Laurie started his mining career in the West Moreton Coalfields of Rosewood and Ipswich in 1975 as a Queensland Coal Owners cadet, working at a range of mines in the area before moving to Blackwater as a deputy at Cook Colliery and then to Leichhardt Colliery as a deputy/shot-firer.
Leichhardt was closed after an underground heating, and Laurie transferred to an opencut mine in 1982. After discovering opencut mining was not for him he joined Central Colliery – initially as a deputy/shot-firer, then shift undermanager, and for the past five years as longwall coordinator.
Laurie harbours a passion for Jaguar cars and while he can’t afford them, he has restored a 1965 3.8s (S-Type) which he thinks will forever be a work in progress.
“People are the most valuable asset any company has - they can be its greatest liability as well,” Laurie said.
“You can have the best gear, in the best conditions, but if your people aren’t interested you’ll fail.
Conversely, here at Central, our gear is well worn, and of recent years our conditions have been difficult to say the least, but we’ve been fortunate that over the years we’ve had good people, and as a group, we’ve worked pretty well together.”
ILN:What is your earliest mining memory?
LP: Mining disaster movies from Hollywood – grossly unrealistic, everyday real life underground is much worse.
ILN: What made you choose mining as a career?
LP: Would you believe it seemed glamorous at the time??
ILN: When was your first underground visit?
LP: On my first day at Oakleigh Colliery (Rosewood outside of Ipswich, Queensland – January 1975). No long-winded inductions in those days, just straight into it.
ILN: What was your favourite job in a coal mine?
LP: Miner on outbye - plenty of variety and a certain amount of autonomy. Also, most of the time I have spent here at Central Colliery as an undermanager on shift.
ILN: What was your least favourite job?
LP: Anything to do with too much paperwork – I much prefer to get involved in the “doing” side of things rather than office work (I certainly don’t like any of dark politics that can sometimes develop).
ILN: Who, or what, has most influenced your mining career?
LP: There are a number of good people who have passed through the books here at Central that have had a positive influence – a few of these people have ended up being rewarded for their efforts and abilities by now being in high positions within the company fold. People and their positive responses to things I’ve tried to do/make happen – feeling good about achieving against the odds, particularly when people you respect notice.
ILN: What do you consider your best mining achievement?
LP: My contribution to the continued success of Central, particularly considering how more difficult everything has become in these later years.
ILN: What do you see as being the greatest mining development during your career?
LP: The continuing advancements in technology - mine atmosphere monitoring and the general development of personal protective equipment in particular. It seemed for a long time early on in my career we were standing still in most areas of underground mining, relying on foreign technologies, but now there’s so much happening.
ILN: Do you hold any mining records?
LP: Personally, I’m just one of the “plebs”. Central’s record is a record in itself. We have lead the way, or at least opened the door, for most of what’s happening in Queensland today.
ILN: Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?
LP: Not really.
ILN: What was your most embarrassing moment in a coal mine?
LP: In having to bolt a pump inlet to the roof to connect it to the collar of a bore-hole, another bloke and I had to strip down to our underwear and wade out in neck deep water with the bolter etc. We managed to bolt up the inlet plate, but in fitting on the clamp and pipework, I dropped one of the nuts. To retrieve the nut from under the water, the other bloke had to keep his foot on my back to hold me under while I fumbled around feeling for the nut in the mud.
The plan was that when I tapped him on the leg he would let me up. In the end, I think the embarrassment was once everyone else found out that he’d had the chance to hold me under but let me up.
ILN: What was your scariest time in a coal mine?
LP: A couple of times working to recover the last of the blocks on our “300’s” side - chocks “iron-bound” with the canopies almost down on the AFC spill-plates, large roof cavities dropping huge roof rock on us from considerable heights, having to shot-fire and “PUR” our way out of trouble.
ILN: What is your worst memory of coal mining?
LP: Having to put-up with, and deal with, arrogant, self-opinionated, intimidatory superiors.
ILN: Do you think that the day of the fully automated remotely operated face is near?
LP: I’m of the opinion that we will always rely on human operators to run our longwalls because of the varying conditions that can occur on any face – nothing can substitute for good operators.
ILN: What major improvements would you like to see on longwall operations?
LP: Protection from dust exposure for the operators would be the first thing to spring to mind. Better heavy equipment handling systems for face maintenance work etc.