Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Saturday, 27 June 2015


Mining camp - Pic courtesy Toowoomba Chronicle


That was the description the motelier used when I asked him how the town was faring now that the gas projects had moved on to extraction. I was booking into a motel in a town in the Surat basin. 

It's not a large town, there aren't very many motels, and he was in conversation with me, gentle reader, not you, so I won't identify the place.

I was the only person booking in that night (last Tuesday).

The motelier was referring to the mining companies which have recently moved from the construction phase of their projects to the extraction phase.

"Bastards!" He repeated. "They're sending us all broke".

I had driven into town from the south, passing the airport. There was an Alliance 717 on the Tarmac. Three charter buses were pulling up, discharging a gaggle of blokes in hi-vis gear. 

Later, after this brief and bitter conversation, I wandered down to the Foodworks to pick up some tucker. There weren't any blokes in hi-vis gear in the supermarket.They're not in the habit of shopping there. 

Everything they consume at the camp is trucked in under contract from hundreds of kilometres away. 

They spend no money in the town.When I pressed the motelier about what he meant, he alluded briefly to locals investing in businesses and property in town in anticipation of growth, only to be left in the lurch. 

Two new motels had been built in anticipation of the boom. They're pretty much empty, as was the one I was staying in.

The mining companies simply bypassed them. Everything from the workers to the kit is sourced from the coast or down south. The anger and despair in town is palpable.

On checking out the following morning I asked the question, which as a teacher, I always ask.

"Are they employing local kids?"

The answer was "No, although they put an apprentice on last year. It was all over the paper", he said. "Nothing before or since - just a token".

As I was leaving, mine host made one thoughtful remark - 

"They've refined the methodology of destroying small communities, and they're following it to the letter. The local council went like lambs to the slaughter. They approved everything, yet they're supposed to be looking after us, their ratepayers".

I kid you not - that's verbatim.When I asked him why this was occurring, he said it was all about control. They (the mining companies) want to control every aspect of their employees lives - where they live, with whom they associate, and where they spend their money, he said.

What he didn't say was that none of them, as a condition of employment, could live outside the camp, nor could they join a union. Or more accurately, if they did, they had to make sure that their employer didn't find out about it. 

The biggest threat to corporate control of power in this country is organised labour. That's why the mining multinationals and their minions in our federal government are so determined to eliminate it from our national life.

Why "locusts?

That's what the locals call the mining multinationals......... 

Update 1 -
The ABC reads my blog. This story will be featured on Landline on Sunday at noon. 

Update 2 -
This feature article appeared in the on the front page of the Weekend Australian on 15th August 2015. It's satisfying to know that this story is worth writing about, and not simply an anti-mining rant as inferred by some of my readers who inhabit the extreme Right of the political spectrum.

The first page of the Oz story - click to enlarge.
Second page.


Anonymous said...

Really Bob? If you can't even name the town this is a just work of union adoring tripe. How about you put some energy into examining the unions abuse of power (search Grocon vs CFMEU). I like your blog but your problem is that you have spent your whole life suckling on the taxpayers teat and lack any sense of perspective in the real world.

1735099 said...

This is a report of exactly what happened. If you're unable to deal with reality that's your problem.
How would you fare if all those "suckling on the taxpayers teat" disappeared overnight?
Good luck with living without nurses, doctors, police, ambos, the ADF and anyone else in public service.

Anonymous said...

You must be running short of something to post 1735099. This is a rebirth of an old, gold attack on mining companies. The story has been re-invented and with a photo to gloss it up a little. Add a little intrigue.....no names, no pack drill. I posted on the last one. You blame the difficulties the town faces on the mining companies, but offer no insight into the history of towns like this one where entrepreneurial property owners and shopkeepers get into the market on a whim and the sniff of a few dollars. I know from similar situations in areas close to where I live that at the smell of mining concerns coming to town locals and outsiders buy up otherwise unliveable properties for a song and do minimal rennos in the hope that miners will rent them at exorbitant prices. Goods and services are priced in a way that the locals have difficulty with the sudden increases. You can't rent any property at less than two and a half times the general rate. The town then runs at costs that only miners can afford. Check out the rental prices in places like Emerald in your home state. Jobs now come with camp accommodation just like it does in W.A. supplied by the company. It is obviously cost effective for the companies. When I was a lad roaming Australia mining camps were the norm and even Public Works depts. ran camps for the workers. Unions.....if you can give workers what they want by remuneration for time spent and OH and S conditions that comply....why would you want unions on site? OH and S requires mines to be run alcohol and drug free so it is feasible that the reason for no being able to socialise is that with twelve hour shifts for fourteen or twenty-one days duration recreational past times are restricted. It is obvious that trucking in bulk supplies is likely to be much cheaper than paying what would have been inflated local prices. You were in the services once I believe....do you think the army sources any of its supplies locally? FIFO workers are qualified, how many of your "locals" have the necessary quals to work on a mining site?

1735099 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
1735099 said...

The story has been re-invented and with a photo to gloss it up a little
Nothing invented. This is exactly what happened, down to my reporting verbatim the motel owner's conversation. I didn't name the town for precisely that reason. I was in private conversation and don't have his permission to publish it.
You blame the difficulties the town faces on the mining companies
Why don't you visit one of these towns, bail up one of the locals, and tell them that the problems they're having are all their own fault. Good luck with that.
Check out the rental prices in places like Emerald in your home state.
Emerald is in exactly the same position. Property prices have plummeted and the town is dying.
twelve hour shifts for fourteen or twenty-one days
My forebears in the union movement fought for and won the eight hour day. Shifts like these are harmful. Just look at the research - http://oem.bmj.com/content/58/1/68.full
An extract from the conclusions - The main physiological consequence of such shift schedules is disruption of circadian rhythm which can have a deleterious effect on performance, sleep patterns, accident rates, mental health, and cardiovascular mortality
You were in the services once I believe....do you think the army sources any of its supplies locally?
False analogy. Most of what we consumed came from the Yanks. Cost had nothing to do with it. The reason for self-sufficiency was essentially for the maintenance of security. The Vietnamese weren't allowed near base because some of them were VC and would have taken the opportunity to identify mortar targets.
I have lived in many parts of Queensland through the years, including Moranbah (my father was the second school principal there when the town was opened up) and Mt Isa. Members of my family worked for Theiss Peabody Mitsui. I have seen first hand the consequences of unregulated exploitation of small communities by mining multinationals. At one point I was training Guidance Officers (School Counsellors) who spent a great deal of their time working with kids whose fathers were FIFO workers, and whose families were suffering the consequences. I remember wondering why the mining companies weren't being asked to pay for the counsellors. After all, their work rosters were causing the problem. Why should the taxpayer pay to subsidise their dysfunctional work practices?

Anonymous said...

The story hasn't been invented.....okay we'll settle for a term you'll understand, resurrected, how's that and embellished upon.
Visit one of the towns?....As I said I am familiar with a couple that have gone through this. Sniff the cash about to arrive...raise prices on everything so that even the locals struggle and then when the wind changes or adaptations are made to counter the fiscal drain the entrepreneurs whinge. They overcapitalised and didn't consider things might go belly up.
Emerald.....I have friends living there and one works in the mines.....same thing, the mines go well and prices go through the roof. Property prices become ridiculous and then the slump in mining and workers put off....no property buyers, so prices fall. Same thing anywhere when well to do buyers arrive locals cannot compete. It is happening in Melbourne and not a mine to see anywhere.
Twelve hour shifts.....eight on standard rates and the rest on penalty rates. People think miners are exceptionally well paid but in fact the hourly rates without penalties aren't all that flash. To draw in workers the longer shifts working a set number of days without a break (which by the way accounts for not being able to socialise locally) and then having equal time off to fly out are a big draw card. Not everyone wants to work eight hours a day for peanuts and even teachers don't work a full day for a fair pay except when reports must be produced. Your union mates have a lot answer for these days old mate.....now they get paid on the one hand by workers who believe they are be represented by the union and on the other hand by the employers so that the union won't represent the workers...win, win.
Vietnam again?.....My reference was a little more general than that. Try and open your mind a little....don't keep going back to 1970/71. Any way the tucker was probably brought across the sea so that you blokes didn't have to eat rice, fish and smoked dog for the length of your tour. The military don't source supplies locally for a number of reasons, but at some point cost will come into it.
I can't work out how you had anything to do with counselling or training counsellors of FIFO workers' kids. FIFO workers don't bring their kids along usually. They fly in, work, and fly out for their recreational time. I have a son working in PNG under these conditions so I have a little insight as to how it works. For you to be training people to counsel FIFO workers' kids you probably lived in the area where the families resided and the workers were flying out and then flying in....FOFI. You were making money from assisting the FIFO workers' families.....that puts you on the gravy train.

1735099 said...

okay we'll settle for a term you'll understand, resurrected, how's that and embellished upon
Not resurrected. It happened last Tuesday. There was no embellishment. I report what I hear and see.
It is happening in Melbourne and not a mine to see anywhere
Yep. It's called the "market". Problem is, people are not commodities.
even teachers don't work a full day for a fair pay except when reports must be produced
Rubbish. How long is it since you've been in a classroom or worked a day at a school? When I retired as a principal I was working 60 hour weeks. Most of my teaching staff were doing the same. Most teachers don't regard writing reports as work. Their work is done minute by minute and hour by hour in front of a class. It takes enormous skill, a great deal of patience, and enormous nervous energy simply to maintain control and engagement with a class. These days, I'm in a different classroom every day, at every level from Prep to year 12, in a range of schools from those with enrollments of 800 down to small one-teacher schools with a dozen or so kids, and the picture is the same. The attrition rate for graduate teachers is 30%. It's a tough game.
I can't work out how you had anything to do with counselling or training counsellors of FIFO workers' kids.
Let me explain in words of one syllable. I was based in Mt Isa, where at any given time we were training 9 Guidance Officers annually because Mt Isa was a three year posting and we had to train 9 to retain 3. Each of them had to travel East along the Flinders at regular intervals to do summer schools at James Cook Uni and internships with experienced Guidance Officers at Townsville schools. By far the heaviest counselling workload in these schools was with sons and daughters of FIFO workers whose families lived in Townsville with fathers working west. Mackay was much the same. There were some very screwed up kids, damaged by the lifestyle their parents were living. The boys especially, were going right off the rails - violence - drug abuse - you name it.
A couple of the trainees did a thesis on it - the statistics were staggering, as was the cost to the public purse. The mining corporations should have been sent the bill for the counselling. FIFO destroys families.
I'll tell you something for nothing. Strange though it may seem, there are people for whom monetary reward is not the only thing that matters. That does not include the spivs who run the mining corporations. Their God is the Almighty Dollar, and their practice is killing communities.

Anonymous said...

Firstly you are still having mathematical difficulties.....words of one syllable means that each chosen word has a single sound. I noted that there were many words of more than a single syllable in your follow up. I forgive you your attempt at condescension. With that little outburst I now understand your involvement in the training of counsellors.
I accept that some dedicated teachers spend much more time than they are actually remunerated for.....one of my daughters, like you, lives for the job. It is not the rule of thumb.
Yep, it's called the "market"......people (buyers and sellers) create the market Robert.
People are not commodities.....not in the real sense of the word, but if you haven't got your eyes closed you will note that people can be bought and, in the case of followers of the Koran, can be sold in the market place.
Lastly, your piece where you state that you report what you hear and see.....I hate to call you out on this one but you have definitely pulled this from an earlier memory, right down to only one local youth has been employed by the mines' management. I know because I commented on it previously. Your credibility is dropping quickly Robert.

1735099 said...

words of one syllable
Figure of speech - not to be taken literally.
in the case of followers of the Koran, can be sold in the market place
I'm wondering what this has to do with mining.
you have definitely pulled this from an earlier memory
Repeating a fact doesn't make it wrong.
This particular fact - that one student has been employed in this town has been true for a number of years.

Anonymous said...

"Figure of speech - not to be taken literally".....I knew that.
"Repeating a fact doesn't make it wrong"......but embellishing more recent tales with the information and claiming it is part of the tale is misleading/dishonest.
"in the case of followers of the Koran, can be sold in the market place
I'm wondering what this has to do with mining".....you state that people are not commodities in order to make some sort of point.....I indicate that there are places where they are thought of as nothing more than commodities. Neither statement has much to do with mining so stop wondering.

1735099 said...

Check today's Weekend Australian.
They have done pretty much the same story I did.
They spoke to the same motelier that I did.
It makes your comments about "invention" look very silly.

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