Are Gravel Scratchers Real Miners?

I have worked as an operator in gold and coal mines for over a decade now. Sometimes carting dirt and rock (overburden) sometimes coal or gold/copper (the money makers.)

Mad Mumzie Mining

I am a miner, but am I a Real Miner?

My partner is a “Real Miner.” Just ask him, he will tell you! I thought we were all real miners, what is the difference? You work in a mine, you’re a real miner, right?

The Oxford Dictionary describes a miner as anyone who works in a mine. There is no definition for a “Real Miner.”

When I met my partner, an underground miner. He started calling me a Gravel Scratcher.

“You Gravellies are all the same”

This was a new term to me, but quite well known, apparently. It reminded me of when I first heard the endearing term “boneheads.” Dump truck operators. Even if I spend all day grading, on the loader, or driving a truck in the black stuff, I am still only a gravel scratcher, not a real miner, in his opinion.

As our time together increases I learn more of this strange new world of underground mining.

He never used to say much except “i8work!”

Personally I have rarely hated work, choosing instead to have bad days here and there, but I’m a little bit mad!

A few years ago I worked with an older fella who would sigh heavily every time we approached the pit in our bus.

“I really don’t want to be here!” Every day the same heaviness in his heart. Every day I would say,

“You’ll be right once you’re in the dozer.”

I may feel the same after thirty plus years in mining.

For now I tend to find the lighter moments to help us all get through it.

The first time my partner came to visit me on his pyjama day I got him some crib from my mess. I usually don’t eat much, so I didn’t feel too guilty taking extra pies and sandwiches for him to toast on his night shift.

This was my first eye opener of working underground.

He thanked me for my effort, but let it slip about eating cold pies for crib. I told him not to be silly, just put them in the pie warmer when you get to work and they will be hot by first crib. Geez it’s not rocket science! The sandwiches will be yummy in the toasted sandwich maker with a cuppa too. See how I look after you?

That was when I first heard him say we are REAL MINERS! We don’t have all that.

“What not even a kettle?” NO! “Why Not? They should let you, that’s so mean!”

Turns out it is because of the “boom” factor. Not the mining boom/bust and they can’t afford new appliances, but nothing that might create a spark. Makes sense really, but gee no kettle even? Now that is real mining.

They have a few tricks up their sleeve, such as putting things on the transformer to warm them up. (Whatever that is?)

They are in the black stuff all the time, and most need to have a shower before leaving work, because they are real miners and get dirty. Even after a shower many look cool and mysterious with their eye liner on!

I must admit I have worn my work jeans a couple of days in a row because they are still fresh and clean, but don’t tell him that!

Is it more than just:

Open Cut vs Underground?

What about the differences between temps, contractors, old timers, clean skins and traineeships?

Does being permanent make you any more of a “real miner?”

There can be many differences depending on your experience and employment agreements, which mine you work at and who runs it.
Permanent Employees:

  • You get holidays and sickies.
  • In most cases more money too.
  • You are supplied work boots, shirts and jeans, yearly, and a jacket every 2 years.
  • Better accommodation with a more permanent residence, or even a company house in town.
  • The banks are more inclined to give you a loan because you are seen as being in stable employment, with regular pay cycles.
  • When it rains you stay, or are offered the option of annual leave.
  • More training on various equipment, becoming a trainer and more incentive to increase your skill levels in general.

Of course all of this differs from company to company, site to site and your position. However even these “standards” are being eroded with the downturn in the industry at the moment. Glencore shutting down their sites for 3 weeks over the Christmas period in 2014 is a classic example of the changes unfolding.
Temps and Contractors:

  • No holiday or sick leave. If you are not at work, you get no pay.
  • Most labour hire places these days seem to only provide a few shirts, and perhaps a jacket. You must supply your own boots and jeans, at least they should be tax deductible.
  • Hotelling is the new accommodation catch cry. Bring everything with you, every trip. No shared or permanent dongas.
  • You pay for your accommodation and meals out of your wages.
  • Try getting a loan for a house as a contractor! Many banks won’t touch you, or want to see you have been there for years.
  • When it rains many companies now will send home the contractors. If you are lucky they may give you 4 hours pay.
  • Little or no training time is given, including not being authorised to operate equipment you have prior competencies for. Again this varies from site to site.

So If you have the company shirt on, in the company camp and get holidays, does that make you any more of a real miner than the others?

Some mine workers sadly think they are a bit more “special” than the others. Times have changed with discrimination laws etc. so it’s becoming nicer now than it used to be, in my view anyway. With the increased popularity of contract labour hire, many crews are now out numbered by “contractors.”

If you’re a chef or a cleaner does that make you a miner?

A popular morning TV show were promoting a story involving a miner. I was watching this with my “Real Miner” and he was horrified to hear that this guy was a chef at a camp.

In his view that does not make you a miner! You’re a chef working within the mining industry. This goes for cleaners and all support roles, in his view. I asked him what about the cleaners who go out to the mines and clean the offices and crib huts etc?

They are still cleaners, not bloody miners!!

As I write this I am not quite sure where I sit, perhaps on the fence.

As an operator I feel like it’s the peeps who actually go to the mine, blow up the dirt, dig it out and get it to the train. But where does the line stop? What about all the office jocks, the surveyors and planners, the training and induction departments, security at the gate…….the cleaners?

I think we all contribute to the overall running of the mine, and most are working away from friends and family.

Therefore if you work within the mining industry I will call you a miner,

but a little voice will say “yeah but as a …………..(not a real miner)”

Is that right or wrong in this politically correct crazy world?

The Real Miner is in the background yelling out “NO! NO! NO!” as I read this out to him.

In my view we are all real miners, working long hours away from family and friends, in dangerous conditions with uncertain times ahead. It doesn’t matter who does what or what we call each other.

What is your view? Are you a real miner, or like me, according to my partner, just do preparation work for the Real Miners to come in? Perhaps you work within the mining industry and feel every part a miner as we do?

Let’s just get the job done, safely with a little fun popped in for sanity, and get home to our other life when we can.  Now I’m off to pack for night shift…because I am a real miner. Hmmmm what about people who only do day shift? Are they real miners?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this, and if you enjoyed this post please share with your peeps, let’s keep the convo going!

Mad Mumzie x

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