Before we continue, a bit of background.
I just thought I’d bore the shit out of you all by prattling on about the technicalities of mining. If you’re in a hurry, don’t bother reading this, it doesn’t have that much bearing on the story, but it will explain some of the terms used later.
I’ve found some pictures to include, they’re not mine (I found them on the net) but they are pics of what I’m talking about. And if I had a camera at the time, my pictures would have looked just like them.
There are two main type of mines:
- Open Cut: Generally used for cheaper substances such as coal, iron ore and bauxite, where a lot of dirt has to be moved. As the name implies, they are just big holes in the ground. The exception to this rule is the Argyle Diamond mine which is not only one of the largest in the world, but it’s open cut (it’s also only about half day’s drive from where this story takes place)
- Shaft: There are a number of different types of shafts, vertical, decline and longwall among them. Except for longwall (which is used for coal) shaft mining tends to be used for precious metals and gems.
This particular mine (a nickel mine) was what’s known as a Vertical Decline shaft. That’s where there is a shaft sunk straight down (like a well) with a corkscrew like shaft angling down and orbiting the vertical shaft. At certain points the decline shaft connects to the vertical one so that the diggings can be dumped into the well so they can be hauled to the surface. This is done using a headframe like this one to the right. Although this is from a different mine (it’s a gold mine actually), I did work at this one too, so I can say that they are pretty similar. By the way, the photo is from the Mt Charlotte mine in Kalgoorlie.
These aren’t dinky little shafts like you see in cowboy movies. The decline shaft is used by some serious machinery including trucks and bulldozers. And the vertical shaft uses a bucket that holds 50 to 100 tons of dirt. This bucket features prominently in a future episode.
The one on the left is a front end loader used for dumping stuff in the vertical shaft, while the one on the right it a driller. Holes are drilled and explosives are packed into them, then the face is blown up.
Now the the lifecycle for this type of large scale mining goes something like this:
- The Speculators raise money for exploration
- A team of geophysical surveyors map the geology of the area
- Exploration drilling is done where the map shows promise
- If something is found, the exploration shares are exchanged for production shares (more money raising) and a construction crew is sent to the site.
- A township is established for the miners and their families, near the site but far enough away that they aren’t affected by the mine’s operations.
- At the same time, the mine and auxiliary above ground plant (crushers, hoppers, washers etc) are constructed.
- The mine is commissioned. (thorough testing leading to acceptance by the owners).
- The construction crew leaves and the mine goes into operation.
I was part of the construction crew. During the construction, eight people died (including one mine accident that killed five). It was also the time I received a burn so bad that is severed my calf muscle (I’ve mentioned this before), soon you’ll find out how i did it.
This is pretty much what the terrain looked like, that red dust is an absolute bitch, it gets into everything. When you wash your clothes the water looks like chocolate milk. Years later I would wash something and the water would take on a reddish tinge and I still have tools that have a red dust patina.
So, the next installment will be about life in the camp.
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