For as long as she can remember, the mines have been the hole in the ground that puts food on Meg Southcombe’s table.
20-year-old Meg has a very different outlook on the mining industry compared to other people her age.
“Without the mines, I would have never gone to St Joseph’s, my parents couldn’t have afforded the school fees, and I probably wouldn’t be living in Newcastle.
“While I was at school, the hole in the ground put the food on my plate and it still keeps my family going. But it’s more than that, it keeps the lights on for all of us. If the mines were to shut, 25 percent of the population would have to give up the way they live and I just don’t think anyone is willing to do that.”
Meg is a second-year teaching student at the University of Newcastle.
Meg’s dad has worked at BHP’s Mt Arthur mine in Muswellbrook for 20-plus years as a shot firer. Meg’s mum started working in the mining industry when she was 19 years old and at the moment works at Bengalla.
Meg has a brother finishing high school this year who has just been signed with the Newcastle Jets Youth Squad.
The income Meg’s family has earned from working in the mining industry has enabled them to attend the schools they wanted to and have the tools they needed to achieve their goals at school, and in sport. But, in 2018 their world came crashing down when Meg’s dad was diagnosed with depression.
That led to several trips down the highway to Newcastle for treatment, with the family faced with the real possibility of losing their jobs that kept the family afloat, the kids in schools they loved and playing sports they enjoyed.
“I always talk about how mining affects the whole family unit. A lot of people can’t fathom the concept of redundancies and how much pressure that puts on a family.
“When you hear you could get laid off from your job, a lot of people see it as one person, but then they go home and four people rely on them,” Meg said.
Meg’s family made it out the other side of her dad’s depression and ever since Meg has been championing the importance of both mental health and the mining industry.
Meg became an advocate for mental health when she wrote an assignment in Year 12 about her experience and how prevalent the issues were in the community.
She was recognised by the NSW Governor Her Excellency Margaret Beazley which resulted in several interviews on television, radio and in newspapers. That was just the start, with Meg’s opinion and how she spoke about mental health making people of every age and demographic sit up and listen.
Meg regularly appears on ABC’s The Drum and in the last six months, you might’ve seen videos of Meg pop up on your Facebook feed because she has gone viral.
In the most recent video, Meg was talking about how little respect teachers get from the general population and how that attitude needs to change.
She has spoken about mental health and well-being at several functions this year including the Muswellbrook Rams annual ball, helps Where There’s A Will with a number of their initiatives and has been on podcasts talking about how important it is to reach for support when you need it.
Meg is keen to change young people’s perspective of the mining industry too.
“It’s because I’ve grown up in it. It was so normal to have parents who worked in the mines.
“Coal is one of the biggest exports in the nation, it keeps us financially stable and we can’t give that up until something else is in place. Everyone says we need to transition but there’s a lot of talk and not enough action.
“Moving down here has opened my eyes up!”