November 20, 2019
Tough underground conditions at North Goonyella gave rise to an even tougher workforce. Sadly, the Lodge wound up last week after Peabody announced production would not resume in the area affected by last year’s serious underground fire.
District Vice President Shane Brunker started work at the mine in 1993 when it was still under development.
“At the time, it was the newest, biggest and greatest mine to hit the industry. It had a 6.5 metre high coal face and a 300 metre longwall – it had the best coal and the newest technology. But it also had the most difficult conditions and was one of the gassiest mines.”
North Goonyella faced continual challenges with underground fire and difficult roof conditions. There are two longwalls buried from previous fires.
With its tough underground conditions and location close to Mackay, North Goonyella attracted experienced miners and experienced unionists, said Shane, who served as Secretary and President of the Lodge during his 17 years at the mine. “As a young unionist and delegate, you had to cut your teeth very quickly.”
Workers took strike action while they were negotiating their first agreement and their commitment for fighting for their own interests – and supporting the industrial action of comrades across the district – never wavered.
Access to the mine was sealed in September last year as an underground fire burned out of control. CFMEU members were at the front of line of fighting the fire as part of specialist teams including the Queensland Mine Rescue Services GAG jet engine team and subsequently were the first to re-enter the mine in July 2019 as majority members of the Underground Mines Rescue Active Rescue Teams.
While investigations into the causes of the fire have pointed to poor management of underground conditions including ventilation by Peabody managers, the right thing was done in evacuating the mine and setting strict exclusion zones to avoid the potential tragedy of workers being trapped by fire or explosion.
In October, Peabody announced its efforts to restart production at the mine – which still holds significant coal reserves – would be substantially delayed, with the panel affected by the fire to be abandoned.
Ninety-three workers have been made redundant as a result of the fire. The CFMEU has worked with Peabody to make sure everyone receives their full entitlements.
At a farewell lunch, outgoing North Goonyella Lodge President Luke Ludlow paid tribute to members and executive over the Lodge’s 26-year history.
“You should do nothing less than hold your head high and proud for having been a part of our Lodge and for what you have helped achieve in not just the Lodge but one of the hardest underground mining environments around.
“It takes everyone working at all levels together to be successful and our lodge has done that proudly throughout our history.”
District President Stephen Smyth said the fire had led to a sad end for a proud Lodge.
“When production eventually does resume, we are committed to rebuilding a strong union presence at North Goonyella. In the meantime, I wish workers and their families all the best. I hope those that wish to stay in the industry find good new opportunities and bring their fighting union spirit with them.”