Following is the long version of a 300 word letter to the editor that I distributed to every paper in a 500k radius (and beyond) during a particularly tough time for our mining communities. It sums up a lot about who I am and why. Unfortunately the battle in mention was lost, but the war continues. And I’ll continue to stand up for the right of choice, and the survival of our communities.
In 1983 with the closure of among many in the West Morton Coal fields, the great Southern Cross pit in Ipswich, hundreds of men and families were forced to look elsewhere for employment. As luck would have it my father received acceptance letters from 3 mines in the Central Qld coal fields, fate seen him choose Oaky Creek, and Tieri was to become the new home for him and his young family.
I was 2 when my family made the big move from Redbank, and from my Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and Cousins 10,000k’s away to Tieri, a brand new town, purpose built to house the workers of Oaky Creek Coal Mine.
To say Tieri was a close knit community is a bit of an understatement. And I know that original children of Collinsville, Glendan, Middlemount, Moranbah, Dysart and Blackwater will all agree. The saying goes “It takes a village to raise a child” and what a blessing it was for me and my sisters to be raised by our Village, Tieri.
We knew everyone, not just our neighbours. We were safe to play till dark, building cubbies in the surrounding bush, jumps out of the dirt that was our front yard, or catching crawchies in gullies. The fire breaks that bordered the town were perfect paths to learn to ride pee wee 50’s and to cut through to the other sides of town. As we all grew up these fire breaks would be our pathways to independence, with many camping trips and many driving lessons and ventures. All within meters of, our own homes or our mates, so no deed or escapade ever went unnoticed. Like it or not we were always under the watchful eye of someone who cared and worried about our wellbeing. Or just wanted to see us get in trouble.
Town party and the Miners picnic were the highlights of every year and would see the entire town head out for a day and night of fantastic family fun and entertainment. There would be games for the children and adults, the greasy pig and local strong man would put on an awesome show. The rain never failed to add to the excitement.
Our classes were small and well taught, and I am proud to say that I graduated grade 12 with 12 of my mates that I had been in school with since preschool. No matter your grade, there would be a school excursion to the mine every year. Your class mates would all pile into the bucket of a dragline for a photo, then a tour or a tree planting on the reclaim, with biscuits and cordial at the offices. We were lucky enough to have both parents out the mine, our mother was the Oaky Creek Nurse, so trips out to watch mines rescue were frequent and great fun.
1989 the underground operations began and we saw another influx of families, all were readily accepted and wove their way into the fabric of the heart of Tieri. Getting an apprenticeship at the mine was the main goal of the young men in town, eager to be out there with their fathers and mates. So the men who came as boys would be out working alongside their Dads. There was a great deal of respect in that workplace, all eager to teach and eager to learn.
Having a Mum on call we would know when ever any accidents happened on site, and I can’t explain the anxious feeling that falls over a town when word gets around that there has been an accident. The men at that coal mine were all our family, fathers, brothers, and sons.
The union provided unprecedented support to families unfortunate enough to have loved ones killed, injured, or wronged in any way, not only on site. They could be matched only by the community itself.
When we lost our father in 1995, Tieri rallied and the incredible support shown to my mother, sisters and myself was incredible. Support that hasn’t slowed 15 years on. We love each and every one and can never thank them enough. These people all still play an active part in our lives and the friendships remain as close as ever. As I said, they are family.
Communities are built, much like towns. A true community is much like a large family. They grieve together, celebrate together, laugh, live and love together. They protect their own and pull them into line when necessary. You don’t see that anymore. With the introduction of 12 hour shifts and crazy rosters Tieri lost a lot of what it had. Old families moved on, having seen their sons and daughters through school and apprenticeships. The team sports all ceased, low numbers forcing the way. Locals were no longer given preference in jobs; companies took housing away from the shop owners, medical people and council workers that had been the glue in the town since the beginning. Young families moved out to try and find a similar place to the Tieri of their childhood for their own children.
Here in Moranbah we’re close, but the fact is that it just doesn’t exist. Companies are more interested in dollar signs than communities. A 2000 man camp is on the books for both Moranbah and Collinsville. 2000 men. That was greater than our population growing up in Tieri. People used to build towns for mines, it did happen, now they build camps. Solitary accommodation, away from your family, away from the triumphs and tantrums of your children, away from your support.
A man lost or injured is just another worker. Did you know him? How hard for a family to cope with a tragedy with strangers all around them. Nobody knows you or your story. Give families the option; give them the chance to decide if they want a community. Some people choose the camp life, and so be it. I’m not saying that is wrong, it is what fits your life. But those of us that desperately want that old way of life, we should be able to make the choice to live with our partner, and raise our children with other likeminded families and friends in an old fashioned community.
Don’t give us 100% Fly in Fly Out, give us a choice