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Mining Camps And Their Effect On Local Communities

With many areas in Australia effectively in the midst of a mining boom, there has been much emphasis placed on miming camps and their effects on local communities. Mining camps have been established in certain areas due to the lack of accommodation and infrastructure in towns who would usually only have a few hundred or few thousand living there. Many of these communities have benefited from the emergence of these camps, however there is growing sentiment against these camps by local groups. This article will look at the history of mining camps in Australia, how they work, their possible benefits and impacts on communities and how these concerns can be allayed.

History

It could be argued that the first mining camps in Australia were set up during the gold rush in Victoria in the 1800's. These were in the form of makeshift tents, sleeping bags or sometimes whatever could be found lying around. However the modern mining camp format that is seen today started to appear in the mid 1970's, mainly in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Mining camps started to become commonplace in mining towns as the years went on, and these were constructed due to the mining towns, which often only have populations of a few hundred people, being unable to cope with the demand for accommodation which can sometimes be several thousand people. Today Queensland and Western Australia are the two biggest users of these camps in Australia, with South Australia and the Northern Territory also being a popular location.

How They Work

As mentioned above, mining camps are built in order to cater for employees who work in the mining industry. They are often located in or just outside of small towns who cannot sustain large numbers of people. The camps come in various sizes, and can range from as few as 40-50 people and as much as a couple of thousand. Most camps are comprised of single level sleeping quarters, along with other amenities, although some of the larger camps can have two or three story high living quarters.

Rooms

The rooms in these mining camps are designed to accommodate for one person ,and are typically five metres by five metres, however this can vary from camp to camp. There are five rooms in each individual building which is set slightly off the ground to enable airflow underneath. Each building will have a lockable front door and sometimes a screen door, along with two windows in the room. The rooms will contain a bed, single or king single, all linen and pillows. There will also be air conditioning, a desk, a chair, a small refrigerator, bedside lamp, bedside table and television. Most modern camps have ensuites in the rooms, which include a toilet, basin, mirrored cabinet and shower.

Dining Areas

Each camp will have a dining room, or 'mess'. This will comprise of a kitchen area and tables and chairs for the diners. The dining areas in most camps will be open for breakfast and dinner, where there are a variety of hot and cold foods supplied in a buffet style. There will also be water, milk, drinks and tea and coffee making facilities. Adjoining the dining area there will be an area, or what is usually referred to as the 'crib' room which is used to prepare lunches for the workers. In this room there will be different types of meats, salads, fruit, biscuits and bread. The workers will use these facilities in order to prepare lunch for the day, as the dining area is closed in the daytime hours.

Amenities

Each camp will have several laundries in which workers staying there can wash their clothes. Each laundry room will have between six and ten washing machines and dryers. Generally he workers will have to provide their own washing powder, however some camps do provide this. The camp has dedicated cleaners employed, and the rooms will be cleaned and linen changed once a week. In some camps there will be makeshift shops, where essential items are sold such as toiletries, basic medication, laundry powder and snacks. There are also swimming pools and gymnasiums in some of the larger camps, along with personal trainers and fitness professionals.

Alcohol

The alcohol policies vary from camp to camp. You are free to bring your own alcohol to most camps and keep it in your room to consume after work in most locations, however there are also camps where alcohol is completely banned, and others where they have a bar in which single alcoholic drinks are sold during set hours.

Transport

Depending on the company for which the individual works for, transport options can differ. Many mines will supply buses to take the workers to and from the mine, whilst contractors and smaller companies will use their own vehicles which they park at the camp.

Fly In, Fly Out

Due to the areas in which mines are located in Australia, there are not enough workers living in the nearby towns. This has led to the mining companies flying in workers from the larger regional centres in order to work and then home again. Shifts can vary from one week on and one week off, to many other variants, such as two weeks on and two weeks off or a mixture of these. Many communities in the mining towns are against the use of fly in/fly out worker and would prefer that better infrastructure is built in the towns to help the population grow and build stable family environments.

Benefits And Impacts

The mining industry in Australia has assisted the nation during tough economic times. It is responsible for approximately 10 percent of the gross domestic product, and employs almost 300,000 people directly and many more indirectly 1). Mining camps are set up to be able to cope with the influx of many people and provide the best possible facilities. Without these facilities many workers simply will not come to these remote locations, and the industry as a whole will suffer. Australia already lacks the required amount of skilled workers needed to fill these jobs, so the loss of current workers will compound the problem. The influx of many people to small mining towns as also helped local businesses thrive due to the increase in customers and cash flow to towns which may have dwindled and died without the appearance of these mining companies. There have also been significant improvements to infrastructure in these towns, with the building of medical facilities, shopping centres, roads and sports venues, with many of these projects being funded or co funded by mining companies 2).

The advent of these mining camps has not come without their problems. Communities in the mining towns have complained about the demographic changes and the workers bringing a culture of alcohol fuelled violence. Nursing unions have recently shown concern over the high number of injuries and other alcohol related problems in mining towns, saying that health care workers are under pressure and cannot meet the demands of these high numbers. It says that there is also a problem with other substance abuse, including legal and illegal drugs, along with psychological problems brought about by heavy gambling. The problem is also compounded by the lack of affordable housing for doctors and nurses, which deter many from moving to these towns 3).

There are also concerns about businesses raising their prices due to the mining employees having high levels of disposable income, putting many goods and services out of reach of non mining worker locals. The communities are also concerned with the long term impacts of the infrastructure that has been built in these towns. There are fears that once the mining companies have left the region, there will be many buildings and centres that will be left empty and abandoned with no money or resources to look after these buildings 4). Housing affordability has also been impacted, with mining companies renting houses within the mining towns when rooms at mining camps are unavailable. This has in turn created big competition for rental homes, with locals being unable to afford to rent a home. Some mining companies also bought houses in the towns, and competition for these also drove housing prices upwards. This resulted in all house values rising, thus increasing council and local government rates to astronomical levels, again putting locals at a disadvantage 5).

Solutions For The Future

Whilst there are positives and negatives to mining camps, governments, communities and mining companies need to make a serious effort in order to alleviate some of these concerns. One of these solutions is what we have seen happen in the Bowen Basin in Queensland, which is the advent of affordable housing projects which have been initiated by the state government. This housing is built to cater for local and non-mining workers so that there is an affordable alternative and also implementing the NRAS (National Rental Affordability Scheme) which assists lower income families by subsiding rent or finding suitable alternatives 6).

The largest mining company in the country, BMA (BHP Mitsubishi Alliance) has come up with a policy framework in which they will acquire land and build their own housing in order to alleviate the pressure on the local house value market 7). The two combined strategies should see both a reduction in demand for the future, along with he reduction of financial pressure on local residents.

Some mining companies have also tried to tackle this problem by providing incentives for people to move to the mining towns permanently, and have change their shift rosters to 'lifestyle' rosters, which are four days on/four days off or similar. This means that workers can spend more time with their families and aren't away from home for a long period of time. The alcohol related violence issue however is not as easily solved. Mining communities,mining companies, alcohol vendors and police have joined forces in an effort to stamp out the violence by creating education programs for employees and locals, and also trying to implement the Step Back and Think program, which is an organisation dedicated to eradicating alcohol related violence 8). They have also put into place strategies such as being banned from all venues if banned by one, along with work disciplinary repercussions if workers have been involved in alcohol related violence.

Conclusion

Mining camps in Australian mining towns are unfortunately a necessary evil. There is no way in which these towns can cope with such an influx of workers without the aid of such camps. The local and national economies derive enormous benefit from the mining industry and in order for this to continue solutions to the negative impacts must be found. The various strategies that have been put in place to solve demographic issues, affordable housing and alcohol related violence are all a step in the right direction, but are not guaranteed strategies. Local communities, governments and mining companies must all work in cooperation so that there are positive outcomes for each of these groups, not just positive outcomes for one at the expense of another.

Some mines may be around for a short period of time, and others longer. The affected partied should try and find some balance and for example not go on a house and shopping centre building spree that will only leave them abandoned in the future. This is why mining camps are a good solution, as they are transportable buildings and can simply be picked up and moved elsewhere when no longer needed. This will of course still impact local businesses, however these businesses should invest the extra revenue that they are generating by investing in long term strategies that will keep them viable when the mines eventually shut down.

Australia | Work

1) Australia Bureau of Statistics, 2013, 'Mining Industry Economic Contribution', Available: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/1301.0~2012~Main%20Features~Mining%20Industry~150
2) Petkova, K, Lockie, S, Rolfe, J & Ivanova, G, 2009, 'Mining Developments and Social Impacts on Communities: Bowen Basin Case Studies, Available: http://www.bowenbasin.cqu.edu.au/Petkova%20et%20al.%20Rural%20Society%2009.pdf
4) Queensland University of Technology, 2011, 'Social Impact of Mining Survey: Aggregate Results for Queensland Communities', Available: http://eprints.qut.edu.au/42056/1/42056.pdf
5) Couriermail.com.au, 2011, 'Rental Prices in Queensland Mining Towns Skyrocket', Available: http://www.couriermail.com.au/lifestyle/mining-towns-rent-bonanza/story-e6frequ6-1226143039455
6) Queensland Government, 2013, 'National Rental Affordability Scheme', Available: http://www.qld.gov.au/housing/renting/nras/
7) BMA, 2013, 'Impacts and Mitigation Strategies', Available: http://www.bhpbilliton.com/home/aboutus/regulatory/Documents/crseisAppendixM2.pdf
8) Stepbackthink.org, 2014, 'Step Back and Think', Available: http://www.stepbackthink.org/

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