Robert Irvine aka �Chicken�

ROBERT Irvine’s (aka chicken) current job title was best described by his peers as “Newstan Colliery deputy, team leader, leader of men and trouble maker”.
Robert Irvine aka “Chicken” Robert Irvine aka “Chicken” Robert Irvine aka “Chicken” Robert Irvine aka “Chicken” Robert Irvine aka “Chicken”

Robert Irvine at Newstan colliery.

Angie Tomlinson

Robert’s involvement in underground coal mining dates back to 1966 where he started as a 16 year old Loco room junior at Burwood colliery in New South Wales. After working as a shunter and miner driver at Burwood, he moved onto West Wallsend #2 and Newstan as a miner driver and deputy. Out of work Robert gets his hands dirty as a Rugby League referee and coach and has the odd foray into fishing.

ILN:What is your earliest mining memory?

RI: In the mid to late 1950's some of us local kids used to hide in the bush on a Saturday afternoon at the old Belmont No. 2 Colliery at Green Point and we would wait for the caretaker to join a lot of our fathers at the local pub. It was a hand mining colliery and they used to have the 1 tonne skips set up in a shunt near the entrance to a short drift to the coal seam. We would push the skips one at a time to the drift entrance and take turns in riding in them to the bottom where they crashed and fell over. When we ran out of skips we would then go to the local two up ring behind the pit and roll the log seats down the side of the hill into the gully. We would then hide in the bush and laugh at the antics of our old boys half hit from the pub getting their seats back up the hill and listening to the threats of sore little backsides the next day.

ILN: What made you choose mining as a career?

RI: I left school at 15 and was working for 4 pound 4 shillings a week. When I turned 16 the chance came for me to work in the mines and the pay was 12 pound a week. Mum would not sign my authorisation (permission form) as she knew what the mines were like from my father working in them in the late 40's. So I talked dad into signing it.

ILN: When was your first underground visit?

RI: In about February 1966 ten to eleven on the Sunday night I started. No training or anything - they said “here is your light and hat and follow him to the man riders”. I remember saying to myself as we plunged into the darkness going down the drift to the Victorian Seam "what the hell have I got myself into now and I hope the extra 8 quid is worth it".

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

RI: While working as a fed, driving a continuous miner. When as a Deputy, working the BC our Ventilation Officer and being able to utilise all the experience I have gained over the last 37 years.

ILN: What was your least favourite job?

RI: Remembering not to give a gob full to the Undermanager and then have to clean up the remains of a horse that had fallen out of the cage down the shaft. This taught me not to give Undermanagers a gob full until they gave me a job.

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

RI: An old Undermanager named Bob Watson and his experience in strata control with roof bolting. The innovative and advanced use of this technology was years in front of other people and companies. His principals in application are unforgettable and to this day still assist me greatly.

Appearing before a Court of Coal Mines Inquiry and the repercussions of it.

ILN: What do you consider your best mining achievement?

RI: Being a “black greenie” and working with community groups and mining companies to achieve a win-win scenario for all parties and a greater understanding of the modern day industry.

Proving the first case of subsidence causing strata vibration and working with two local members of State Parliament to get 35 cases reassessed in the Holmesville area near Newcastle by an independent ex Mine Manager, Bruce McKenzie who went on to become the Chief Inspector of Coal Mines in NSW.

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

RI: In the 1960's it was continuous miners. In the 1970's it was shortwall mining. In the 1990's and onwards it was longwall mining and the gradual introduction of miners of all forms of available technology such as fibre optics and computers.

ILN: Do you hold any mining records?


West Wallsend No. 2 in the 1970's.

1st 100 shuttle cars in solids - while working with a crew as a Deputy

1st 100 shuttle cars in pillar extraction - while working with a crew as a C/M driver

Newstan Colliery over the years has been a leader in the mining industry and is still achieving records at a mine site and company level and will continue to do so for many years to come.

ILN: Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?

RI: To see total trust and harmony between communities and coal companies.

To see greater utilisation of coal mining by-products underground such as methane gas and mine water.

ILN: What was your most embarrassing moment in a coal mine?

RI: Having a heated discussion with a Boss on the surface, in my usual colourful language and then realising the office girls were listening. Left with no place to look, no place to hide and a red face. I consequently lost the discussion.

ILN: What was your scariest time in a coal mine?

RI: While inspecting a pump down in the old workings. Everything started to shake and shudder with a large rumbling sound coming towards me. I turned and took off, fell into a big water hole and went through it like a submarine. I ran to the nearest phone about a mile away to inform the day shift Undermanager. He asked what time it occurred and I said 7.20am and he started laughing as he told me the workings were near the main rail line to Sydney and it was the Newcastle to Sydney Flyer passing overhead.

ILN: What is your worst memory of coal mining?

RI: It would have to be every time you hear someone at your mine is killed or seriously injured.

ILN: Do you think that the day of the fully automated remotely operated face is near?

RI: I think it is almost here now but it is only the lack of application by the coal companies who find the easiest way at present is by using labour. Costs associated with it are also a big part as it is just not the face but the multitude of other technologies required for it to be successful.

ILN: What major improvements would you like to see on longwall operations?

RI: A Wish List

Better dust suppression.

R & D of major component failure on large items and the identification of the failure points. Design engineering, smaller, lighter assessable replacement components eg. DA rams, chock legs, ranging arm rams and shearer motors etc.

Better gas management technology in conjunction with longwall operations.

Better designed chocks for walkway access (leg injuries). More operator friendly operation (auto and manual controls) Better hosing technology - increased life span-better accessibility for changing (reduce downtime)

This same question given to: the most experienced chock operator; the most experienced shearer operator; the most experienced fitter; and the most experienced electrician on the faces at all operating longwalls in Australia and then reviewing their comments.

More input from operators in longwall design.