SINGLETON is at the epicentre of the mining boom and the scale of this industrial change is as big as the plant and equipment used to remove the coal from the ground.
Love it or loathe the mining industry is currently the economic driver of this region and it is transforming the way we do business and has led to the ascendancy of what is now known as the “fluoro” worker.
And of all the good things to come out of the current mining boom, for many local residents it would simply be secure employment.
Mining and secure employment hasn’t always gone hand in hand. History shows us the industry is known for its booms and then its busts.
Not so long ago during the 1980s and 90s mine workers, in particular the new hands, were subject to the vagaries of the international coal market and when prices dropped so did the employment numbers.
Therefore choosing a career in the mining industry meant being prepared to forgo that career if coal prices slumped.
But with unprecedented international demand for coal in particular from China and India mining has become a stable and a well paid career.
One of those to have seen the good and bad times is Don Cant, Coal and Allied’s, apprenticeship coordinator.
Mr Cant grew up on his family’s dairyfarm at Vacy and on completing school, like his father before him, he undertook a trades apprenticeship, in his case a fitter machinist with BHP at their then Newcastle steelworks.
He worked for BHP for ten years from 1979 and during his time there undertook further studies in hydraulic fitting.
Realising things were changing in Australia’s steelwork production (BHP closed the steelworks in 1999 after 84 years of operation) he changed career and started work at the Lemington underground coal mine where his hydraulic training was an advantage.
When Lemington closed in 1992 Mr Cant faced another career change and fortunately he was able to immediately take up a position as a plant mechanic at Warkworth mine.
Coal and Allied bought into the Mount Thorley mine in 2001 and the mine became known as Mount Thorley Warkworth in 2004.
When he joined Mount Thorley there were 300 employees and 25 haul trucks but today the mine has expanded to 1300 employees and more than 70 haul trucks.
“As the mine has grown so have our career paths and in my case I have been able to complete a diploma in project management,” Mr Cant said.
“Then I stepped by to become machine inspector and now I am in my current position as apprentice master or coordinator with my main role being a mentor to the company’s 47 apprentices.”
Mr Cant is happy he pursued a mine career for several reasons but most importantly because he is able to live on his farm at Vacy and work in a rewarding job.
“I love the community I grew up in and I wanted my children to enjoy the same lifestyle I had as a kid,” he said.
“And that has been made possible thanks to my job – because there was no way I could have owned the farm and raised a family with the returns available from agriculture.
“Sadly few people can survive on the income from agriculture for example in our district there used to be 28 dairies now there are only four and many people in my community rely on off-farm income and plenty of those are working in the Hunter’s mines.”