Story sponsored by GFG Alliance.
Coal mining has been a crucial part of the region's economy for more than 40 years. It has put food on the tables of countless families and provided successive generations with opportunities they wouldn't have otherwise had.
Few know this better than Tahmoor Coal employees Mariah Gavin, 21, and Emily Wilton, 17. Both young women come from families with long, proud histories of coal mining and are trail blazers in their own right.
Mariah has been working at the Tahmoor Mine - alongside her brother Luke and father Jason - for more than five years. She was the first woman to ever work underground at the mine as an electrical apprentice. Today, she is fully qualified and works with Emily, the mine's second female electrical apprentice who also hopes to have a long career in mining.
Both Mariah's dad Jason and Emily's dad Shane - a Deputy at the mine - are incredibly proud of their daughters. They hope the Tahmoor South Coal Project will be extended until 2032.
The company recently submitted an updated proposal, which addressed some community concerns about the project. If approved, it will have a net economic benefit of $664.9 million. $137.5m will be spent within the local shire, with $32.5m expected to be spent with local suppliers and $4.7m on council rates.
It will also create an estimated 175 new jobs during the two year construction phase. However, if the application is denied, the entire project - along with the roughly 400 existing jobs - will be terminated within 18 months.
Jason says this would have a devastating impact upon the local community. He has worked at Tahmoor for almost a decade now and is a third generation coal miner. Like his grandfather and father before him, mining has sustained his family for many years.
He also says it has afforded his children the opportunity to pursue good careers and that it is a great place to work. He loves the comradery, the focus on safety, and the fact that the company is both family orientated and flexible.
"People think it's just a big black hole but it's not. It's a good environment to work in," Jason said.
"I'm very proud to have two kids in the mines. Both have trades and are doing really well for themselves. Working with your kids is great," he continued.
"I was working with Mariah (on the same shift) for five months and it was a really great experience... When she was young I never would've thought she'd grow up to want to be an electrician and I never thought we'd be working alongside each other in the mine. I'm really proud of her."
Mariah was just 16 when she undertook her apprenticeship and says she has loved every minute of her career, describing it as feeling like a family environment.
The miners are a tight-knit bunch, she says, and they treat each other with respect. She believes it is very important for both young women and young men to be given opportunities within the trades and to be treated as equals.
"I have always been treated the same and that is really important to me," she explained.
"I've always been accepted and now we have Emily coming through as well which is really nice. The mine isn't just seen as a place where men work anymore. It's seen as a place where anybody can go to work and have a great career."
Like Mariah, Emily also comes from a long line of miners. She's a fifth generation coal miner. In fact, her great-great grandfather was one of the first miners in Muswellbrook. However, it was her admiration for father Shane that inspired her to follow in his footsteps.
When Shane finished High School, he also began an apprenticeship in the mines and has been in the industry for 39 years. Today, he is a Deputy and says he couldn't be prouder of his daughter.
When Emily was just nine-years-old, she visited her father's workplace for the first time. Instantly, she knew what she wanted to do when she grew up. When she was 16, her parents encouraged her to apply for the apprenticeship program.
She was successful, beating more than 130 other candidates, and she is now just the second woman to work underground as an apprentice electrician at Tahmoor.
"Dad was really excited (when I got my apprenticeship) and my friends were too," Emily said.
"At first my friends were a bit taken aback by the whole thing - because I had always been such a girly-girl - but they were all very excited for me," she continued.
"I absolutely love my job. I learn something new every single day and I work with so many beautiful people. They're all so welcoming... it is amazing to see what they're prepared to do to ensure that I have a good time working there. It's really great."
Emily works on the same shift as her father Shane and he couldn't be happier with the situation.
"Working with your daughter is just wonderful," he said.
"Most people don't get that opportunity in their lives... But there's nothing better than walking into work every day with one of your children, especially your daughter, who is being given this great opportunity. It makes me proud every day."
In early August, Tahmoor Coal released a substantially revised mine plan for the proposed Tahmoor South Project in response to feedback it received from community and government following a public display and consultation process.
Tahmoor Coal General Manager Peter Vale said he appreciated the time the community had taken to share their thoughts and that the process reinforced the company's obligation to make sure the mine delivers the best possible outcome for the community.
As a result, he says, significant reductions in subsidence effects have been achieved by removing two longwalls from the proposed plan that were to be located near the Bargo township. This will reduce the number of dwellings being mined beneath by over 80 percent and reduce the land impacts associated with extensions of the Reject Emplacement Area footprint from 43 hectares to zero.
Additionally, the mine intends to install a new advanced water treatment plant as soon as possible to further improve the quality of the water released from the mine.
"Despite the improved outcomes from the changes to the mine plan - and substantial reduction in homes to be mined beneath - if a home owner was to experience subsidence effects to their home or water resources such as bores, they would be made good in accordance with the NSW regulator's requirements," Mr Vale said.
"While these changes have reduced the commercial outcomes of the mine that were originally hoped for, we are confident the revised plan will contribute significantly to regional stability over the next decade."
If the mine was to close, Shane, Jason, Emily and Mariah all say, it would not only have negative impact on the lives of the workers but also the contractors, suppliers and local businesses that rely on it to survive.
Story sponsored by GFG Alliance.