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Published: 28 May 2018
Metropolitan Mine has recently clocked up 130 years in operation – that makes it the oldest coal mine operating in Australia.
Over the years the mineworkers at Metrop have seen some big disputes (including an 11 week strike in 1973 over redundancy pay), have tragically lost comrades on the job, and have hammered out successful agreements in the face of fierce opposition from management.
In our book of oral histories, “At the Coalface”, Thomas McMillan shared some of his memories from working at the mine in the late 1920s.
“Dusty? Oh Christ yes. There was no shot-firing until there was a blow-out in the top upper seam. They didn’t have any shooting or anything in the mine; you had to get it with your pick and shovel.
Once you reached the shaft bottom you walked three or four miles carrying your tools and powder through the coal lmine. When the cabs moved in, you got your cab up, you knew which way y ou were going to go and you went down.
It was very hot. You worked in shorts and nothing else.
You paid for your own shovels and picks and pick handles. You brought them yourself from home and your food.
You still walked to your place. They got the trolleys on after. You walked down those steps and when your shift was in you’d come up in the cage and there was a hell of a difference between catching the first one and the last one.
Then you went home and had your bath. In the summer the water was scarce and I lived in a place where there was five of us and we’d all wash in the same tub of water. There was a race on for who left and got up the stairs first. If you were last, you might as well go out in the mud.”