Tahmoor miners have put down their equipment and picked up hammers and paint brushes – all for a good cause.
The workers have been redeployed to help out on community projects around the shire while they wait for Tahmoor Coking Coal mine to be reopened.
The mine has been closed since Wednesday, September 5 after two miners were trapped 160 metres underground for eight hours following the mechanical failure of a lift.
In an unprecedented move, the colliery owner is paying miners to help farmers, community groups and local organisations complete maintenance tasks.
Nearly 100 workers opted to help out rather than take their annual leave.
The miners are sweating it out fixing fences, cutting timber, removing weeds, cleaning up rubbish, painting furniture and fencing, cleaning up playground equipment and more.
The workers were deployed to eight farms, Thirlmere Lakes, Bargo Sports Fields, Thirlmere Rail Museum, His House Church, Stilton Lane properties and water catchment access roads.
Menangle cattle farmer John Redmond said the assistance and work from the miners had been “great”.
“Not only have they helped me repair my fence so I can use the paddock, they have also lifted my spirits,” he said.
“No one has given me a bale of hay or any money during this drought.
“But SIMEC has offered me this help.
“It helps to keep my morale up and to keep going.”
Workers spent four days replacing a “terrible, rusted, broken and unusable fence” with a “shiny new one” among other maintenance tasks.
“I couldn’t use the paddock to keep my cattle in because they would get onto the road,” Mr Redmond said.
“It has been expensive to repair the fence but it will be worth it.”
Mr Redmond said the workers were hard-working, good-spirited, adaptable and had a can-do attitude.
Dapto resident and Tahmoor mine operator Joel Simpson said he liked being out in the fresh air on a farm.
“I have enjoyed working on the fencing project and I like that I can see the end product,” he said.
“Being on the farm has been good because otherwise, as a contractor at the mine, I would not have been working or getting paid.
“It has been great helping someone who needs help.
“Working on the farm has made me appreciate what farmers are going through and how tough it has been for John.”
Mr Simpson said he learnt new skills because he had never built a fence before.
Mr Simpson praised SIMEC for organising and coordinating the community project initiative.
The miners have also been out to help farmers in Oakdale, The Oaks, Razorback and Glenmore.
Adam Turner has been working at Thirlmere Lakes with about 16 other miners for the past four days.
“Working at the lakes has been really good and different,” he said. “We haven’t done anything like this before.
“The guys have had a positive attitude because otherwise they would be sitting at home doing nothing.
“We are happy to be helping out the community.
“We have built stairs, repainted picnic tables and bollards, repaired fencing, filled in pot holes and cleaned up litter.
“National Parks and Wildlife Service workers have given us good feedback on our work.
“We will be back next week to finish off the jobs.”
Mr Turner said this was the only time in his 15 years working at the mine that he had been redeployed to assist with community projects.
“SIMEC are a family and community-orientated company and they look after their employees,” he said.
“They don’t want their employees to miss out on taking home money for their families.”
Hume MP Angus Taylor commended Tahmoor Colliery for keeping workers employed and boosting staff morale during the mine closure.
“I was able to speak to the company on the night the miners were trapped, to check the safety of the men,” he said. “It was apparent the mine would have to close for a period of time to allow the faulty equipment to be repaired.
“I applaud the efforts of SIMEC to keep staff active and employed during this closure.
“There are about 400 staff impacted, including contractors, many of whom are locals.
“It’s a strong signal about the value the company places on their staff and families and the awareness of the impact this has on the Tahmoor community.”