WA’s Argyle Diamond Mine wet mess goes dry

Since FIFO mining established itself in Western Australia in the late 1970s, the wet mess has been a regular feature within on-site camps. Photo: Nic WalkerHigh times in the mining industry that once saw fly-in, fly-out workers being offered attractive incentives are changing.
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In a move that may have made Rio Tinto less desirable to workers in the past, the global mining company has decided to make its Argyle Diamond Mine site camp alcohol-free, by shutting down its wet mess.

While the mining heavyweight would not go into the reasons for the change, industry insiders say it is clear that as demand for workers to the mining and resources sector reduces, so too does the need to win over employees with generous work conditions.

Argyle Diamonds managing director Shane Johnson confirmed to Fairfax Media that “Argyle Diamond Mine has announced its intention to transition to an alcohol-free site.”

“Argyle has moved into a new era of complex underground mining and transitioning to a dry camp is an important part of its future operating model.”

Mr Johnson would not provide specific details about when change occurred or whether the facility remained open without alcohol.

Resource analyst Peter Strachan described facilities at mining camps as the “icing on the cake”.

He said there was “no doubt there was a dash to get skills and people on a while back and the unions were in a very strong position to demand all sorts of benefits for FIFO workers in terms of accommodation and schedules”.

“The spending phase, when the focus was not on costs is over and companies are now paring back costs to ensure they can produce the returns they’d hoped for,” Mr Strachan said.

Since FIFO mining established itself in Western Australia in the late 1970s, the bar or on-site tavern – the wet mess – has been a regular feature within the camps where workers reside.

Mr Strachan said throughout the years an increased focus from human resources and occupational health and safety saw regulations applied to wet messes in an attempt to ensure workers did not drink to excess and were fit to work.

He said wet messes became a safety issue in the 1980s and 1990s and there was a move to restrict people to a “two-can” limit.

“The unions have brought this on in some ways… because the safety culture has become, in some ways, a sort of religion.

“It may be that the wet mess falls to the gods of safety.

“You don’t want drugs and alcohol coming into play when people are operating sophisticated machinery.”

CFMEU WA mining sector spokesman Gary Wood said employees were “basically desperate for employment with all the retrenchments going on” and the removal of a wet mess was “taking advantage of the current conditions”.

He said he did not support the removal of wet messes from camps, especially where workers were there for more than a week at a time because they were an integral part of creating a comfortable social environment and providing workers with a way to “wind down”.

According to 31-year-old FIFO truck driver ‘Simon’ who works at a mine in the Pilbara said that the removal of a wet mess would upset some but most would be reluctant to leave a job over it.

“The way that the industry is going, everyone is aware jobs are scarce, a few years ago people would change jobs if they didn’t have the right flavour of ice-cream but it’s not like that anymore,” he said.

In the past, Simon would often go for a drink when he worked longer rosters which included a 24-hour shift change break

“It was like your weekend,” he said.

Simon said workers are breath-tested every morning to ensure they did not still have alcohol in their system, so most did not drink to the point where it affected work.

“I know guys who go and have four or five drinks a night and wake up OK for work at 4am,” he said.

For some, especially older mine workers, the wet mess was a social hub where they spent most evenings.

Simon said that he hoped mines that chose to go dry, like Argyle, would keep the recreational facilities such as dart boards and pool tables, so that hub still remained.

Having worked for Rio Tinto in the past, he said it was not unusual for the company to roll out the same policies across all camps, and believes other wet messes at other Rio camps could also be on the chopping block.  Follow WAtoday on Twitter

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Hiker saved at Bluff Knoll after weather, terrain hamper rescue

An officer who chose to rough it overnight with a hiker who had become lost at Bluff Knoll, near Albany, has been praised.
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Although the hiker was located on Saturday, wild weather kept a police helicopter grounded at Albany Airport after it had earlier dropped off an officer to help the lost man.

The 18-year-old Leederville man had become disorientated and had no food or water.

State Emergency Services volunteers attempted to reach the pair on Sunday morning and while they were able to hear the pair, rough terrain meant the SES volunteers were unable to reach the two men.

The police helicopter was given clearance to pick up the men on Sunday evening.

Police first winched the officer up, before dropping another member of the crew down to prepare the hiker for rescue. Both men were finally picked up about 8pm on Sunday night.

The hiker was taken to Albany Regional Hospital by ambulance as a precaution.

Inspector Jenny O’Connell described the rescue as very difficult and praised the efforts of the officer who chose to spend the night on the ground with the young man, who remains in Albany Regional Hospital.

“I am very pleased to say that both are doing very well,” she said.

“They were certainly affected by the elements and conditions they were in overnight, but both are doing very well.

“He [the officer] was prepared for the drop, with warm clothing, an EPIRB, some flares and some other essential items but we certainly weren’t expecting at that stage to be leaving them, as we were still trying to effect the rescue then.

“He was more than happy to spend the night up there with the young man…he has been very brave and done a tremendous job.”

She said Sunday night’s successful rescue was a matter of necessity.

“Certainly as far as we were concerned it wasn’t an option to leave them there another night,” she said.

“We were very lucky at the time the clouds cleared and the winds eased off, and we were able to get in there and it worked.”

– with the Great Southern WeekenderFollow WAtoday on Twitter

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No need for umbrellas as Sydney’s sunny days roll on

The only umbrellas needed for now. Photo: Darren Pateman Salute to the morning sun. Photo: Janie Barrett
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Sydney’s long spell of crisp mornings, mild days and a lack of rain is set to run another week with the city now in the midst of its driest run since September.

The Bureau of Meteorology predicts largely sunny days out to Monday with most days sporting only a 10 per cent or lower chance of rain.

Although umbrellas will be of little use for a while, a decent coat will be handy for Wednesday through Friday as the next cold front brings another bout of stiff winds.

“We’ve had this constant trend of cold fronts moving across the state but really all the moisture and rainfall have remained on or west of the ranges,” said Josh Fisher, a meteorologist with Weatherzone. “Sydney has been consistently missing out with those dry westerly winds.”

That next cold front will bring fresh snow falls to alpine regions with ski resorts likely to enjoy another 10-20 centimetres of the white stuff – good timing with school holidays still on.

Overnight temperatures in Sydney will drop to as low as 6 degrees overnight Monday, below the July average of 8 degrees.

A lack of cloud, though, will see maximum temperatures of 18-20 degrees for most days over the next week, extending the run of tops a couple of degrees or more above normal.

Dry spells

The run of three weeks without rain is not uncommon at this time of year, with July the most likely month for 20-day or longer runs without a drop, according to Acacia Pepler, a climatologist at the bureau.

Of the 51 such periods since 1859, about one in five have occurred in July, Ms Pepler said.

Sydney’s most recent lengthy period without rain was the 32 days to 13 September 2013, a period that helped set up the early fire season that ignited the following month.

The city is already off to a dry start to the year, with 391.2 millimetres falling at Observatory Hill during the first six months, or just over half the long-run average.

Those six months were the driest for the first half since 2004, and the eighth-driest on record, Ms Pepler said.

Sydney’s main reservoir is now about 84 per cent full, down on near full-capacity levels a year earlier after heavy rains.


The arrival of south-easterly winds next Monday or Tuesday may bring coastal showers, including for Sydney, Weatherzone’s Mr Fisher said.

The middle of July and later may see more chances of showers “but it doesn’t look like anything particularly heavy”, he said.

Weatherzone is owned by Fairfax Media, publisher of this website.

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Canberra limps through coldest morning of the year

Canberra has limped through the coldest morning of the year with temperatures dropping to a low  of -3.9 degrees around 5.40am.
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Weatherzone meteorologist Max Gonzalez said July was shaping up to be a colder-than-average month with an overnight average of -1 degree and a daytime average of 11 degrees, which is 0.5c colder than the July average.

“Temperatures have dropped below freezing in Canberra every morning this month with the exception of Thursday and Sunday morning,” he said.

Mr Gonzalez said Monday morning felt so chilly was because it was more than 8 degrees colder than the Sunday low of 4.4 degrees – an exceptionally warm morning for July.

“It was a little windy with gusts up to 10 or 11km/h [on Monday] which were enough to make it feel pretty chilly,” he said.

Mr Gonzalez said the next few starts would not be as cold as Monday morning although temperatures were tipped to drop below freezing with a 40 per cent chance of fog.

He said frosts were a near certainty on Tuesday morning.

The bad news for those feeling the cold is there’s another cold front due to a pass over Canberra on Wednesday evening and Thursday.

“Rain should develop late on Wednesday in Canberra but don’t expect too much, probably between 2-8mm falling before Thursday night,” he said.

The cold front should bring another 20-40cm of snow to Thredbo and Perisher on Wednesday night with windy and cloudy conditions.

Perisher spokesman Richard Phillips said the resort was preparing for a “reasonably big snow storm” that could result in 1.7m of snow cover for weekend skiers.

“It’s a really good cover at the moment and 100 per cent of the mountain and lifts are open with good quality dry snow,” he said.

Mr Phillips said there was 1.3m of snow at the resort on Monday morning which was more they’ve had at this time of the season for many years.

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Juniors treated to some Swift advice

GUEST APPEARANCE: NSW Swifts player April Letton autographs a bear for WRAS netballer Jess Matthews during the three-day Netball Rookie Camp, held at the CSU Gymnasium. Photo: CHRIS SEABROOK 070614capril1a
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BATHURST and Central West junior players were treated to a visit from NSW Swifts player April Letton on Sunday for the final day their three-day Netball Rookie Camp at CSU.

The Swifts’ goal defence was on hand to offer support and advice to the girls as they worked on areas from skill development to physical testing.

The three days’ work culminated in a tournament and presentation on Sunday afternoon.

Letton said she had enjoyed the day in Bathurst and was happy to witness the high turnout for the camp.

“I’ve come here to have a look and give some feedback to the girls and that’s what it’s all about. It’s really great to see the programs they’ve got going for the girls because these guys are the future.

“They did some specials work this morning, so things like defence, midcourt and shooting. That was really interesting to see that pan out. They’ve been doing some fitness testing as well yesterday [Saturday] and Friday as well.”

The camp was also used as an opportunity to help teach coaches how to mentor players and bring out the best in their teams.

On top of that, the camp was an opportunity for the Western Region Academy of Sport to make scholarship recommendations for their netball program, beginning in September.

That allowed both new and experienced players the chance to take something away from the weekend.

“I think it’s really important for these girls to get as much feedback as they can at a young age as they keep going through,” Letton said.

“I’ve enjoyed coming out today. It’s my first time in Bathurst, and it’s great to see what’s happening out here.

“It’s good to be giving back. We were all here at one stage or another at a young age. Hopefully they will want to be playing for the Swifts too, they can believe it’s possible.”

Letton has now spent three ANZ Championship seasons at the Swifts, and is hoping her team can go a few steps better in the next competition.

“We had a new coach this year, Rob Wright, and he was great. He brought a different kind of spin on the aspect of coaching and that’s helped us see things differently as a team and grow our game,” she said.

“We came in fourth, a big improvement to last year. We had such a good team culture going on. All the girls are good friends off the court. It’s a rare feeling within the team and you can’t describe it.”

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