Georgia Wilson has been surrounded by mining influences throughout her life, growing up in a family that was intimately involved in the industry. Her early professional involvement as part of the CSA Mine safety team sensitised her to the need to know more about safety issues at the rock face. She applied for an underground job and has since risen through the underground ranks, fulfilling a variety of grubby and very hard physical jobs and controlling heavy equipment. Today, Georgia is a shotfirer in Western Australia, where she has responsibility for laying blasting charges, blasting, and clearing the blasted area afterwards. This role requires absolute and consistent commitment to the very highest standards of safety and ethics. Despite some incredibly difficult challenges during her underground time, she has been resolute in her vision and her passion for her job shines through. Georgia has a degree in Human Resource Management from Charles Sturt University, New South Wales. Georgia is currently transitioning into a Safety role with Barminco.
You originally trained in Human Resource management. Please tell us how you ended up working in the mining industry?
Mining has been in my family before I was born. My pop had Wilson Drilling and my parents also started their own drilling company when I was only a baby. Once I started my studies in Human Resource Management, I knew I wanted to venture back home to Cobar [New South Wales, Australia]. I was lucky enough to get a job in the Safety team at CSA Mine. I found my passion in safety while being in this position and completed my Certificate IV in Work Health and Safety. I did a few years in the safety team and felt like I needed to connect to the underground employees and underground operations more to be a better safety professional.
From here, the mining superintendent gave me a transfer underground as a truck operator. From there, I started my underground mining career. Since starting my career underground, I have worked as a Truck operator, nipper [an entry-level general dogsbody-type role, also known as a gopher] , magazine and store keeper, service crew, charge up, and some drill time as a trainee. I have since completed my Certificate IV in Human Resource Management, Certificate IV in Leadership and Management, Blasting explosives user licence, Certificate 3 in Pathology Collection, Certificate IV Training and Assessing, and training in application of risk management processes and lead incident investigation.
Have you had mentors and sponsors that helped you along the way?
Absolutely! I was trained by experienced mining professionals/Jumbo operators [the operators who handle the rock drilling machines] who had been in mining since before I was born! Not only did they teach me various skills but they mentored me through most of my underground time.
With my current position, I have a great mentor who is an operational manager for the Western Australian division. He recruited me and has given me great opportunities. He has helped me adapt to the Western Australian mining standards, given me great advice and motivation.
Please describe a typical day in the life of a shotfirer.
Based on my roles as a Shotfirer with Glencore (CSA Mine), a typical day is as follows:
- Arrive at work and head to the foreman’s office to get the shotfirers key
- Attend the 5:45 am pre-start meeting and discuss the shifts targets
- Grab a gas monitor and speak to my cross shift after they conduct their blast about their shift/anything I need to know about
- Head underground and start the re-entry process [entering into an area after a blast has had time to settle]. Ensure I follow all re-entry processes, such as monitoring for blast fumes, water the headings [where the previous blast has taken place] down sufficiently, being aware of misfires [which means that there may still be live explosives in the area], inspecting blast areas for services/ventilation damage
- Once re-entries are complete, I then need to get the charge rig refilled with emulsion [the blasting compound, typically a slurry of ammonium nitrate] for the next round of blasting
- Go and see Jumbo operators [rock drill operators] and speak about the oncoming faces that will need to be charged
- Once I have the charge requisition form, I then would head up to the magazine and get the explosives from the magazine keeper
- I then would transport explosives down the decline, ensuring I have my blue flashing light on and communicating with all traffic users by calling my levels
- Once I reach my destination, I then charge the face, ensuring I follow charge procedures, which include signage and correct charging technique
- Once a face is charged, I move on to the next and take the same steps
- At the end of shift, I hook all the headings up with the detonators and ensure all signage is in place
- I then wait until everyone is on surface and tagged off. I then get permission from the shift boss to fire
- Once I fire my headings, I head to surface via the underground cage, which I was lucky enough to operate.
What is your experience of being a woman working in the mining sector, particularly in the remote and rural area in which you work? Do you feel you have had to adapt to ‘fit’ the industry? What has been your most significant challenge?
I cannot speak for everyone, but I have faced issues in the mining industry being a female. There are gender-based issues in the mining industry present today, such as levels of respect, career development disadvantages, among many more. I have felt like I have had to “fit in”, but have also felt like whatever I do, nothing is right. This also comes from being sexualised, which results in feeling like nobody takes you seriously.
Most difficult challenge: When I was first appointed the “shotfirer” of my crew, I felt like everyone and everything was against me. I received comments like:
She won’t last swing [night shift]
Women cannot work in the heat as their bodies heap up quicker
She only charges the bottom of the face (which can be interpreted as the easiest part)
Even though I was charging in extreme heat and persisted in not dropping any cuts [ getting all faces charged], I felt like I wasn’t respected as the shotfirer and I could never do enough, even if I was exceeding development targets. On top of that, I have been studying full-time at university for the past few years and part-time at TAFE [Technical and Further Education colleges in Australia], while also having my own struggles in my personal life. There were times when it felt like everything was too much, but I’m glad I kept going as I wouldn’t be in the position I am today.
This was the most challenging time in my career as of yet. However, I had some really great role models and senior friends on the crew who supported me.
The Australian (and global) mining community has recently been shocked by a damning report concerning the experience of women working in this industry. Australia is usually regarded as a “progressive” country in terms of gender equality and workplace diversity and inclusion. Please can you comment on this. Do you think that now that the industry is recognising and talking about the “elephant in the room”, the situation will improve?
Yes, I absolutely think things are changing. I think there are a lot of senior operators across Australia who have been mining for decades and who were around during the times that women were not in mining or even allowed to be in mining. I am taking a social class at university this semester that explores gender-based inequality in Australia and was very shocked by the findings. I read that during the 19th – 20th century, there was a literal “housewife manual” that instructed women how to be the perfect housewife in terms of household duties. I cannot imagine living in a time where I was limited to the kitchen. I cannot cook very well so I would be no good! Before the 1970s, all territorial and state jurisdictions barred women from working underground in any mine and organisations faced heavy fines if they broke these rules. However, in the industry today there are females in operator roles, manager roles, and many who are engineers, geologists, etc. There is still a bit of a barrier in terms of women being limited to admin and lower operator roles. Most well- established companies, however, are breaking that barrier and ensuring women get the opportunity to move their way up. I think that’s why it’s so important for the training department of any company to be strict on their training pathways. This means employees wait their turn and when one person moves up, everyone steps up in a sense, regardless of their gender. Of course, there will be females that don’t like to get dirty or cannot do certain physical jobs, but I have seen males struggle as well. Everyone deserve the opportunity regardless of their gender.
How do you think inclusion and diversity can be improved in the mining environment?
Inclusion and diversity is such a crucial thing in any workplace and needs to be taken seriously. If it is not taken seriously, I believe it is a major leader in mental health issues and bullying/harassment cases.
A few things I believe can help:
Education for crews and management
Crews need to be educated and reminded a bout company policies relating to inclusion and diversity. This can be done in a non-formal way, such as mental health talks and sharing real life cases.
I think management need to constantly push an inclusive culture. One thing I was told by a shift boss that has stuck with me was: “Georgia, when you become a boss one day, you need to remember one thing: When someone comes to you with an issue you need to give them your full attention because, in that moment, the thing they are going to talk to you about is most probably the most important thing going on in their life”. That really stuck with me as I can relate to spending a few days going over what I was going to say in my head, finally building up the courage to speak to the supervisors or whoever.
Ensuring a positive work culture
A positive workplace culture improves teamwork, raises the morale, increases productivity and efficiency, and enhances retention of the workplace. And most importantly, a positive workplace environment reduces stress in employees. Companies need to ensure they have a positive culture as they want to feel confident that they can employ anyone, regardless of gender and background, and they will be accepted by their current employees.
Promote both genders
Boost crew morale by celebrating both genders – men’s mental health awareness, breast cancer awareness, etc. I think getting crews involved in issues the other genders may face can positively contribute to the crew coming together and being inclusive.
Organisations having a strict policy on diversity and inequality
There is a large stigma of “boy talk” underground. That’s normal in any industry, but it’s shocking to hear what some people have had to say about females underground. I myself have been on a list on a toilet wall, among other female colleagues, that gave people the opportunity to make very inappropriate comments. With family and a partner that work at the same mine, this was not only damaging on my own relationship but also affected family members. This sort of behaviour is what needs to be quickly stopped in the industry. Companies need to have a strict stance on this kind of issue which, I believe, will very soon get the message across to other employees.
What are you most proud of having achieved in your career so far? What has been your most rewarding professional experience or project?
My biggest achievement is being a finalist in the New South Wales Women in Mining awards in 2022. That was such an amazing feeling!
My biggest project achievements would have to be the development of the CSA Surface and Underground online inductions and facilitation of the 2018 CSA Mine Open Day. I have also done a few things in the community that have been rewarding such as Winter Vinnies drive (where we collect winter clothes and donate them to the St Vincent’s charity, Christmas Hamper drive (where we collected food for the elderly home), and High School Careers Day.
Another sense of achievement has been the friendships I have made over the years. I have made amazing friendships of all different ages and job role descriptions: from truck operators to senior management members. Also, all of the certificates I have achieved and my university degree!
What are you passionate about in your work and find most rewarding?
I’m passionate about developing new safety systems. Whether that is safety reports, online systems, different ways to do things, etc. With Human Resources, I am really passionate about corporate social responsibility and overall events for companies. Coming from a rural community, I am really passionate about giving back to the community, big or small. I also enjoy organising social events or fundraisers that gets everyone involved. I think it’s a great morale booster!
Please describe your personal and professional attributes that you consider have been most influential in your success.I think my biggest personal and professional attributes would be
- having the hands-on experience
- I am eager to learn and easy to approach
- From working my way up, I have learnt to have the respect of not only other employees but managers and senior operators.
What is your next or ultimate career goal? What would you love to do one day?
My career goal would to be a Human Resource manager and Safety manager in one. I have a strong passion for safety. I also love the idea of promoting corporate social responsibility.
What would I love to do one day? I would love to start my own mining recruitment business that employs entry-level employees or those who have struggled to get their foot in the door in mining. I would also love to use my Training and Assessing qualification to upskill indigenous and remote communities.
I have also recently started a little apparel business called “Chicks in Mining” to help further promote women in mining in Australia. The store will supply all things mining for women who are starting out in the industry, from cap lamps, crib bags, T-shirts, etc.
What is the biggest ‘mistake’ that, looking back, you’re really glad that you made?
My biggest mistake would be letting people make me think I didn’t deserve to be where I am. I have worked in environments where both males and females would tear each other down. I have had people telling me horrible things that people have said about me. There have been numerous times I have called my mum upset, as I let these comments and people get to me. Luckily, my mum knows exactly what to say to me so I can gather my thoughts and keep going. There have been times where I have wanted to give up my career completely due to things people have said to my face or behind my back. However, these things have only made me strong, tougher, and even more determined to keep rising and chasing my dreams.
Do you have any advice to young women starting out in their studies or careers in this field? What do you wish you’d known when you were starting?
Always show kindness to everyone. You never know who your boss may be in 10 years! Plus you never know what somebody is going through in their personal life.
For young women starting in their career, be patient and don’t be afraid to educate yourself. An individual with hands-on experience in mining operations is invaluable! Have conversations with the seniors in your workplace, as they are generally the employees who have in-depth knowledge and some handy tricks and tips! Don’t be afraid to speak up if you think something isn’t right in terms of safety. Things can turn so quickly in such hazardous environments. Always put your hand up to educate someone else who is starting off or wanting to know something. What’s the point of knowledge if you aren’t willing to share it! Just because you are female, that doesn’t limit you to jobs above ground: You can be whatever you want to be if you put your mind to it.
Something I wish I knew when I was starting? Keep on pushing through the tough times. You will get to exactly where you need to be.
Have you any hobbies, pastimes, or secret talents that you would like to tell us about?
I am a nerd. I love to study and find such satisfaction in finishing a course. I love event planning. I am always organising family functions! I am a huge animal lover, I cannot even squish a fly! In the workplace, I am not afraid to speak up, but in my social life I am very quiet.