Elizabeth Davies looks at the risks and rewards of working in the Aussie mines and asks whether it's worth it for young Kiwis

Elizabeth Davies looks at the risks and rewards of working in the Aussie mines and asks whether it's worth it for young Kiwis

By Elizabeth Davies

Australia has long been thought of as the promised land, where jobs are plentiful and pay packets fat. For a number of young Kiwis the Australian mines are seen as an express pass to a brighter future, where hard work is met with high pay. However while the rewards may be large, so are the sacrifices.

Earlier in August I read of the death of a 26-year-old Kiwi electrician named Kurt Williams who was killed whilst working on machinery in a Western Australian mine. The story hit incredibly close to home.

A number of years ago my partner Mike moved to Australia and began working in the WA mines. Our relationship has been characterised by long absences as he spends his summers thousands of miles away.

Kurt Williams, was around the same age as Mike, he came from the same background and profession and was in the same place doing the same thing. They even shared some mutual friends.

Like thousands of young Kiwi men before him Kurt was drawn to the huge earning potential that is the Australian mining experience, hoping to earn some money and set himself up for the future.

Kiwis can earn over $100,000 working in the mines. They’re highly paid because the job has a number of draw backs. You’re stuck working long hours in the middle of a desert in 40 degree heat. You’re separated from your family, friends and partners and as Kurt William’s death tragically demonstrates, the work can be dangerous.

While Mike doesn’t regret his experiences in the mines for a second he says it’s hardly a healthy environment. During his time in WA he watched people go stir crazy, suffer from depression and substance abuse. He witnessed marriages fall apart, and men fall apart. Suicides were not openly discussed but certainly occurred.

Workers are often told to perform tasks they consider dangerous and it takes both time and confidence to be able to say no to your superiors. Concerns have previously been raised about the safety practices of Kurt William’s employer, perhaps he was not experienced enough to say no to a task he should not have been asked to do.

When people tell me they are running off to the mines, my first instinct is to ask if they are sure. I understand the logic, the temptation, the opportunity, it all makes perfect sense.

I know how much they will be paid, but have they thought about what it will cost?

It’s not the hard work that’s the issue. It’s the environment of total isolation that puts strain on people in unexpected ways. It is a life characterised by danger, boredom and solitude where a man can get rich, or pay the ultimate price, his life.


*Elizabeth Davies is a 23 year old post graduate journalism student at Auckland University of Technology. She lives with her partner in Epsom and spends her free time refurbishing vintage furniture and attempting to bake while fighting a daily battle against her bank balance. She writes a weekly article for interest.co.nz on money matters and financial struggles from a young person's perspective.

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High paid  high risk jobs have always attracted young men , for millennia from Alexander the Great who employed mercenaries ,  to  expats in the Congo  mining engineers  Africa , to working on North Sea oil rigs in the sevenites , to truck drivers in taking supplies through Pakistan to the US ARMY in Afghanistan .
The risk of losing your life goes with the job.
Somone's got to do it , and the employers are prepared to pay for them well , to do it .
If the youngster is good with money , invests it in good Aussie stocks and shares , he should be able to return in 60 months and pay cash for a house , ( even in Auckland).
What I noticed when I was in my twenties ,( over 30 years ago)  was the guys who went to work on the mines earned big loot , but spent everything on Booze , loose women  , and the latest V8 car with mag wheels .
I doubt much has changed, 

You're completely right, a lot of young guys do just that. My partner has used his to get an engineering degree with no loan - unheard of these days. It's funny though, everyone seems to think it's a young single man's game but apparently most have partners and wives and while many are young some have been doing it for years. cheers, Elizabeth

Agree with Boatman. Working in WA mines isn't too bad if you've got clean habits, a worthy goal and disciplined. Certainly there's a dark side, not to mention the mind blowing amount of money and resources spent on extracting resources.
I was there during the late nineties, and had none of the above attributes, but fortunately was too naive to get tied up with loose women or put a deposit on a house, and paid off my student loan. That was leading up to the Asian Economic Crisis, and boy did things change quick in the mining sector then, the moral being don't rely on mining long term. However what I considered and interesting and ironic juxtaposition, was sometime afterwards I ended up broke in London. IT and finance was booming, and although I had no idea about either, I did what everyone else was doing and embellished a CV and ended up doing menial data entry work in between surfing the net for an investment bank. The London financial district was busy and exciting, plenty of razzle dazzle, flash ties and cufflinks, but after six months the daily grind was soul destroying. The ironic thing was mining in WA was a key investment sector, amongst pharmaceuticals, diamonds in Sierra Leone and armament manufacturing  in Israel for undeveloped North African nations.
And now I'm dairy farming. To cut a long and interesting story short, what doesn't have a dark side?

U sound like a leeeeeeeeegend!!!!!!!

If you say so, but I suspect you are confused in a naturally mystical sense with Robert Nester Marley.

I would imagine that the worst thing for the unmarried men would be the lack of women around. And that is not going to change in a hurry because unattached women would be pestered non-stop in those sorts of places.
But, there would be some who would thrive. The challenge would be to find an appropriate hobby or interest. eg Trail biking must be big out there.....

Highly paid work, but dangerous and a socially distructive environment.
Whats not to like about that.
Versus lowly paid work, dangerous and socially destructive in small town New Zealand, or South Auckland.

that photo of a mine reminds us that 26 Pike River  miners could be still alive today if open cast had been allowed , rather than a methane deathtrap

Except it ruins the environment. I think the risks of mining in NZ, compared to the small amount the NZ gov gets in royalities, is very poor. Oz has lots of bare open land, they can afford to ruin some of it. However they wouldn't do mining in one of their national parks, and much of NZ is like a national park.

Or maybe if the private enterprise running it had put in adequate safety? or walked away and not mined? They the employers had that as a choice.
Personally I wouldnt vote for such an eye sore....the advantage of democracy.....

As someone who's son works in a large open cast iron ore mine in WA - I would dispute that conditions are dangerous. Accepting that every location / operator  has it's own rules - all I have ever seen reported  is what we would describe as a paranoia re safety.
Most safety infractions however minor result in instant dismissal. Cell phones on site, failure to wear a seat belt on a bus travelling at 20 k, drug test positive. Starting a machine with flags in place, Failing to tag before starting a job, Failing to advise of a passing manouvre which requires one vehicle to stop etc etc. Alcohol testing every shift ( one chance ), regular random drug swabs.
In return he gets 2 weeks on  ( 12 hours on - 12 hours off  ) then one week off collected from and delivered to Perth. He then commutes to Brisbane. Four weeks annual holiday - 15% super loading.
Safety is not an issue today for the major operators - that does not mean there wlll never be accidents because we have humans involved, but I think it is unfair to think the work is dangerous. Accidents as percentage of staff involved cf our forestry industry would be very illuminating.

I'm afraid that the personal circumstances of the article writer have come to the fore here.
Mining, along with fishing, logging, oil/gas, mercenary and black ops, not to say Defence in any of the three services, ice-road and long-distance trucking, and did I mention drug production and distribution, Mafia/Triad/gang operations,  flying, extreme sports....
All well supplied with bulletproof young males eager to make their fortune, surf the wave of adrenaline that often accompanies these activities, and generally Make Good.
It has been so since time began.....

Kurt's loss was felt by all kiwi electricians who heard the tragic news. Particularly with myself, a newly registered kiwi electrician aspiring to be a mine worker about to leave for Perth in a few weeks time.
The problem is because the reserve bank of nz  has forced the banks to only lend at 20% deposit many young kiwis are faced with the prospect of never owning their own home. Especially of concern are aucklanders like me and my girlfriend who need 100,000 or more as a deposit (she has a large clientele in auckland central ). I have decided on the mines as our solution to buy a home where she can setup a salon from home and raise kids at the same time. i will have to stay in Perth and leave my girlfriend in auckland so she can maintain her clientele roster. She earns good money but this is the only solution I can see,  I worked in live flow sewer tunnels for 3 years prior to becoming a sparky so the conditions won't bother me.