Jim Canning

BEGINNING his longwall career in the UK, this week’s longwall larrikin - now Newlands longwall superintendent - says the turning point in his career was at the young age of 22 when he partook in the UK miners' strike of 1984. “Witnessing the atrocities, break up of marriages, loss of properties, crime and in some cases suicide of my workmates, friends and other people in the industry affected by this strike deeply influenced me.”
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Newlands longwall superintendent Jim Canning with his collection of golf trophys.

Angie Tomlinson

Jim Canning first started coal mining in the UK at 16 years of age as an operator. His potential was recognised as a future mining official and with 11 years of concentrated study and exposure to all facets of underground mining activities, he was promoted to an official. He worked at Comrie Colliery and then Longannet complex for a total of 18 years before deciding to migrate to South Africa and take up employment with Anglo Coal at New Denmark colliery.


His longwall experience at New Denmark was employed first as a faceboss (deputy), before he obtained his mine overseer ticket (undermanager) and managed one of the longwall operations. During this spell he obtained his managers ticket and was promoted to a projects manager aligned to the longwall where he was intimately involved in a project to revitalize the longwall equipment and operations at New Denmark colliery.


In March 2004, Jim accepted a position in Australia with Xstrata Coal at Queensland mine Newlands as longwall superintendent. “A country which has always been on my wish list to live and work in and to date has not disappointed me or my family,” he said.


Jim is currently studying for his first class ticket. In his spare time he is a keen golfer.


ILN:What is your earliest mining memory?


JC: I think when I first joined the coal mining industry in Scotland as a 16 year old. Whilst I was doing my underground training, I think I had only been travelling in the cage three or four times, when the winder cut out whilst descending about 30m down a 400m shaft and the cage kept on bouncing up and down until the rope stretch had settled down.


ILN: What made you choose mining as a career?


JC: My mining career started in Scotland in 1978. I left school with a few qualifications and was intent on joining the British army and follow in my father’s footsteps, but ended up joining the National Coal Board like all other school leavers living in the Fife coalfield areas. There were some nine collieries operating in Fife at that time, which provided a livelihood for most families.


Whilst attending mining college when I was doing my underground training, the trainers recognised me as a potential official of the mine, which I pursued and ended with me obtaining my First Class certificate of competency and a Chartered Engineer qualification.


ILN: What was your favourite job in a coal mine?


JC: One of my most favourite jobs in a coal mine was probably when I was in my early twenties, working on an advancing longwall face as a “gate road brusher”. As a team of five young men, we all lived locally and like all groups of young men working, lived and socialised together. The humour, sarcasm and horse play exchanged by all was somewhat entertaining and enjoyable, although our job was very physical and hard, these things compensated this.


ILN: What was your least favourite job?


JC: Probably my least favourite job would certainly have to be belt cleaning. Whilst I was waiting to be longwall trained (you had to be 18 years or older to work on a longwall face in the UK), I had two years of elsewhere below ground duties which involved tasks of the above nature, sometimes spending weeks on these jobs and being a belt conveyor attendant (this was before conveyor automation-remote starting was introduced). These jobs were very monotonous and once your shift started the only other person you would see for the remainder of your shift was the deputy on his inspection rounds. Very lonely indeed.

ILN: Who, or what, has most influenced your mining career?


JC: If there has been any major turning point in my mining career it would certainly have to be the ‘miners strike’ in the UK in 1984. I was a young mining student, studying to become a mine manager. I was a member of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). I was on strike for one complete full year and still continued with my studies. I think witnessing the atrocities, break up of marriages, loss of properties, crime and in some cases suicide of my workmates, friends and other people in the industry affected by this strike. It made me even more determined to succeed with my chosen mining education.

ILN: What do you consider your best mining achievement?


JC: I think it would probably be obtaining my first class ticket and chartered engineer status, which has allowed me to travel the world and practice my trade. However, having a very supportive wife and family has allowed me to be courageous to emigrate to South Africa and now Australia. I think I have been fortunate enough to apply my skills and knowledge gained in mining for 26 years in three different continents. I’m sure not many people around today can boast of this.


ILN: What do you see as being the greatest mining development during your career?


JC: I think in my opinion one of the greatest mining developments today must be the use of and advancement in computer technology to condition monitoring of mining machines and equipment. This alone allows the highly educated mining engineers of today to proactively plan his planned preventative maintenance schemes effectively and prevent catastrophic premature equipment failure and associated costs.


ILN: Do you hold any mining records?


JC: Some milestones have been achieved, not personally but as part of teams which have done the following:


U.K.: I was a deputy in charge of a longwall which cut for the first time in Scotland one mile of coal in a single shift.

Being a part time brigade member of the mines rescue service (Scottish area). Winning the British championship competition three times, all of which was done on English soil, which made us very happy.

Being a captain of the colliery competition safety team and winning the National championships.


SOUTH AFRICA: Being in charge of a low seam longwall operation and mining more than 200,000 tons in one month and for the first time mining more than two million tons in a calendar year.


AUSTRALIA: In the short time that I have been in this country and in charge of a successful longwall operation at Newlands. The longwall team has twice exceeded the weekly production records and also exceeded the monthly production records, which had previously been set in 1999.


ILN: Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?

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