‘There was some hard times in there’: women in the Queensland coal mines

Published 2009

Publication Type: Conference Publications

Author(s): Murray, Georgina, Peetz, David Robert

The first handful of women began working in Queensland coal mines in 1979, as labourers, in what was seen by some as a public relations exercise rather than a genuine willingness to embrace equal opportunity. Our paper reports on the changing situation of women miners since this period, based on interviews of 22 of these women mining workers recorded between 2006 and 2009. Some women became miners because of the money, some did it because they could not survive in the city on working women’s wages with children, some did it because their fathers, grandfathers and brothers were in the mines first and lit their way; others did it because they were left stranded by divorce and separations in company towns. Today women can be found in all mining positions: from the wash plants through to drag lines, from driving trucks that carry up to three hundred tonnes of dirt in open cut mines to the few working underground. Some believe the enthusiasm of certain mining companies for women workers is part of an effort to change, undermine, or avoid the union culture of mines. But women still represent only a small portion of the workforce. They have supported unions whilst resisting the legacy of a traditional, masculine industry culture, and confronted the slowness of organisations and individuals to adapt to change. Even amongst women, views are divided as to whether women should work in the mines. There are stories from some women who adapted fairly quickly to work on the mines – or who made the mines adapt to them. There are other stories of harassment and remarkable stories of persistence and bravery in the face of major obstacles.

View Resource