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Glencore, Oaky Creek, Coalface

About 750 mine workers at Glencore’s Oaky Creek mine in the Bowen Basin have listened to a mental health presentation that really hit home.

Craig Hamilton worked at an underground coal mine in NSW for 16 years before he jumped on the radio to talk about cricket and found he was a natural.

That’s where “Hammo’s” career in radio started and in the year 2000 he was sitting at a train station on the eve of the Sydney Olympics when he suffered a psychotic episode. He was handcuffed and taken by the police to a locked ward in hospital.

That’s where Craig was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

23 years later, Craig is considered as one of Australia’s leading Mental Health and Wellbeing speakers.

He is using his experience to help people from all walks of life understand that mental health problems can be treated and managed.

“Good mental health can be achieved, and my goal is to be a part of the solution to some of these issues and to try and stop the number of people who feel like suicide is their only way out.

“I received an email from Darren Andrews, the Health, Safety and Training Manager at Oaky Creek mine, and he wanted to roll out some mental health presentations. The mine had already had a visit from Mates in Mining, but Darren also wanted to have a personal story to complement that.

“Having worked underground for 16 years, I was able to build trust with the workers, I could relate to them.

“There’s a level of comradery, especially with underground workers. It’s a culture not many people understand unless you’ve worked in that environment.

“I have spoken at a lot of mine sites the last decade and coal mining has been right at the forefront of mental health awareness and education and support for their employees. Mining has been proactive rather than reactive.

“It was a credit to Darren that he was able to put together a program that gave every employee an opportunity to hear the presentation. He had to juggle shift availability with employees working seven days on, seven days off, the 24/7 operation and the demands of the site.

“The workers were really engaged. They told me, and Darren afterwards, that they could relate to it. A few spoke to me one-on-one too. You know when you’re speaking when you have an engaged audience, you can read the room and they were watching, there was no talking, no one was on their phones – that’s how every crew was.”

QATCF 36 Oaky 1
Darren Andrews, Craig Hamilton, Luke Vella and Ben Tan at Oaky Creek Mine.

Darren said he wanted to bring someone to his workers that could talk about mental health on their level.

“I wanted to have somebody bring mental health to the workforce and talk about it to the crew as someone who had experienced it and lived through it, is managing it, and still living with it. Craig provided a different perspective than what a support service would offer.

“He was able to build a rapport with everyone, ‘I know what you’re going through, I know what it’s like to work underground’, it put him on that same level as a typical, normal coal miner.”

Darren said he could confidently say there were several workers who did seek help outside of work after hearing Craig speak.

“Statistics show that a large percentage of the population are either dealing with mental health issues or know someone who is, so anything we can do to raise awareness for our people is a benefit.

“The mental health space is getting better. I’ve been in mining for about 35 years and when I first started as an operator, you just didn’t talk about it. As a result, nobody knew what mental health really was, no one knew what depression was. You were taught as a young fella to get over it. These days it’s a lot different what we do, we try and break down that wall, so people get support.”

If it’s an emergency, such as if you or a loved one is in immediate danger or risk of harm, please call 000. For crisis support, such as suicidal intentions, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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