I can’t count how many times I have been talking to the general public about underground mining and found their perception of mining is like the “old days” – that is, where the access drives or “tunnels”, as they call them, are the size of your house door and mining is done using a pick and shovel, nothing like the reality today!
Most of the underground mines producing today in Australia are much bigger than that, with equipment such as 18-tonne bucket capacity loaders and 60-tonne trucks, with tunnels that are 5m wide and 5.5m high. Yes, we do have narrow vein mining in gold and nickel mines, where the access drives to the ore will be small, but the rest of the mine infrastructure is big enough to take 30-tonne trucks or bigger.
Then we have the location of the mine; it’s driven by the location of the ore body or mineral outcrop – you can’t just put a mine anywhere you like. The general public has limited information about the mining industry, unless they know someone who works at a mine somewhere.
Why am I raising this? Well, it’s a similar story for the quarry industry. Mention the word “quarry” to the general public and they would at least know a bit about why we do it. However, their first impression of a quarry is that it is dusty, dirty, noisy and full of lots of trucks.
They also ask why we need to locate quarries so close to towns – and can’t we put them somewhere else, etc?
In reality, the market drives the location. There is no point having the best rock for a quarry in Australia if it’s located so far away from the market that the cost to transport it kills the market. There are some cases overseas in which quarry materials are shipped to market and, who knows, one day that may well be the case for the likes of our bigger cities.
In most cases, the quarry is located as near as possible to the end user, so our materials can be used for road making, concrete, construction, housing, etc.
Our industry tries to find a potential site for a quarry that has a long life, is near the market and can produce a final product that is cost-competitive. As part of our general approvals to operate, we need to get and retain what’s commonly called the “social licence”. No doubt during the life of the quarry we will have suburb creep, where once the quarry “lived” out of town and nowhere near housing but there is a significant development that changes that.
Therefore, what the general public thinks of our industry is very important and how we educate our neighbours is the key. This can include public open days, education to all levels, smart operation techniques and new technologies. There are plenty of good examples and experience of this among members of the IQA.
The IQA can help in a small way and is currently working on a project to produce a simple quarry poster. This poster will show the general layout of a quarry, what we do and why, and it will be available to all to use as an education tool.
I hope to have more news on this poster soon and I look forward to comments from our members about its application and use. I would welcome any other ideas for ways the IQA can assist in producing basic community education tools for our members.
Until next time, stay safe!