Drink Tank

A mining pit of alcohol

Mining must be thirsty business if the per capita consumption of alcohol in the Western Australian mining town of Kalgoorlie is anything to go by. It is almost double the WA average! While Sandgropers around the state consume on average 12.45 litres of alcohol, it is 22.19 in the goldfields city of Kalgoorlie-Boulder.

Police claim 70% of domestic assaults in the city are a result of heavy alcohol consumption, and want to put a stop to it by forcing bottle shops and hotels to close for takeaway sales on Sundays.

Western Australian state Liquor Licensing Director Barry Sergeant is considering the Police proposal, which also involves restricting takeaway sales between noon and 8pm from Monday to Saturday, while the sale of packaged alcohol would be banned, if in containers larger than one litre, and with an alcohol percentage exceeding 6 percent.

There are 92 licensed premises in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, the city famous for its Super Pit, a huge mining operation that splits the city and is a favourite tourist attraction. The city is literally surrounded by mines and has a large number of Fly in-Fly out workers, but also a substantial percentage of residents employed in the mining industry.

The figures come as some surprise, especially since the mining industry in Western Australia has made serious efforts to stamp out heavy drinking by its workers through the introduction of breath testing. Before each shift all workers are tested and if there is a trace of alcohol they are not allowed on site. There are also urine tests for drug use on many mining sites. Even as a photographer, who is never unaccompanied and not allowed to drive on site, I am required to have an alcohol breath test nowadays.

This is a significant change to what the industry was like in the eighties and nineties. I remember well from those days, flying out to mine sites to do annual report photography, how many workers drank to excess most evenings and were often badly hung over when they commenced work the next morning. A big worry when operating heavy equipment!

While the mining industry needs to be congratulated for having made a stand on alcohol abuse on their sites, one has to ask where their responsibility ends and if they should also be involved fighting excessive alcohol consumption in the communities their workforce lives and socialises in?

Kalgoorlie-Boulder is not alone. Similar reports of anti-social behaviour and drunkenness by miners are coming out of many Western Australian mining towns like Karratha, Broome and Port Hedland.

The industry is doing well on the mining sites by offering their workers the use of gyms, squash and tennis courts, and swimming pools, but don’t appear to be too involved in supporting the communities that are suffering.

Could the mining companies do more by offering a wider variety of social events their workers could participate in, so drinking alcohol is not the number one (or only) form of relaxation?

The City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder has a serious problem on its hands, so the proposed restrictions on packaged alcohol sales are worth a trial, and may well have to be extended to other mining communities throughout the West.

Yet the question remains, beyond simple restrictions on sales, and at a time of labor shortages, should mining companies be taking on even greater responsibility and commitment towards the health and lifestyle of it workers?

Source: The Sunday Times

Roel Loopers

Roel is a professional photographer based in Fremantle, WA. He is passionate about life and people and is Freo’s most prolific blogger.

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