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Big changes made over the years

Kim Stewart Oct 10
Big changes made over the years
The three millionth ounce of gold - Colin Purcell (left) and David Lusby.

OceanaGold elution technician Colin Purcell has seen some big changes in his 30 years at the mine. Colin started working at the mine in 1988 after a chance conversation at the local pub.

“Back in those days you got a job at the mine by word of mouth. Everyone wanted to work there because it was pretty well paid,” he says.

A plumber/gasfitter by trade from Katikati, the downturn in the kiwifruit industry in his hometown had seen his work reduce so the mine seemed a good prospect. He started as an open pit sampler at the Martha Mine as the company wanted to get it started again.

“All you needed back then was a hard hat, some steel capped boots, shorts, singlet and a pair of leather gloves. Not even safety glasses,” he remembers with a chuckle.

“Things have changed a bit since then.” “A geologist would map out the area and then Colin and the team would take samples ever y 200400 metres on an average day.

“A line was blown down the vein, metre intervals marked on the ground and a jackhammer used to dig a small two inches square. “People would then come in behind and pick up the samples. Today of course this would all be done with a drill rig but back then it was hard manual labour.

“We’d see a frost down the pit still at 5pm. Not anyone could do that work. It was a pretty claustrophobic feeling. You couldn’t go down to Mitre10 to buy 100 cones and delineators. We had to make our own barricades out of 4×4 timber.”

Significant health and safety changes came in around 2000 and Colin says there was initial reluctance by some workers to adopt the new standards – high viz clothing, safety glasses etc.

“Lots hated it because it was change. They didn’t like the commercialisation of things as in the old days if we wanted something we had to make it.”

Colin spent around 15 years in the open pit before shifting to the processing plant as an assistant gold coordinator. Now he works in both the elution plant as a technician and the gold room.

He reckons he’s seen something like 14 managers and various owners over the decades and there have been highs and lows over that time – losing mates both in accidents or because they have chosen to move on. This has made him a passionate advocate of health and safety and he is a trained health and safety rep.

“This is an industry where you look our for your work mates. If you respect people and the mine, follow the health and safety rules and use the tools and equipment provided you should go home safely.”

The highs largely involve people and he remembers playing cards, cricket and rugby – all inside a shed – when it once rained for three days and sampling work had to halt.

“But we wanted to be out working. It was a long time to be playing cards,” he says with laugh. Colin has seen the big benefits the mine has brought to Waihi.

Working there has made people safety conscious – good habits they can pass onto friends and family.

His children have had opportunities they wouldn’t have had otherwise due to his earning ability and also the generous support the mining company gives to local community in terms of grants etc.

He considers himself very lucky to have worked for the mine for so long: “Waihi is a close knit community and you help each other out. You’re known as one of the lucky buggers in town because you work at the mine.

“It’s great that OceanaGold are trying to extend the mine life. I can see a lot more people will benefit and the future is looking pretty good.”

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