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Miners Are People Too

Women of Mining Part 1 – The History of Women in the Australian Mine Community

Since mining was born in Australia, it has been a non-traditional industry for women. Mining operations have traditionally been male-only preserves. Before the 1970’s women had virtually no place in mining, and operators faced fines for employing females in the workplace. Women’s involvement in the mining industry was almost non-existent. Over the century prior to the 1970’s all territorial and state jurisdictions barred women from working below ground in any mine. In above-ground mines, women were also prevented from working, although not legislative, but through the mostly unionised and often militant male workforces.

The door was held firmly shut on women. Even those with degrees in mining engineering, geology and metallurgy were confined to working at universities, teaching and researching, working at schools and government agencies, like museums and performing geological surveying at the most.

Although aboriginal women are not explicitly mentioned as miners or prospectors in our history, they were very involved in the industry from the beginning. In 1910, Aboriginal prospector Kitty Pluto, along with her husband found the first samples of gold on what became Cape York Peninsula’s, Wenlock Goldfield. Continuing to prospect, she made further significant finds and is the only woman to date accredited to discovering a goldfield in Australian.

The 1970s – The Turning Point

The change came in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the doors to women’s employment in mining were forcibly opened. A variety of pressures like the women’s movement’s campaigns against the sex-segmented labour market, government promotion of equal employment opportunities and the fight against gender discrimination all took their place against the industry’s historical employment perception.

Young, educated women who discovered their sense of being able to do anything they wanted to do became not only attracted to an industry offering science-driven work environments but the promise of travel, healthy income, and important career paths. They knew they were the frontline of change.

As well as scientific shifts in the industry, it also faced massive changes to employment practices. The move to open cut mining greatly amplified mechanical replacement of the historically labour-intensive work processes. The boom-heavy decades that followed created many opportunities for women in the mining industry, and although they have encountered continuous discrimination and harassment industry-wide, female participation has increased until recent times.

Female geologists were the first to break into the industry when in the early 80’s, female geologists were able to work offshore drilling rigs.

the first women employed in In the Queensland coal mine operations worked as labourers in wash plants but have of course evolved to positions like truck driving. In the 2000’s around 40% of truck drivers were female.

Of the national workforce around 45% is currently female, however in the mining industry the figures sit at just 16%, and only 11% for non-traditional (female) mining roles.

So, what is keeping the numbers down?

What is the reason only 16% (Federal Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency.) of the mining industry in 2018 are women?

Have your say below, and stay tuned for the second half of Women of Mining.

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  • You do not mention WHEN the first women were employed in the mines in Australia. I have been googling this question and nothing comes up (except those in the 1800’s – early 1900’s). I went to Pannawonica in 1978 and women were not allowed to be employed in the mines (only as cleaners/admin/barmaids) in the township – no FIFO in those days!! Everyone and their families lived onsite permanently at Cliffs Robe River Associates (and most other mines in Australia). About a year after I arrived the first lot of 10 females arrived as employees. They had to be single. I had a boyfriend who worked in the mines and I worked in the local supermarket. I went to the Main Office in Perth and got a job in the mine. When I came back into town I was employed as a chain person with the surveyors. The men called a stop work meeting. They wanted to go on strike because I was employed and I was not ‘single’. The new single girl employees soon put them in their place. We moved up the ladder from ‘town crew’ to haulpak drivers. There were men who ‘tolerated’ this move but when we started to move from the trucks to the other machinery (in those days you moved up the ladder through seniority – who had been there the longest – not through ability) there were complaints and they tried hard to sabotage our rising into ‘Mans areas’. We never cracked the “Drills’ or the ‘Shovels’ at that stage – strictly mens domains. I was there for 5 years. Our daughter was born there. She is 37 now. A lot of us girls from that era get together on a regular basis. It would be great if you did an article about that era – 1977 – 1985. I have google searched but still cant find the women who was the first ever Haulpak driver in Australia – perhaps it was us????