5 Surprising Things to Expect On Your First Underground Mine Site Visit
Recently, I headed out on my first underground mine site visit in Western Australia, and I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I’d heard a lot of stories from some of the LiveMine team members who had been in mining for a long time, especially Bud our managing director who was a Jumbo operator underground for 15 years. Some of the stories were interesting, some were a bit scary, and others were downright unbelievable. Even after all this, there were still several things I did not expect at all on my first visit to a mine site.
I’ve decided to share with you the things that surprised me most about my experience, from the context of someone who thought they knew exactly what to expect.
1. Underground is VERY grey
When I imagined the underground world, I always thought of it in shades of brown or maybe red like the dirt on the surface. I was not prepared for how greyscale it was. I felt like I’d been transported back to black and white television! A combination of dust, rock and shotcrete, everything was just so…grey. It’s quite unsettling when you turn on your light and there’s still no colour around. Upon discussion afterwards, my co-worker and I kept saying how surreal the whole thing felt, and this grey colouring strongly contributed to the otherworldly feel of the mine.
I can understand why they call the underground entrance a portal now, as it really does feel like you’ve been teleported into a new world.
2. The food at the mess is actually really good
There are two types of mess at the site camps: dry and wet. The dry mess has all the food, and the wet mess has the alcohol. Arriving at the dry mess for dinner on my first day, I was presented with a range of meats, curries, pastas, salads, sides and desserts. Three servings later and a small(ish) sample of each ice-cream flavour and I was very satisfied (and maybe a couple of kilos heavier).
Also make sure to pack yourself some lunch after breakfast and be warned as one of the sites I went to was BYO containers.
Pro Tip #1: Try and set up your visit for a Friday, I’ve heard rumours of fish and chips on Friday nights.
Pro Tip #2: Try out a breakfast burger for lunch: bacon, egg and hashbrown in-between bread if you’re looking to mix things up.
3. There are no such things as stope rats or sump crocodiles (I think)
If you know any experienced underground miners, you may have heard of stope rats (giant underground rats which can run out of small caves when drilling) or sump crocodiles (who lurk beneath the water in underground sumps). Don’t panic, stope rats and sump crocodiles aren’t real and they can’t hurt you (probably). Unfortunately, I fell for the stope rats trick and made a bit of a fool of myself on site.
Don’t be disappointed though, there are still many eagles, dingos, wild dogs, giant lizards, snakes and all manner of bugs to keep you company if you get lonely.
4. The driving is crazy (everyone reverse parks everywhere)
Now I finally understand the people on the Perth roads who tear past in their Ute at 30km/h over the speed limit, and fearlessly reverse into a tight underground car park. On site, the driving is crazy! I struggle to reverse park in an empty carpark, but out in the mines no matter the type of equipment, everyone reverse parks in tight gaps, drives quickly on barely existent roads and speeds around corners almost blind. I was even told that if a blockage happens underground, miners will reverse all the way up the decline and out to the surface in the complete dark, round very tight corners, sometimes with the pressure of a large truck in front of them.
Being a passenger in a vehicle underground was definitely quite scary, and I almost made a wet mess of my own in the back seat!
5. Everything is done on tiny pieces of paper
Can you believe that on multi-million (if not billion) dollar mine sites, with massive amounts of employees, expensive and precise equipment, and major technical planning, everyone was using little sheets of paper to record everything. This paper was thrown into a big pile on the shift boss’ desk, combined with all other operational data on more bits of paper and stored in large binders.
I’ll be honest, when I joined LiveMine I had heard about how paper was still used on site, but I never appreciated the scale or impracticality of it. I finally felt like I understood why we’re told the way we collect data with LiveMine is so effective and popular in the mining community, as it allows mine sites to not only collect operational data more easily and resiliently, but also save massive amounts of time by not requiring the extra step of digitalisation, as well as enabling historical data to be found and summarised very quickly.
If you’re headed out on on your first mine site visit (or even if you’ve been mining for many years) and you notice the massive amounts of effort expended on handling paper in your job, please reach out and see how we can help fast track your mine to the digital age.