247,223 tonnes.



An official history of the Bulga Underground will be produced by historian Ray Christison later this year. Here’s a snippet of his work.

South Bulga Colliery 1991-2003

The first underground mine in Australia operating a single longwall to produce more than four million tonnes of coal per year. In 1996 the mine achieved labour productivity exceeding 24,000 run of mine tonnes per employee. This was double that of the next most productive underground mine, and well ahead of most open cut mines.

Beltana Highwall Mine 2000-2011

In September 2004 Beltana Highwall Mine achieved the highest production per employee of any coalmine in NSW, either underground or open cut. By the end of 2004 Beltana had produced a record breaking 6 million tonnes of coal. As production rates soared, development crews were also achieving outstanding results, with mining advancing at rates of over 4 metres per hour. Performance levels achieved in 2004 earned Beltana the title: “The Coal Factory”.

Blakefield South Mine 2009-2018

Blakefield South was internationally recognised as a leader in the application of Extended Reach Drilling (ERD) to meet the requirements of gas drainage in a coal mine. The project, commenced in 2009, required close partnership between Bulga Coal Management and PathFinder, a subsidiary of Schlumberger, and a number of innovations to adapt oil industry techniques to the context of Blakefield South.

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Featured News

Leading Lady



Now one of the most influential leaders in the resources industry, Sarah Withell came from humble beginnings, growing up on the banks of the Hawkesbury River in NSW. 

Sarah Withell is currently Head of HSE Business Partnership – BMC & NSWEC at BHP. Her journey to this top position will not only inspire you but may surprise you.

Sarah grew up on the Hawkesbury River in a tiny community with only around 100 houses. The community was close knit and kids would spend all day outside not coming home until the streetlights came on.

Interestingly enough, in the small town is a mental hospital. Because of this the local community and schools were exposed to a large variety of different people from all different backgrounds. “It was a really accepting community and I think that’s one of the things that helped shape me. Plus, I went to an all-girls school and that really shaped me a lot as well,” said Sarah.

“We used to have a lot of really fabulous teachers and all of what they did was to inspire you – there were no limitations on girls, girls can do whatever they want to do.”

“I think what actually comes out of that as well is that a number of my friends from school have gone on to lead really exciting careers, and really different careers all over the world. They’ve also managed to achieve this success while raising families.”

As a youngster Sarah did a gap year where she worked for one of the big accounting firms at the time called Archer Andersons. “It was a real eye opener for me being able to work in that organisation. You really got to see the benefits of having a professional degree,” said Sarah.

With many females in the organisation in senior levels to look up to for guidance, when they encouraged Sarah to go onto university she followed their advice.

During university, Sarah did all sorts of different roles like working in laundry mats, waitressing and bartending. She even did a ski season down at the snow.

“I did my degree and I then I did some work for an environmental consulting company. While I was working there, I had a colleague who left the organisation to do work in the Northern Territory in roads construction,” said Sarah. “They seemed to have a really good time and so I became interested in trying to get a job in a remote part of Australia, specifically in the Northern part of Australia.”

Thinking about what kind of work she wanted to do, Sarah was drawn to the number of mines in the Northern part of Australia and ended up interviewing for a job at the Century Zinc Mine in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Going through the interview process, including an interview in Brisbane, Sarah remembers feeling excited from the moment she walked in. “I just really wanted that job and so I was fortunate I managed to do a really good interview,” she said.

“I really didn’t know what I was getting into and I was lucky enough that my boss came with me on my first trip up there or I might have changed my mind. We got into the smallest plane I have ever seen, and the landing pad was just a dirt strip,” Sarah chuckled.

Going up North, Sarah had the mindset that she would leave after 6 months if she didn’t like it. By the end of her first week she thought she would be lucky to last 6 weeks.

But before long Sarah found that the job was everything she had hoped it would be and more. Before she knew it three years had gone by. She loved all the challenges of working remotely and the unbelievable work situations it brought about, plus it allowed her to see some of the most amazing and beautiful parts of Australia. But the best part was working with the indigenous communities and the property owners up there which made it not only interesting for Sarah, but extremely rewarding.

“But the whole reason I went up there was the whole reason I left – just how remote it actually is. Eventually I decided it was time to try and get a little bit closer to home,” she said.

When asked what she currently loves about her job, it became apparent that the community, her team and her connections were important. “Compared to when I first started in the industry, the way we now work in with the community is really important and we’re talking a lot more now about social value. I think particularly in the Hunter Valley we are unique because we’ve operated in that space for quite some time.”

These days the community often come forward to the mining industry when they think they aren’t doing the right thing or expectations aren’t being met which Sarah said is a good thing. “We need to continue to get better and if the community don’t tell us how they’re feeling or what they are thinking then we find ourselves not being at the forefront of where we want to be.”

From an environmental perspective, Sarah said, “it’s all about making sure we leave a really good legacy.”

Aside from her flat-out working career, Sarah has taken up a love for running starting around 3 years ago at local park runs. From there, picking up distances as well, Sarah competes in a half marathon every year.

“The kids also keep us pretty busy with sport, but we have been really enjoying some of this time during the COVID-19 with the ability to work from home,” said Sarah.

“We can go for a walk in the afternoon and because I am in Singleton, just around the corner from us is a paddock that’s got lovely horses in it, so we take the kids down to pat them.”

Back into the swing of things with COVID restrictions lightening and work around Australia getting back on track, Sarah’s time management and planning ideals have become more important than ever as she takes on more and more roles in our industry.

One of those is as a mentor with the ‘Women in Mining’ mentoring group. Another is Chair of the Upper Hunter Mining Dialogue. All this on top of working fulltime and raising a family. She really is a powerhouse. Need more proof? Sarah also won the award for Exceptional Woman in NSW Mining in 2019. For Sarah it was humbling to receive the recognition for a job that she loves to do.

“I was proud to receive the award, but what makes me really proud is when a member of my team does really well,” said Sarah, expressing the importance of empowerment. “They all support each other and they all give each other recognition as well,” said Sarah proudly.

What advice does this born leader have to share? “One of my best pieces of advice is be prepared to take a risk. Don’t be scared to jump in sight unseen and take the gamble. Take those opportunities when they are offered because they often don’t get offered twice. It’s also really important to have people around you who believe in you.”

Sarah also has a lot of advice for those looking to enter our industry. “It’s an incredibly rewarding industry and there is a huge amount of variety. It’s only once you get into the industry that you realise how many opportunities that there actually are as it’s requires people with so many different skill sets. I’d encourage people to actually think about what they like to do and then find a role that allows you to apply that skill set, whether directly or indirectly.”

Sarah’s not leaving our industry anytime soon, recently accepting an Executive General Manager role with Whitehaven Coal after 12 years with BHP. “I am still staying in the industry and I am really excited about this next step for me at a higher level role,” Sarah concluded.

All in all, Sarah Withell really is an exceptional woman both in the mining industry and as a Hunter Valley community member. We can’t wait to see what she achieves in the years to come.

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You’ll be missed Poppy



You could have knocked us over with a feather when we heard the news that good mate of @The Coalface, Glen ‘Poppy’ Rae, unexpectedly called last drinks on a life we were all proud to be a part of.

Despite looking very old for his years due to a tough paper round as a kid, losing his hair at a young age, and the more than occasional bit of biff on the footy field and in the pub, he was only 47 years young. He squeezed a lot out of his time though and we are left with a mountain of great memories dwarfed only by the size of his heart and strength of his character.

As owner and Managing Director of Valley Maintenance Solutions, success came to him the hard way, through bloody hard work, tenacity and an unwavering desire to give the best life he could to his family who he loved more than words can say.

Poppy started in the mining industry as a Boilermaker over 20 years ago and had various roles with different contracting companies as a Supervisor, Safety Advisor and a Maintenance Manager.

He was also passionate about community, sponsoring local sporting clubs and getting on board with any cause that helped the community and its people.

For a loud, opinionated and hard man, he really was a great big softy.

Much of the following words were said by those who cherished him and alternated through tears of love and loss and uncontrollable laughter at his goodbye.

Poppy was too young to leave this world. Full of potential, he still had so much to give. His service should have been attended by a thousand, if not double or triple that, but the old ‘Rona’ buggered him and his plans for mass adulation and mourning…that and a huge bloody wake!

Poppy’s childhood sweetheart, partner and the love of his life for 31 years was Allison. It was a big, big love. Their boys Charlie and Max and of course Lachlan, were and are his and Alison’s pride, joy and purpose in life.

Charlie and Max found a card he wrote not so long ago, ‘To my beautiful wife I knew we would be together for ever. You’re a great mother and an even better wife. Together forever x.’ It turns out he was a bit of a romantic as well.

Poppy always aimed up when the going was at its toughest. A typical Aussie bloke, he was a bit rough around the edges, but truly a diamond in the rough. He was no pushover and could handle himself equally as well as he could charm the pants off someone.

He always tried to better himself and built a very successful business in mining with Valley Maintenance Solutions.

If you ever needed anything he was always there. If you were an asshole you would never have got to know him. He had no patience and that trait led to many funny stories.

He never thought he was better than anyone else and he always said it straight, good or bad. “If you don’t like it you can all go and get f#@*ed.” Was a common theme if he thought it needed to be said. No airs and graces doesn’t begin to describe Poppy.

And there were some colourful stories;

His Mum used to send him to the shops as a kid to buy a pack of Viscounts. Poppy would return home with one missing and say that they came that way when he bought them.

Then there was the bus full of Rae family and friends going to the Newy races in February. A few young punks thought it a good idea to harass some of his clan back at the bus to go home. Predictably, he applied ‘Poppy style diplomacy’ and got into a brawl and taught the brave young-un’s that it’s never a good idea to try to hijack a bus in the name of Rae.

Andrew Hughes who proudly called him his best mate said, “Some called him a smart ass and he always said, ‘You have to be smart or you’re always an ass.’ The door was always open with Poppy. He had a heart of gold. Loved a bloody golf day. We once played with Mark Waugh and at the end he said ‘I’ll never look at golf again the same.’”

Football was a religion to him. And everyone at a game understood this very bloody well. He loved his mates; the sessions were brutal and the weak never stood a chance.

Poppy loved telling a story. He also loved a vodka and passionfruit and brown Gatorate.

Harder than four-unit maths. Tougher than a brick shit house.

The Maitland Red Dogs was his footy team and like life he gave it everything up till the full-time siren. Giving the round ball game a go, violence ended his soccer career prematurely.

A rat bag, a pearler, as loyal as the day is long, a beer, a yarn, a smoke and a blu meant you made the most of the day.

We luv ya mate!

From your good mates, your work mates and most of all Allison, Charlie and Max, thanks for everything. Enjoy a cold one with Lachlan…This is no goodbye, it’s a see ya later mate. 

You will never be forgotten.

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Products Made with Passion



The passionate team at Newcastle Distilling Co. truly embody the spirit of the Hunter, with quality at the heart of everything they do.

Beginning 6 years ago down on the South Coast, after moving for a tree change, Novocastrian Lucas Cattell started his own little brewery and distillery before moving home to Newcastle to be closer to family about 18 months ago. Rebranded as Newcastle Distilling Co. Lucas Cattell, his wife Mackenzie Cattell, Emma Banister and Lachlan Barden now make up the company and to be frank, have worked their butts off to keep pushing forward their beloved brand.

Moving from the South Coast, then to a space in Beresfield and finally to their current space in Shortland around 12 months ago where they were sharing this space with 5 other businesses, it has been quite the journey. “It was pretty intense with the 5 running businesses in the one space – at some stages there would be 10-20 people in here,” Lucas chuckled.

“We were limited to a small corner, which was the entire space we had, the stills, all of the equipment, everything in that little space until they all moved out late 2019.”

Christmas came along and as always, was a hectic time for Newcastle Distilling Co as with any other business. Unfortunately, the bushfires that followed, the bad weather and rain and then COVID-19 hitting resulted in around an 80% loss of business.

But with team determination and adaptability of this distillery, the only way forward was up. Starting with 1 still last year and 3,000 litres of storage, they now have 3 stills and 25,000 litres of storage – so in 6 months have increased capacity nearly 10 times. “It’s survive or die to reach our goals, that’s all it is,” said Lucas.

“We either go thinking outside the box and try and make it happen or walk away and I have invested every single cent I have for the last six years into this, so walking away wasn’t an option.”

Lucas has been distilling for 18 years and commercially for six. “I started at home in my garage like most distillers do, making vodka and moonshine, every batch from scratch, the old school way,” he said.

From the labels, design and even hand drawn images, to the spirits and flavours – every aspect of each product is made by the team. “Every product we make is made from scratch which is significantly more work, less cost but more work, but we love it,” Lucas said.

“One of the biggest benefits of making our own products from scratch is we have 100% control over the quality of the spirit and process – we can take it to the next level.”

The Distillery have 10 spirits in their range, 16 cocktail cans and 12 liquors so in the next 3 months will have across the counter around 40 odd products.

The Whiskey named after Lucas’s late Grandfather and the rum named after his boat, Newcastle Distillery Co are currently the first and only producer currently with releases of whiskey and rum in the Hunter.

Starting from humble beginnings, the small team have got pretty big plans currently running an investment drive to raise capital to build a brewery, with hopes to brew beer on site as well. They also have their Whisky Founders Club. “We imported 10 barrels from Laphroaig Distillery in Scotland and we’re making whisky and ageing it in them,” Lucas said.

“People buy a membership and every year they get a bottle, and at the end of the 10 years they have a collection.”

Lucas’s ability to adapt became quite apparent in March when COVID hit, and the team faced losing pretty much every way of making money. “Lucas said we need to keep swimming, or we are just going to drown, and the hand sanitiser was born,” said team member Emma.

“We were quite fortunate to be in a position to help quite a few nursing homes, Hunter Tafe, a lot of the local schools, the university, emergency services – they all ordered sanitiser from us so to be in that position to know that we were in some way helping some of those from the front lines, it gives you those warm fuzzies.”

Newcastle Distillery Co have one big mantra and have made it clear it’s the most important thing – quality over quantity – and that’s what they have 100% focused on. “If it’s not good enough we don’t sell it and if we make a mistake, we fix it,” said Lucas.

“This is my future, I didn’t build this to run really quickly and sell to the highest bidder, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life and hopefully one day pass this on to my kids.”

“It will come back, it is happening, for us we need to just keep building those relationships with local bottle shops, connecting with investors and moving forward.”


Australian Small Batch Craft Distillery of the Year

Lux Food and Wine Magazine 2019

Victor Hingston Single Malt Whiskey

Silver Medal in the Royal Australian Spirit Awards 2019

Sparrow Jack Spiced Rum

Double Gold at the China world spirit awards 2020

To find out more or to place an order go to

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