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Heart in the Hunter

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Kurt Gidley’s boots have always been firmly planted in the Hunter and his new ventures haven’t changed that.

@ The Coalface sat down with the Knights legend to find out what the future holds, including with the Hunter mining industry.

“I still remember Dad coming home from work, the smell of diesel and coal on his clothes. One time as a young fella, I remember we attended a family open day and I had the chance to climb into one of the locos that Dad operated. It was a fantastic experience. It also taught me at a young age how important mining was to our family; it put food on the table and kept a roof over our heads.”

That’s how former Knights legend, Kurt Gidley – now a local workforce solutions provider and partner in a local Newcastle brewery – responds whenever anyone asks him what he thinks about the Hunter mining industry.

“Unless you’ve grown up in the region and known someone who works in the mines, it can be hard to understand how hard our local miners work to look after their families and contribute to their local community. The mining industry brought our family financial stability and security. My father, Geoff worked as a coal train driver for over 20 years. I have no doubt the continuous shift work was tough on Dad, but it also allowed him the flexibility to coach my brothers and I at footy.”

After leaving school, Gidley took up a butchery apprenticeship, however his heart was always on the footy paddock. 

Gidley played junior rugby league for the Mariners and his career with the Newcastle Knights began in 2001. He quickly rose to become one of the team’s most versatile, widely heralded as one of the best utility players in the NRL able to slip seamlessly between fullback, five-eighth, halfback, hooker, and even centre and lock when needed.

In round 10 of the 2004 NRL season Gidley made history when he won the Knights’ first ever golden point match by kicking the winning field goal after 3 minutes and 26 seconds of extra time.

As well as Captaining the NSW Origin squad and representing his nation in the green and gold, Gidley was the first ever Knight to captain the side wearing the now famous hi-vis mining jersey as part of NSW Mining’s Voice for Mining Family Day.

“It was a big thing for me personally to take the field the first time we wore the Knights hi-vis kit for the Voice for Mining Round. It felt like I wasn’t just representing the Knights, but people from right across the mining industry and certainly the legacy of my Dad’s career.

“I think it also cemented my heart in the Hunter and I knew that after my footy career was over, the next chapter of my working life was going to play out in the Newcastle region.”

This realisation has seen Kurt plant his flag with national recruitment company Protech Group. Protech Group are a privately owned Australian business which provides professional and technical workforce solutions and management services. The company provides semi-skilled, skilled, technical, trades and professional personnel to workplaces across Australia, a critical service given the staff shortages impacting industries right across the economy

“It’s been an incredible experience working with Protech, mainly because it’s about helping to grow local Hunter businesses and at the same time, help find people jobs.

“Now, more than ever, we’re working with the Hunter mining industry utilising our ‘co-creation approach’ with customers. We work with businesses like local mining operations to determine their specific requirements and together create a tailored workforce plan.

“In the Hunter region we’re focusing on a new arm of the business – Protech Mining NSW. Through this new outfit we’re looking to provide a unique recruitment option for the industry, including dedicated technology, such as a state-of-the-art mining simulator and tailored solutions for our customers such as the ‘new to industry’ employee program.

“From the employee side, we want to hear from job seekers looking for a career in mining beyond traditional roles like haul-truck operation. For example we currently have a focus on ancillary and support roles in the Hunter mining sector.”

Continuing his love-of-local, Kurt’s other passion project is the relatively new Steel City Beer Company. Steel City Lager, the company’s flagship brew can be found in pubs throughout the Hunter and moves are now underway to export this proud taste of Newcastle to pubs in Sydney.

“The idea was to have a beer that every proud Hunter local could call their own. It’s a big thing in the USA and the UK, where local communities enjoy having a beer that they can uniquely identify with.

“Steel City is a nod to the proud history of the Hunter, including the critical contribution of the mining industry, as well as a statement about the future.  The Hunter is steel-strong and always will be. We’re a community built on the legacy on the unsung achievements of hundreds of thousands of working class people across the Hunter, including our brilliant miners, and people like my Dad.”

The company’s founders include proud Novocastrians Danny Buderus, Andrew Johns, Matty Johns, Kurt Gidley, Craig Anderson, Matt Hoy, Ryan Callinan, Oliver Semken and Ryan Ginns.

“I’m really excited that my future is firmly based here in the Hunter – the place I grew up and the home I love. I know it feels like our country’s going through some economic chop at the moment, but I reckon the people of the Hunter will do what it takes to get the job done and come out on top.  Just like we’ve always done.”

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