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Outback Queensland miner says 'we're getting softer', as he recalls 1960s in Mt Isa heat

By Kelly Butterworth, Sunday December 6, 2020 - 11:54 EDT
Audience submitted image
Miners in Mt Isa in the 1960s faced searing temperatures underground, and even worse when it rained. - Audience submitted

In outback Queensland air-conditioners run almost constantly in summer, with temperatures sitting above 40 degrees for days on end this week.

But before air-conditioners, Mount Isa, in the state's north-west, was still a strong mining town and for those working, the lack of modern air-conditioning meant other technology was utilised, included machinery and underground ventilation systems now used to keep temperatures down.

When Alan Rackham moved to Mount Isa in the 60s he was living in a caravan with his wife with no air-conditioning.

He said during summer it was a lot like living in an oven.

"We're getting softer, we're definitely getting softer," he said.

Working in mining, Mr Rackham said during summer the staff would hope for "hot jobs".

"It was extremely hot, especially in the summer when it rained," he said.

"People haven't got the picture that raining doesn't cool it down underground, it heats it up ? we regularly used to get what was called a hot job ? if it was over a certain temperature they'd send you home.

"But that was always a battle to get a hot job. I can remember one time we had 14 hot jobs in a row, and by then I was like a very old man ? and I was only 30. I was very exhausted and very weak."

Mr Rackham, 67, said he did everything from being a handheld miner to working in production drilling and the shafts at the mine and said he was very happy to have retired from the job.

"We were much younger then, I wouldn't probably survive doing it nowadays," he said.

Showers to sleep

After 53 years of mining in Mount Isa, Ian Brown retired in 2008.

Mr Brown said very little about mining in the 50s and 60s could be compared to mining now.

"With the modern machines that are down there it's just button-pressing. The only part of the mine that's the same as what we did is you have to go down in the cage and walk to where your machine is," he laughed.

"Before we used to have to carry [our tools] and do it by hand."

Mr Brown arrived in Mount Isa in 1956 and lived in the mining barracks, and said the hardest part of summer was trying to sleep after night shift.

"When I first started I was in the barracks and they were just concrete rooms, and all we had was a fan," he said.

"You'd have a shower and then lay on the bed, and when it got too hot you'd go and have another shower and do that again ? especially during the day.

"There were plenty of larrikins in the barracks that would play tricks on you ? if you were trying to sleep they'd put the hose through the window and turn it on.

"Problem was your mattress got all wet and you'd end up paying for another mattress."

Mr Brown said he believed temperatures were much higher now than when he was working in the mine.

"The temperatures are well up on what it was then, going back I think 35 or 36 degrees (Celsius) would have been the tops in the 60s and 70s, but since then it's gradually increased to what it is today," he said.

"People aren't any softer, I don't think, it's just that the modern way of living, with the vehicles and the stuff that we're provided, like air-conditioning, it's sensible to stay inside and be cool rather than go outside and big-note yourself."


© ABC 2020

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