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Stuart Stands Up

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This month we sat down with local coal miner Stuart Bonds to find out what makes a miner decide to trade the HIVIS for a suit and enter the political arena.

Stuart has been a friend to the Coalface for a few years now. A couple years back Stuart’s wife Sini shared her story of how she ended up with this Aussie miner in our story Miner Rescued by Love, a feel-good story of the unlikely match of an Aussie coal miner and Finnish pinup model. 

Then a year or so later we wrote a story called The Danger of Fire, where Stuart shared his story about a severe burn injury he’d received while enjoying a backyard fire with his mates. The injury had Stuart fiercely advocating for people to be aware of the risks posed by backyard fires. You can find both of these heartfelt stories on our website.

So, when we arranged to have Stuart pop into our office for a chat, we were just expecting a casual sit down and few laughs with this easygoing bloke.

Imagine our surprise when reporters from Channel Nine News chased Stuart to our door, bombarding him with questions. “Are you a misogynist? Do you hate gay people? Do you hate immigrants?” Each question was yelled over the top of the other, giving Stuart no time to respond. It’s as far as you can get from the type of journalism we’re used to here, but unfortunately, it’s standard practice in todays media.

After we ushered Stuart into the office and shut out the screaming, it was clear that Stuart was unused to and a little unnerved about what it means to be in the political media spotlight and who could blame him. 

Because that’s clearly what separates Stuart from many other candidates. Most candidates have been groomed for politics from an early age, or even born into it. But for Stuart coming into in his 30’s, he made the decision to get into politics for one simple reason. Because he still believes that one person can make a difference. 

Originally from Sydney, Stuart’s now proud to call Singleton his home. He first put down roots and bought a house when he was 20 and now lives on a farm on the outskirts of Singleton with his family. He’s fallen in love with the community and the area and Singleton is where he plans on staying for good.

Stuart’s always worked on the tools as a fitter in our industry, from building CAT’s at WesTrac, braving it out on his own for a while, before finding his calling working at Hunter Valley mines where he still is today. You won’t find many people prouder to work in our industry.

Though Stuart knows firsthand that there’s more to our region than mining. He’s also a proud farmer. Only just before heading into town for the interview he and his daughter Penny were out checking on their beef cattle on his farm.

Stuart would be the first person to say that he’s living a pretty good life. He’s got a job he loves and enjoys a great lifestyle on his farm with a wife and daughter that he adores. Which brings us to the question of what made him decide to enter politics and run as One Nation’s Hunter candidate and turn that life upside down.

“Trying my hand at politics is something I’ve been considering for some time, but I wanted to gain more life experience first. But recently I realised I couldn’t wait any longer. The green movement is what pushed me to make a move right now. It’s pushing forward and starting to impact on our industry massively. Someone needs to step up and give our industry a voice,” Stuart told us passionately.

“I believe the zero-carbon emissions target by 2050 is not only impractical but immoral. We take money made from mining projects and use it to fund the demise of the industry. I want to do my part to see more of our royalties come back our way and make sure our jobs are safe.”

Last year Stuart travelled with his family to some of the most poverty-stricken places in the world and this cemented his belief that the current green movement is an anti-humane movement.  

“I saw people living in the worst poverty imaginable and whose lives can be immensely improved just by burning coal. There are 1 billion people around the world without access to electricity but it’s okay for people living lives of luxury here to make the decision for them that they can’t burn coal.” 

The other reason why Stuart is prepared to put his life out in the public arena is he firmly believes that politics should be open to everyone. By showing that an everyday bloke can have a crack, he hopes to be a catalyst for change.

“The political system is designed so ordinary people won’t run. It’s becoming more and more for career politicians. People who have been groomed for it their whole lives and who are prepared for it. I’m trying to bring normality back into the political arena. The system was built by people like farmers and miners and now we don’t let them have a voice.”

“Ordinary people who live ordinary lives should still be able to run and not have to worry that their past is going to prevent that. People make mistakes, say stupid things, write stupid things, I know I have. Those mistakes should not condemn you for the rest of your life.”

Stuart spoke about the whole generation of children growing up today with their lives on social media and every mistake they make being recorded forever. That if we set the standard that you can never do anything wrong or make an inappropriate joke, then we are condemning a whole generation of children to not being able to have any public discourse when they grow up.

“We are living in a PC world where it’s crazy how censored we have become. You should be able to have an opinion. Right or wrong. People don’t have to like it or agree with it but once you start controlling people’s speech which it’s just a manifestation of their thoughts, then you end up controlling the way they think. That is not a road we want to go down.”

Whether or not you agree with Stuart and his views, you’ve still got to give the guy some respect for having the courage to have a go. It can’t be easy having your whole life splashed around in the media. Stuart has never before worried about saying the right thing, or if a joke he’s made might be considered offensive. He’s just been living a life without worrying about censoring himself like the rest of us. Just ask the Channel Nine News team who had plenty of fodder to scream at Stuart because of this. We had to ask Stuart if there was any truth to their accusations of him being a misogynist, anti-gay and against immigration.

“Well I was married to my Finnish immigrant wife by a gay celebrant. As for women’s rights, I firmly believe that women are always right. Just ask my wife.” 

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Pioneering Pathways

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Hunter Valley mines provide onsite work placement opportunities to local students, as part of an initiative to highlight pathways for local youth and promote a future in our industry.

Mines and organisations around the Hunter have committed to supporting young people through a number of programs and school to work initiatives. Most recently, Bengalla Mining Company and Glencore welcomed Hunter Valley students on to the mine site as part of work placement.

Bengalla joined forces with Youth Express to facilitate the work placement, enabling Muswellbrook High School Students Aidan Butchard and Justin Ryan to receive 35 hours of practical on the job experience in Elecro-technology as part of their HSC studies at Muswellbrook TAFE.

Aidan Butchard and Justin Ryan from Muswellbrook High School on site at Bengalla Mining Company

The experienced technicians at Bengalla created a varied schedule that enabled both students to gain experience across the workshop, infrastructure and breakdown crews to further enhance their knowledge for the electrical course that they are studying.

Youth Express is a not-for-profit organisation that works closely with industry, schools and TAFE to place students in real-life work placement opportunities. These placements are a mandatory requirement for senior students undertaking Vocational Education as part of their HSC. “It is great that Bengalla are supporting senior high school students in their chosen vocational subject area and their HSC,” said Jane Thompson, Work Placement Team Leader at Youth Express.

“It gives the students real life workplace experience and employers the opportunity to identify potential apprentices.”

Glencore’s Mt Owen Glendell Mine has also been providing support to students looking to make a career in the mining industry, hosting Year 10 student Callan Hungerford from St Catherine’s Catholic College Singleton.

Callan made contact with Mt Owen back in March asking if work experience was possible, which due to COVID-19 was postponed. Fortunately, still very keen to get some valuable Year 10 work experience in Mining-Environmental Science, Callan made contact again in September and was able to come on board.

Tasked with a broad range of environmental science and engineering aspects including environmental monitoring & compliance, rehabilitation inspections, biodiversity offset area inspections, soil & water sampling, geology & coal sampling, surveying, blasting, operations supervision and coal handling & preparation to name a few; Callan spent time with personnel ranging from graduates through to manager level within the business.

“The work experience program I participated in with Mt Owen Glendell Operations gave me the unique opportunity to experience what it is like to work in a local coal mine,” Callan said.

Although living in Singleton, Callan said he had never been in a mine to see its operations. “I couldn’t believe the sheer magnitude of the pits – they are enormous, and each person plays a part in bringing the operations together, to not only produce one of Australia’s biggest exports, but also employment to our local community,” he added.

“I was also able to sit in a dump truck and an operator took me out to experience what it feels like to collect a load; I had no idea how massive this vehicle was until I was standing on the ground looking up at it!”

Callan was able to experience job roles directly related to an Environmental Officer and multidiscipline Engineering (Mining, Surveying & Process).

It’s opportunities like these presented by Glencore and Bengalla that highlight the pathways available for youth in the local area. It’s also a great way for employees to identify potential apprentices.

Giving students work placement opportunities to further solidify their knowledge and gain further insight into career pathways is something that not only supports local young people, but also promotes a future in the resources industry.

Bengalla prioritises the development of school to work pathways, and support education for local students as part of their strategic map, through a number of ways. Fiona Hartin, Community Relations Specialist at Bengalla Mining Company, says the mine actively participates in Career Days at Muswellbrook High School and invites Year 10 students on site for work experience. “We are always striving to develop effective linkages between the school to work initiatives that highlight pathways for youth in the local area,” she said.

“We are more than happy to have been able to facilitate this and see this as a partnership that will continue long into the future to benefit young local students.”

This was evident with the experiences and opportunities organised for the two students. They were placed with experienced technicians and rotated across different areas within the business. With electricians who work on planned maintenance, breakdown crews as well as within their infrastructure team; there was plenty of opportunity for Aidan and Justin to experience a day in the life of an electrician and get hands on.

Equally Glencore supports their local communities by welcoming and attracting talented young people to experience the ins and outs and endless opportunities of the resources industry. Anthony Billings is a Glencore Environment & Community graduate himself and was excited to be sharing his knowledge with Callan. “Whether it is science, engineering, or the environment if there is an opportunity to support the passion of today’s youth it will only benefit the future of today’s industry,” said Anthony.

“As a Graduate myself I am passionate about the environment and the legacy left behind after mining; it was great to provide my own knowledge and advice to Callan while he explores his passion in the environment.”   

Discovering the different pathways into a career in mining, or any other industry for that matter, is vital in promoting a future for our local youth. It’s great to see companies like Glencore and Bengalla Mining Company taking charge in supporting the future of our industry. Callan summed up his experience by thanking Glencore’s Mt Owen Glendell management and team for giving him the opportunity to experience different roles in the field he is looking at for his future. “I am very grateful to the Mt Owen and Glendell personnel that showed me their roles and educated me on how they contribute to the mines’ overall operations,” he said.

“I am looking forward to continuing with my education with a goal of joining the mining sector in the future.”


IMG: Callan Hungerford from St Catherine’s Catholic College Singleton on site at Glencore’s Mt Owen Glendell Mine

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Learning to Lead

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This month we share the inspiring story of how Leah Miller became NSW Mining’s 2020 Exceptional Young Woman in Mining. We caught up with Leah to hear about her journey and what it’s like to become a role model for young women.

Leah is the CHPP Maintenance Delivery Superintendent at Yancoal’s Mt Thorley Warkworth Mine. She’s not only the first female to hold the role, but also the first to do so without a trade or engineering qualification. Her story is proof that with determination, hard work and a willingness to learn there really are no limits to where a career in mining can take you.

Raised on a dairy farm in Victoria, Leah’s a country girl at heart. Life on the farm meant not being scared to get your hands dirty. It also instilled in Leah the attitude to ‘get in and get the job done’. Growing up, Leah also moved schools a lot which was a tough but valuable experience.

“Moving around a lot taught me how to make connections and to interact with people from all walks of life,” Leah said. “It’s a skill that has served me well and I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.”

When it came time for university, Leah did a Bachelor of Business and Commerce at Bond University on the Gold Coast. Upon finishing her degree she entered a Rio Tinto Graduate Program as a Business Analyst in 2012, expecting to spend the next 18 months working at Hunter Valley Operations before moving on.

“I hadn’t really considered a career in the mining industry but the program seemed like a great opportunity so I decided to give it a go. It was while I was in this role that everything changed. The downturn hit and I began working with teams all across the business to identify ways to save money. I’m proud to say that during this challenging period working as part of a team we identified millions of dollars of cost savings.”

“Before that happened I was feeling a little unsatisfied with the predictability of the role. These new challenges gave me a real sense of accomplishment and I saw what you could achieve as part of a bigger team. I got to see how one side of the business could tangibly improve the other side. It made me want to learn more and do more. It was then I decided I wanted to move to an operational role.”

Leah knew that it would be a difficult transition to move from the commercial to the operational side of the business. She began to look for other people with her background who had moved across to other roles thinking they could provide a road map on how to transition, but it turned out only rarely had it ever been done before.

Despite this Leah was determined to take on an operational role and began exploring options within mining, maintenance and CHPP. Thanks to her persistence, and no doubt her skill at connecting with people, before long she was promoted into a Specialist Contractor Management role.

“This role really opened my eyes to the art of influencing people and what you could achieve as part of a team and was a good stepping stone. I continued to build relationships and chase down opportunities and thanks to a manager who had faith in me I got the role of Rebuild Coordinator with the maintenance team in 2017.”

For the next year Leah oversaw over 150 HME rebuilds leading a team of 140 personnel. Where some might have struggled being thrown in the deep end, Leah thrived. She established herself as a strong leader and managed her first capital project to completion, on time, on budget and, most importantly, safely.

“Not minding getting my hands dirty sure came in handy for my first capital project,” Leah says with a laugh. “It was one of those projects where you jumped one hurdle and another would come up. It was extremely stressful but I relished the challenge.”

Then after only 10 months in the role Leah stepped up into the role of Project & Shutdown Superintendent when the former leader unexpectedly became ill. It was a stressful time for her and her team but Leah kept them motivated and continued to deliver high value outcomes despite the pressure they were under.

With so many successes under her belt and a reputation established as a respected leader it was no surprise when in October 2019 Leah was rewarded with the role of CHPP Maintenance Delivery Superintendent where she became responsible for leading a large team while managing maintenance priorities.

“We’ve had our challenges since I stepped into the role, especially with the pandemic, but we have exceeded our availability target by 1.5% thanks to the entire team. I’m proud to have been able to lead them and help them maximise their skills so we could achieve this together.”

Through every role Leah has shown that she can step up to any challenge and is a role model not just to women, but to everyone. A worthy winner of the award, yet Leah says she was very surprised to be nominated let alone win.

“I’m really very grateful and honoured to have won, it’s recognition of all the hard work I’ve put in. During the presentation of the award so many people were there with me. All the people who contributed. From the warehouse to HR to the infrastructure to the managers. People that believed in me and helped me and taught me. I wouldn’t have got to where I am today without those people.”

Although she’s now a strong advocate for the awards, Leah said she didn’t know too much about them before being nominated but now recognises how important they are.

“Awards like these are vital, not only to recognise all the women out there doing fantastic things, but to promote the opportunities that are available in the mining industry and show young girls what’s possible.”

“Our business like many in our industry still needs more female representation in the workforce. Here we have only 12.1% of female representation and only 2 out of 13 operational superintendent roles are filled by women. The business has done a lot in terms of improving facilities and spaces but we still have a way to go.”

“I’d like to be able to tell young people and especially young girls who are still in school or considering careers that there is more out there than you can ever imagine. In our industry there are roles and jobs that most people don’t even know about.”

Leah has plenty of advice that she’s keen to share. Her drive to learn has been a key element in her success. “If you haven’t got the skill, get out there and look, see, touch, feel. I’ve found that nearly every person I’ve worked with has been willing to teach me. If you show you are interested people will respond and happily share their knowledge.”

Leah also advises that you should take every opportunity that comes along. Be willing to say yes and take that chance.

“The best advice I was ever given was don’t wait until you’re ready for your next job before you go for it. You might never be ready. I think this is especially important advice for women who are more likely to underestimate their skills.”

And those skills don’t have to come from a degree or qualification. Leah has learnt that experience often means more than a piece of paper. Whilst study is important nothing beats real world knowledge.

“The other advice I have to give is find mentors and people who will support you. ‘You can’t be who you can’t see’. And don’t necessarily look for mentors who are at the top, often the people who are one or two rungs above you are the ones who can help the most. Think outside your department or role for mentors too.”

“I’ve also found programs like WIMnet to be valuable. LinkedIn is great too, not only for the contacts you can make, it also has a lot of online courses and resources and most of them are free. At the end of the day it’s about expanding your awareness, getting out and trying things, you never know where you’ll end up. I never thought I’d be doing this that’s for sure but I would never go back. It’s challenging and rewarding and fulfilling.”

After talking to Leah, I was impressed by her story, but what impressed me even more was discovering later that she has achieved all this whilst facing the challenges of managing an autoimmune disease, a disease which has severely impacted her work and home life. Instead of allowing the illness to obstruct her, it seems instead she has used it to strengthen her by giving her a greater understanding and empathy towards others in the workplace.

What’s next for Leah? “I’m not really sure,” she muses. “I’ll be looking to my mentors for direction, maybe a little soul searching, and of course I’m always looking for what can I do next.”

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Warwick’s Wish for better Co-Existence

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Warwick Moppett is striving for better engagement and co-existence between agriculture and resources industries in a bid to drive a more positive future for Northern NSW.

From the farm to the work site, Warwick Moppett has always been passionate about the big industries that bring knowledge, new skills and groundwork to rural communities.

Warwick has been on and off the farm since his father purchased ‘Eveleigh’ in 1988 and at 51 years of age his passion for the land hasn’t subsided. He is now in partnership with his brother Peter operating over two farms in the Tooraweenah district of NSW. 

When he’s not on the farm with his wife Kylie and two children, Warwick is a land access advisor for an oil and gas producer in Narrabri, NSW. “It’s a great opportunity for me as I’m able to mix it with the farm,” said Warwick.

“Like so many farmers my other skills are not ticketed but I know how to work and so this industry has looked after me and provided my family security during the dry times on the farm.”

“I’m living a great life balanced between the farm and the industry.”

His time with the petroleum industry began in 2009 when Warwick was a full-time farmer. Independent oil and gas producers were exploring and required access to the ‘Everleigh’ farm. Acknowledging that at the time things were tough on the farm, Warwick went ahead with the opportunity and the results were positive.

“In 2012 I was asked to tell my story to other landholders considering exploration; I did,” said Warwick.

Later that year Warwick was offered a job with those same producers and from there grew his passion for creating a positive dialogue for coexistence.

During the drought in particular Warwick was busy, often working on the farm to assist feeding the sheep on weekends to relieve their employees. Day in and day out for 3 years, the only food they had to offer the animals was their grazing bins. “Drought can be soul sapping,” said Warwick.

The ‘Eveleigh’ farm during the drought.

“However, for 3 days a week I’d return to off farm work and focus on the task at hand, in my case liaising with other great farms doing it hard through my role in Narrabri.”

Proud to have not called on the public purse to assist through the drought, Warwick said it’s one of the positives of successfully integrating two careers. He added, “This is one of my personal goals – to bring the opportunities to local farmers and just reduce the absolute reliance on farm income.”

Working in the petroleum industry Warwick learnt a lot about the environment, health and safety and risk management. And in all of those areas, took back learnings from work and applied them on the farm. “I’ve engaged Health and Safety experts to assist making the farm safer,” he said.

The top of ‘Everleigh’ farm today

For a long time, agriculture and mining have been the big industries in the North West that have driven the local economy, providing jobs and bringing people to the region. And for a long time, there has been debate on whether these two industries can coexist.

There is no debate that tractors are not growing on trees. There is also no debate that farming has been vital in leading sustainability in primary industries. “The question is not no or yes, but how we can operate to mutually benefit,” said Warwick.

“There is no winner if we try to prove who is the biggest or more important; we need each other.

“It always strikes me as strange when people drive up in a vehicle (any type, they all need a hole in the ground to make them) and complain about mining without acknowledging the reason they are here is that our two industries, farming and mining, do coexist.

“There should always be robust honest dialogue that raises the differences of opinion and we need an umpire that arbitrates the discussion and ensures the important facts are clear.”

So, what’s next for the co-existence of mining and agriculture? Warwick says we need to maintain some simple truths in our education about the coexistence.

“A litre of milk requires grass and water, some steel and energy, a truck and plastic carton, and finally a glass,” said Warwick.

Put simply, both industries continue to improve performance through the development of new technologies and systems. Both industries deliver essential products that all Australian’s need, use and consume. Our miners consume local farmed produce like beef and wheat, and our farmers make use of locally mined products like metals for fencing. Our coal mines also provide off farm employment for farmers, including during times of drought.

The need is to now make both of our industries sustainable by developing systems that effectively manage issues like land and water use. A balanced approach is essential if we want to move forward. “Land use pressure is going to continue to increase as our children subdivide, buy a house or flat and we live longer,” said Warwick.

“Having a system that acknowledges the key stakeholders and listens to all of the issues, to bring facts and science to bare is integral to confidence to live in our community.”

Warwick is a great example of how we can live and work together towards a brighter, more inclusive future. Both industries are essential to our local communities and wider Australian economy. It’s time to accept that effective coexistence is the way forward in order to mutually benefit both industries and the communities surrounding them.

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