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My Mining Life: Mitchell Royall

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Mitch Royal at Narrabri Mine, November 2021

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m the Longwall superintendent at Whitehaven’s Narrabri Underground Coal Mine. I’ve been at Narrabri for 8 years and have had a few different roles during my time.

When did you start in the mining industry and what was your first job?

2004 in Wollongong, as a Directional Drilling Offsider at Dendrobium.

How different is your job now to what you wanted to be when you were a kid?

I wanted to be a greenkeeper, I liked the attraction of the early morning and early finish. I’ve got the early morning but not so much the early finish.

What’s a usual day at work entail?

My alarm goes off at 3am and I check how the longwall has gone overnight, make my coffee and I try to train each morning – either a run or session in the shed. Then I get to work, review the last 24 hours with the team, daily reviews and then meetings or an underground trip. I try to leave by 16:30 but if you ask my wife that doesn’t happen very often.

What’s the best thing about your job?

The people – seeing your teammates grow in life and at work. We have a lot of people who didn’t know what a longwall was 8-10 years ago and now are trained, competent longwall operators. And the challenges – planning for them and seeing our work payoff is rewarding. You have to have a passion to succeed, and the will to win is important in our roles.        

The worst thing?

I have trouble winding down; I am always analysing the situation. Some days I’ll be up at 1am and head to work because I’ve been thinking about something and need to work on it right there and then.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?

Time management – I’m trying to not take on so much and learn how to say no. Longwall relocations are also a challenge, the planning, preparation and execution. The relief at the start of the next panel, if only for a split second, is a great feeling.

What has been your proudest achievement?

Getting my deputy certificate, I remember the excitement when the postman came to my door.

What’s something about your job that would surprise people to know?

The amount of preparation it takes for a Longwall move – you’re planning the next one up to 18 months in advance with machinery, equipment, overhauls and labour often before the current one is completed.  

What’s a funny story about work that you can tell?

I spent a winter working in the Canadian Rocky Mountains in an underground coal mine at Grande Cache. I was unaware that the diesel machines were intentionally left idling so they wouldn’t freeze over so when I turned them all off, well let’s just say I was lucky the mine foreman was driving by and we quickly got them all back on.

What do you do in your downtime?

I enjoy relaxing, drinking coffee and spending time with my wife and our three boys who keep us active. We love traveling and exploring – the border closures have made it difficult but hope to be back into it soon. I’m also a mad ice hockey fan so often you’ll catch me watching a game. And I’m also training for a running event in the Blue Mountains in May 2022.

The mining industry gets more than its fair share of criticism. What is your view of our industry and the impact is has?

Mining cops a lot of criticism but I think you will not find a safer industry in the country. We have some of the best minds and we work hard and focus on this every day. Mining can coexist, we see this in Gunnedah and Narrabri and we are all working for a common goal – our families. We need to continue to develop the best practices and challenge why things are being done a certain way and evolve. With the young engineers we have I feel our industry is in a strong position moving forward.

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