Up until recently, a normal swing for Sam would see her driving 65 kilometres from her home in Borroloola to the site on a Thursday and returning home in two weeks for well-earned time off. Things have changed for Sam and almost 30 other McArthur River Mine workers who live in the Gulf Region in and around Borroloola.
In March, with remote area biosecurity restrictions looming, McArthur River Mine sent home all staff who lived in the region to ensure zero contact between the mine and the local community in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. With no set date for when the restrictions would ease, McArthur River Mine decided to put the crew to work helping out with local community projects around town.
Eager to get their hands dirty and help out, the highly-skilled team got down to business – and the town has never looked better. “In the team we have a diesel fitter, apprentice plumber and operators, and I am a carpenter and builder,” Sam says. “Most of the team have some form of ticket or licence.” Under the direction of Sam, the team has tidied and transformed the town centre, cemetery, museum and church, built an ablution block, helped out Parks and Wildlife, installed irrigation and fencing, and mentored students at Borroloola School.
They have also been working hard to bring the community together and celebrated Mother’s Day with a community barbeque and wore blue for Do it for Dolly Day. The team’s presence has been well received by the local community and their skills are in hot demand.
“Whenever anyone in town sees us they say, ‘Oh mate, can you come give us a hand’. “The town is overwhelmed with what we have done so far and how we are assisting wherever we can.” While the team’s to-do list is ever-growing, Sam is happy to prioritise jobs for some of the older members of the tight-knit community.
“When some of the older ladies come up to me and ask for help, I say ‘Yeah, no worries’ and will send a crew straight around to assist in any way possible.” For Sam, the community support and team’s strong work ethic and eagerness to help out is no surprise. “None of this would be possible without the backing from the community, stakeholders and our own staff. “As a team they are coming up with ideas on what we can do next, with the guys coming up with the idea to work on the cemetery and museum.
“The team are happy as Larry and keen to help out – the other day a few of them even rocked up a day early for their swing.” This sentiment is shared by McArthur River Mine General Manager Steven Rooney who says the work crew are a testament to the community and the mine. “It was an easy decision for us to send home our local Gulf staff members – our priority is to protect the community, and this meant enforcing no contact between the mine and our local staff,” he says.
“From the minute they got home, the team were eager to help out in the community. “They have adapted easily to what is a less than ideal situation and have proactively sought out jobs to do to benefit the local community – doing us and the community proud.” Setting the crew up to work has been a community effort.
The crew has the support of local organisations, such as the Mabunji Aboriginal Resource Indigenous Corporation, Roper Gulf Regional Council, Borroloola School and Parks and Wildlife, who have been willing to lend equipment and even a bus to get the team to work areas. “Borroloola police have picked up goods from site for the crew allowing them to have a proper uniform and work boots, laptops, printer, stationery, breath test machine and safe work books,” Steven says.
“Making sure the team was properly set up was really important as the safety expectation is the same working in the community as if the team were here working on site.” The decision to have the work crews help out in the local community is part of the mine’s response to Covid-19 and commitment to keeping staff in jobs. “We have had to change the way we do things to protect our people and the community.
Fortunately, we haven’t had to stand down any of our people and we continue to support local employment and procurement. “In response to the pandemic, we have transitioned a number of staff to work from home and activating our local resident workforce is an extension of this.” The team will continue to work in the local community until it is safe for them to return to site.
“We are really looking forward to welcoming the team back to site in the near future but in the meantime, we are happy they are able to help out in the local community.” TQ
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McARTHUR RIVER MINING
McArthur River Mining (MRM) is located in the Northern Territory approximately 970 kilometres southeast from Darwin and 60 kilometres south-west of its closest township, Borroloola. MRM mines one of the world’s largest zinc and lead deposits.
Established as an underground operation in 1995, MRM converted to open pit mining in 2006. MRM produces zinc and lead in concentrates that are primarily exported through Bing Bong loading facility on the southern coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria.
The mine life extends to 2038 with an additional 10 years reprocessing tailings. The mine provides direct employment to about 1000 people, including contractors. In 2019, they spent $89 million on wages, $89 million on capital projects, $336 million on goods and services – much of which they sourced locally – and $1.8 million on community investment.