Theme Mining

Written by Lenore Layman, Murdoch University

Mining in Australia is a non-traditional industry for women. This has been so in all sectors of the industry, whether the minerals being mined occur as 'solids such as coal and ores, liquids such as crude petroleum, or gases such as natural gas' (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2006); whether mining occurred in hard rock for metals (such as gold, iron, nickel, silver, lead, zinc, copper, tin or uranium) or gems (such as diamonds or opals) or in soft rock for such minerals as coal or salt, oil or natural gas. Mining operations, which include underground and open cut workings, strip mining (for example, for bauxite), quarrying, in situ leaching and dredging, the operation of oil and gas wells and evaporation pans, and the recovery of minerals from ore dumps and tailings, have all traditionally been male preserves. So has the primary processing of minerals for marketing: that process of beneficiation which includes ore milling, dressing, screening, washing and flotation, and natural gas purifying, liquification and related processing. Mining support activities- most importantly, exploration to locate new mineral resources and determine the extent and quality of those known- have likewise been men's activities. In other words, women have not traditionally found an accepted place in any sector of the mining industry.

Women's involvement in the industry before the 1970s was therefore an exceptional occurrence, so restricted was it by both regulatory legislation and customary practice. In over a century dominated by underground mining, all colonial/state jurisdictions barred women from employment below ground in any mine. Female pit labour was not introduced into the Australian colonies, as it was a declining practice in Britain by the early 19th century and legally prohibited there in 1842 (John, chaps 1 & 2). Above ground in Australia, women's exclusion was almost as complete. In surface treatment plants and workshops, protective legislation combined with work custom, enforced by mostly unionised- often militant- male work forces, prevented the employment of females. At Glen Osmond, the first of the Cornish-dominated mines in South Australia, small numbers of bal-maidens were employed briefly in the 1840s but this traditional Cornish practice quickly ended and 'picky boys' replaced the women. Australia's 'Little Cornwall' did not employ females on surface mine work (Payton, chap 5). Subsequently, only Aboriginal women worked in any numbers on surface work such as tin or gold panning and opal fossicking; they did so within family groups outside the formal confines of the industry.

Women did begin to find employment as clerical workers in mine offices in the 1890s-1900s, their presence increasing early in the 20th century to the point where these office jobs, as in other industries, became women's work (Game & Pringle, chap 2). Women were, however, blocked from any opportunities to progress to positions of leadership in company administration although, if they did not marry, they could become invaluable office managers, as did Miss Beryl Jacka at the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM) (Fairweather,

Mining's door was firmly closed on professional women, mining engineering and metallurgy remaining all male fields of study until the 1970s. Geology produced female graduates from the beginning of the 20th century but their job opportunities were confined to universities, teaching and researching, mostly in palaeontology, schools and government agencies, such as state museums and geological surveys (Glover, 2007, 10-11 & 2009, 10-11; Hooker, chap. 5). In state geological surveys where female geology graduates came closest to engagement in the mining industry, they were not employed as geologists and did not work in the field. Geology graduate Florence Armstrong was a case in point. She joined the WA Geological Survey in 1928 as clerk-in-charge, rising in 1931 to technical assistant. Confined to office work servicing male geologists, Armstrong nevertheless utilised her professional knowledge; her contribution was simply not formally recognised by the WA Survey. Not until 1966 did the Survey employ women at proper professional grades (Glover, 2009, 10-11). Mining consultancy firms and mining companies themselves did not begin to employ females as geologists until at least the mid-1960s. Florence Armstrong at Western Mining Corporation from 1934 to 1936 was one exception and there may have been one or two more but it was otherwise a total exclusion.

A 19th-century woman of independent means might hold mining shares but she did not attend shareholders' meetings (a male proxy represented her) and she certainly found no role on company boards (Alford, 5-7). These exclusions began to lift from the 1880s with the removal of women's legal disabilities, particularly with the passing of Married Women's Property Acts in every colony between 1883 and 1893, but active shareholder participation by women was slower to change and appointment to directorships slowest of all. Women's exclusion from the mining industry (as it has been conventionally defined and understood) was virtually complete. In the silver-lead-zinc mining town of Broken Hill, organised labour took matters even further, barring married women from any employment in the town unless no other labour was available, a restriction that survived for half a century (Lemon, Any female involvement, let alone leadership, in the mining industry's adverse environment faced apparently insurmountable challenges.

Australia's mining historians reinforced this systemic gender exclusion by leaving it unacknowledged, thereby naturalising it. Thus, when Blainey wrote of the 'discoverers, diggers, miners, promoters, engineers, and gamblers' who shaped Australia's metal mining, he told of a man's industry as though women were truly of no consequence. Other mining historians such as Serle and Kennedy agreed; mining was presented as a masculine world, the female minority who lived in mining regions irrelevant to the dynamic of mining's history. Women, if they were mentioned at all, were most often depicted as initially 'scarce and coarse' and then later as wifely civilisers (Bate, 107). Their sexualised employment made prostitutes and barmaids suitable subjects for passing colourful reference, as were 'drunk and disorderly' women who scandalised the respectable. Given a pioneering gloss, the domestic battlers also found a marginal place in the story. But it remained the men (their individual skills and initiatives, technological innovations and actions in the labour and capital markets) who figured as makers and leaders of mining development.

Indigenous Women's Involvement

Aboriginal women (or, for that matter, men) were not mentioned as prospectors or miners in this history, yet they were involved in the industry from the start (Wickham, 2009). In 1910, Aboriginal prospectors Kitty Pluto and her husband found gold on what became the Wenlock Goldfield on Cape York Peninsula. Continuing to prospect, Kitty Pluto made further valuable finds and is the only woman to date credited with discovering an Australian goldfield. In 2008, she was inducted into the Australian Prospectors and Miners Hall of Fame, one of the first two women recognised in this way (Menghetti,; Qld Heritage Register Wenlock Goldfield). Aboriginal families have also worked at noodling (fossicking) for opal pieces in mullock heaps at Coober Pedy for nearly a century, and it was an Aboriginal woman, Tottie Bryant, who made the rich opal find that revived the field's opal industry in 1946 (Lennon, chaps 5 & 8 2000; Coober Pedy Community Plan, Aboriginal women were also part of the Pilbara mob that mined for tin in alluvial diggings around Nullagine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During the long pastoral strikes in the area in the 1940s, people returned to yandying (panning) for tin and other minerals, with women doing most of the work. 'We went everywhere looking for gold and tin and trying to make our own money … It was the first time we were independent', one Pilbara woman recalled of her girlhood experience (Marnti Warajaanga exhibition). This was a significant Aboriginal venture into mining, in which women were centrally involved but not in company leadership roles (McLeod; Holcombe, 107-35). Aboriginal women and men have continued this prospecting, certainly on WA's goldfields, to the present. It is difficult in the current state of research knowledge to assess the overall influence of this continuous, but structurally marginalised, Indigenous engagement in the industry.

Women's Involvement in the Pre-1970s Industry

Like Indigenous women, those settler women who worked directly in mining in the pre-1970s period existed on the margins of the industry, working not for mining companies but in small-scale - often family - enterprises. They were all exceptional women because to engage in exploration, production or processing work in this non-traditional industry was to breach society's gendered expectations. On every goldfield, a few miner's rights were issued to women, in every known case to wives working alongside their husbands. Some wives continued to work with their husbands on small leaseholdings, which did not come under the surveillance of either the state or organised labour. This female labour in the family mining business is surprising only because it breached the conventional bounds of women's work.

Sometimes such family holdings proved profitable and very occasionally a woman emerged as successful and influential in her own right. One such was Mrs May Brown, the Northern Territory's 'wolfram queen'. She moved with her second husband to Pine Creek in 1906 to mine for wolfram, continuing to work her mines alongside Chinese tributers after her husband's death. Her reputation as a skilled and successful miner spread, as did stories of her help to those in need and her unrestrained lifestyle. She was, her Hall of Fame profile tells us, 'lavish but generous', 'arrogant and aggressive yet kind and compassionate', clearly a woman who lived her life as far as possible on her own terms (Australian Propectors and Mining Hall of Fame profile, 2008). Mrs Teresa Alfonsi was another successful mining entrepreneur who refused to be bound by social norms, insisting that 'anyone can do anything they want to'. She began working alongside her husband mining mica on their small leaseholding near Broken Hill. She went on to work, manage and invest in mica, feldspar and beryl mines around Broken Hill from the 1920s to the 1970s and became Australia's biggest feldspar supplier (Australian Women's Register, Mrs Doris Booth also breached convention in New Guinea in the 1920s when she struggled to obtain a miner's right and then worked with her miner husband to develop gold-mining at Bulolo. After their separation, she fought her husband for her property and subsequently became a successful mine manager and company director in New Guinea before eventually retiring to Brisbane (Gardner, These were all determined, independent women and, in the cases of May Brown and Tess Alfonsi in particular, they were successful miners because they lived mostly outside the narrow bounds of gender convention.

To work and develop your own mine(s) was hard enough; it was even more difficult for a woman to win the chance to manage a company mine. Only one such 19th-century female company mine manager has been identified, Mrs S.A. Holman, 'practical mineralogist, assayer, and mining authority', who floated the Corsair Main Reef Gold Mine near Kalgoorlie on the London market and returned to develop and manage it in 1898. She was able to break into this totally male occupation because she painstakingly raised the required capital herself over two years in London. There is no evidence to suggest that her tenure was other than brief or her mine management successful (Inquirer, 4 March 1898).

It was more common for women living on mineral fields over many years to become small leaseholders cum speculators, initially with their husbands or partners, without actually taking part in mining themselves. One notable example was Mrs Muriel Trundle, a miner's widow and well-known licensee of the Agnew Hotel in WA's north-eastern goldfields, who held a number of leases around Agnew. When she heard that Western Mining Corporation was looking for nickel in the district in the late 1960s, she pegged additional leases around those she already held in preparation for negotiations with the company (Palmer, 80-5, 120-5). Such small leaseholding was common practice in mining districts although not always with such eventual success.

Lady investors and promoters began to appear at the end of the 19th century. Alice Cornwell made her money by developing and floating the Midas Mine Company at Ballarat in 1887, becoming a mining investor and newspaper proprietor (Griffiths). Other women already had wealth and combined it with a bent for risk-taking that proved profitable. An English aristocrat, the Hon. Mrs Candy, joined the speculative rush on Western Australia's eastern goldfields between 1894 and 1896, floating promising leases at Broad Arrow on the London market (Inquirer, 23 August 1895; West Australian, 29 February 1896). West Australian-born Lady Hackett-Moulden invested in and promoted the mining of tantalite and wolfram in the 1920s and 1930s (Tantalite Ltd, 1-40). 'Who in Western Australia doesn't recall the name of Lady Hackett, later Lady Moulden, and now Dr Deborah Buller Murphy?' a Perth newspaper asked rhetorically in 1937 (Sunday Times, 16 May 1937). But it was as a society hostess, charity worker and wife of two powerful public men that she was best known. Nevertheless, her mid-life mining ventures fitted her confident individualist self-image. She was, according to her biographer, 'an unusual woman of strong character', as were all the pre-1970s mining women (Hasluck, They were indeed 'remarkable'.

The impact of these exceptional women on their own time seems to have been limited, although they gained some fame (laced with curiosity) because their lives were so unusual. Their circumstances made them extraordinary, either because of their wealth and high status or because of their decision to live in defiance of conventional gender bounds. Nevertheless these singular women have been exemplary and, with the recovery of their forgotten histories by feminist scholarship, inspirational to later generations. They are celebrated as trailblazers.

Women who led less exceptional lives were shut out of the mining industry altogether. In exploring the interconnections of mining, gender and leadership prior to the 1970s, the lives of the early female geologists invite a closer look. The decision to marry was a crucial one for these professional women, as can be seen in the life of Lou Henry Hoover, a Stanford University graduate in geology. Though determined to find employment as a geologist, marriage quickly intervened and she gave up the idea of paid professional work. While her husband, Herbert Hoover, a fellow Stanford geology graduate, became in the late 1890s and early 1900s one of the most powerful men in Australian goldmining and a leading international mining consultant, Lou Hoover exercised influence only within the private sphere. She was an astute observer of the industry and behind-the-scenes confidante of her husband. Her professional abilities helped promote his career but did not bring her public recognition. Only in scholarly publishing could she briefly be his public equal, the Hoovers becoming the first (and joint) gold medallists of the Mining and Metallurgical Society of America for their 1912 translation of the father of mineralogy Agricola's classic text De Re Metallica (Allen; Layman, 2011).

Florence Armstrong is the sole female geologist employed as a geologist by a mining company prior to the beginnings of change in the industry's employment practices in the 1960s-1970s. After she resigned from the WA Survey in 1934, she joined Western Mining Corporation as a geologist. What enabled her to breach an otherwise unpassable barrier was a combination of particular skills and highly relevant knowledge gained from her work at the survey on revisions to the geological map of WA, together with the innovative nature of the exploratory project on which she was to be employed, one that did not initially require fieldwork on the ground. Western Mining was introducing aerial mapping of the WA goldfields in search of mineral prospects. A new exploration technique combined with specific skill and knowledge enabled her to transcend gender disadvantage; but gender played a decisive part in her resignation on marriage in 1936. Nevertheless, in 1960, she became the first woman elected to membership of AusIMM (G.L. Clark, chap 2; Dew).

The decision to marry was not the only impediment to female career success and leadership in early 20th-century geology. While marriage almost always meant the end of these women's professional aspirations, they had already found themselves corralled within a female subculture that bred 'patient self-effacing' scientists committed to the service of others, according to Hooker. Their career path to leadership had been closed by the gender expectations of others, which limited these women's choices and created networks of obligation that changed their 'sense of self' (Hooker, chap 5). Instead of career success, they found comfort in mutual support and quiet collaborative endeavour. Turner's account of these generations of female geologists, though rather more positive, nevertheless records the stalled careers of the majority. One of the most successful of them commented in retirement: 'I worked very hard so as not to let the "side" down and to show that a woman could do it as well as a man' (Turner, 180). Thus women's path upwards in geology's and mining's hierarchies was restricted both by the structural bar on their employment as geologists in mining companies and by more subtle deflectors in the professional culture.

Exploring Women's Leadership and Influence before the 1970s

Positions of leadership are generally understood to be those with the highest formal authority, status and monetary reward in organisational hierarchies, whether sole traders, partnerships, private or public companies. Women occupied almost no such institutional positions within the mining industry before the 1970s. However, leadership can also be seen as a web of influence that extends through official hierarchies and into regional and local collectivities. If industry leadership is understood as influence within such a web, and as not only an individual but in some cases a collective attribute, then women, though marginalised, were not totally without significance in mining before the 1970s (Binns & Kerfoot, 257-62).

Working-class women in mining communities repeatedly struggled against powerlessness by turning to mutuality. They certainly engaged in the mining industry but not in ways that have been fully recognised because they were not industry employees (or investors). In mining towns with traditions of labour militancy, some wives took action at times of crisis. Driven by the immediacy of the threat facing their families, they acted collectively during industrial disputes and periods of unemployment and economic suffering. For instance, during the long, bitter strike at Broken Hill in 1892, women formed a Strike Protest Committee, joined picket lines and, on one occasion, physically attacked strike-breakers. In subsequent strikes, they formed relief committees to help those on the edge of destitution. These women acted in solidarity with their men, their activism flowing from the men's campaigns (Lemon,

NSW and Queensland coalminers' wives were also active in collective industrial struggles and continue to be so (Mitchell, 1975, chap 1 & 1980, chap 6; Murray & Peertz, 2010a, chap 4). During the 1930s depression, they formed women's committees of the Unemployed Workers' Movement and later the mine women's auxiliaries of the Miners' Federation, most of their efforts devoted to welfare of families. These activist women were rarely visible individually except to those who lived in the same localities. One of the Kurri women, Nan Downs, explained: 'We did the work at the ground roots. We always had the men as spokesmen' (Salt, 51). Political radicalism did bring a few, such as Mrs Bond, Jean Comerford and Nellie Simm, briefly to wider public visibility (Dixson, 1970, 14-26; Dixson, 1973). Communist Party member Nellie Simm, for instance, became a Kearsley Shire councillor (Mowbray, 83-94). Leadership among these women, however, resided most often in collective decision-making with relatively informal organisational structures and distributed responsibilities, a form of leadership that worked well because the women shared family distress and strong communitarian values. This is not to create an idealised notion of harmony and solidarity in these mining communities (Metcalfe, 73-96); however, it does remind us that groups of women collaborated effectively to assert some agency in the coal industry's bitter industrial struggles.

The work of historians since the 1970s has demonstrated that significant numbers of women lived on most mineral fields from their beginnings and that they contributed through a variety of activities to the development of mining communities; in fact, these communities could not have developed without women's labour. Women's work enabled the establishment of town amenities as well as education, welfare and health services, making mining centres liveable. These services provided ancillary support for the local mining industry because they helped to stabilise the labour force by lowering turnover. And what of women's work in providing the basic day-to-day services that sustained miners-the running of boarding houses, hostels and hotels, and the provision of washing and cooking services? Women supplied these services except in some early Queensland instances where Chinese men did the work. It has largely been rendered invisible (even though much of it was paid work). This social infrastructure was part of the basic economy of the industry, as essential as technical and equipment services. Outback mines generally faced high labour turnover and ongoing labour shortages, particularly skills shortages. Without women's paid domestic servicing of many of these miners, it is difficult to see how such mines could have continued production.

Women ran stores and hotels on the Victorian goldfields from the early 1850s, over a hundred women being recorded as proprietors of Ballarat hotels between 1850 and 1870 (Asher, 52-60; Wickham, 2009, chap 7). Eliza Perrin is just one example, prospering initially in the sly grog trade and then purchasing a bar/store and a hotel that took in boarders. She was one of many women who provided essential accommodation and food services for miners, in the process achieving a comfortable economic independence (Wickham, 2011, 52). Did such women also achieve a form of leadership in their communities? Evidence suggests that at least some of them did. For instance, the heavily Italian migrant community of Gwalia, which serviced the rich Sons of Gwalia gold mine from the 1890s to the 1960s, was home to several entrepreneurial Italian businesswomen, notably Mrs Bernadina (Dina) Patroni and Mrs Elena Mazza. Both women ran large boarding houses employing local women and supplied miners, many of them young, single, Italian and Slav recent immigrants, with accommodation, food and clean clothes. They assisted local women who were struggling to support their families and also donated to local causes. During World War II, Mrs Patroni helped the wives of internees, giving them work and food, and writing official letters for them (Layman & Fitzgerald, chap 11). Mrs Margaret Crameri, a long-standing hotel licensee in Leonora, was also well recognised for her business acumen. With her husband, she had begun in the hotel business in 1909; by the 1950s, 'Old Ma Crameri' was a local institution (Layman & Fitzgerald, chap 10). Mrs Lina Furia ran the Cornwall Hotel in Boulder also catering for the needs of young migrant miners, most of them Italian, from 1926 to 1970 (Fitzgerald, Almost every mining town of any size had such enterprising women who not only ran successful 'mining' businesses but were also influential within their communities because of their business status as well as the patronage they dispensed, generally in the form of practical support to families in need.

These women's businesses were established in open mining towns run by local governments (Layman & Hartley). Mining's transition to company towns, which accelerated during the mineral boom of the 1960s and early 1970s, did not improve women's opportunities for paid work or business openings; in fact it lessened them, although these new towns did improve residents' material living conditions. The constraints of the single-industry mining town were exacerbated when the mining company extended its control beyond the workplace. Studies of life in these towns have highlighted women's frustrations and the unhappy social relations bred by the oppressive environment (Williams; Heath & Bulbeck). This same period, however, also saw the beginnings of major changes in gender relations in the industry, including within the closed towns before they were normalised. For instance, at Hamersley Iron's town of Dampier in 1976, Robyn Crane-administrator of the area's childcare centres and wife of a mechanical fitter employed by the company-was elected a Dampier ward councillor on the Shire of Roebourne, later becoming shire president (Crane,

The 1970s Turning Point

The turning point came in the late 1960s and early 1970s when barriers to women's employment in mining began to fall. They fell to a variety of pressures: government initiatives to promote equal employment opportunity (Strachan, Burgess & Henderson, 525-40) and the women's movement's campaigns against the sex-segmented labour market and gender discrimination. Young women who had a 'sense of being able to do anything you want to do' were educated in greater numbers and were attracted to an industry offering science-driven (often outdoor) work environments with the promise of good money, travel and career paths. They knew they were the vanguard of change. As well, technological shifts in the industry facilitated changes to employment practices, the move to open cut mining and greatly increased mechanisation replacing the more labour-intensive work processes of the past. The decades since the 1960s (and particularly the 2000s) have seen mostly boom conditions for the mining industry, providing opportunities for enterprising women. These women have encountered harassment and discrimination, and there has been a high attrition rate, but female participation has slowly increased, with companies like CRA and, later, Argyle Diamonds leading the way (Pattenden; Eveline; Crowley, Hutchinson & Smith; Eveline & Booth, 556-78; Murray & Peertz, 2010b).

Female geologists were the first to break fully into the industry, pushing the bounds of their employment from metropolitan laboratories and offices into fieldwork. In the nickel boom of the late 1960s, geologists were in short supply, particularly in Western Australia, and women seized their opportunity to find employment in the field in exploration teams. When newly graduated geologist Diana O'Donnell applied to every mining company in Western Australia in 1965 she was told by all but one-'women are not employed in the mining industry'. The exception was CRA, which did employ her and sent her into the field to Menzies in 1966 as part of a nickel exploration team. The search for diamonds was intense from the early 1970s and British-trained geologist Maureen Muggeridge achieved fame in 1979 when she led the team that discovered the Argyle diamond deposit in the East Kimberley, the world's largest known deposit. More career success followed her as director of exploration of Moonstone Diamond Corporation before she floated her own company, Paramount Mining Company, in 2004, becoming its chairman and CEO (obituary,,). For the first time female geologists could develop careers in the industry that went some way to matching men's.

Erica Smyth began as a graduate geologist with BHP Minerals in 1974 and worked in exploration geology. Then the 'biggest step' in her career came: 'I was offered the chance to move out of geology and go into a project development role and try and make a project happen' (Smyth, From there her career took her into the petroleum industry to gas business development and corporate affairs with BHP and later Woodside, and from there to the chair of the uranium company, Toro Energy, and a number of board directorships. Her status in the mining industry was signalled in 2010 by her federal government appointment to the transition review panel for the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (Chambers) and the inaugural Women in Resources Lifetime Achievement Award from the Chamber of Minerals & Energy of WA (,_Events_and_Media/News/NewsDetails/Women_in_Resources_Finalist). Megan Clark graduated in geology in 1981 and began work as a mine geologist, obtaining a personal exemption in order to work underground (Clark, After a mining career with Western Mining Corporation, Rothschild & Sons (Australia) and BHP Billiton, she became chief executive officer of the CSIRO in 2009 (Clark, The career trajectories of women such as Erica Smyth and Megan Clark would have been impossible in earlier decades.

The barriers of customary workplace practice to women's participation on mine sites and oil/gas rigs gradually fell from the 1970s. In the early 1980s, female geologists were allowed to work on offshore drilling rigs. Among the first was geologist Marjorie Apthorpe, who had been employed in petroleum geology by BHP, Shell and then Woodside since 1964. When she was sent to solve an urgent technical problem in drilling on Woodside's North Rankin No. 6 well on the North West Shelf in 1981, her assignment marked another turning point (Apthorpe, Women began to work on the surface on mine sites in the 1970s. At Broken Hill, Australian Mining & Smelting Ltd took on its first female apprentices in 1976 (Cunningham, 11-15]. In the Queensland coal industry, the first women employed in mine operations worked as labourers in wash plants (Murray & Peertz, 2010a, chaps 1 & 6). Subsequently, women have moved into other areas, notably truck driving; for instance, in the 2000s, approximately 40 per cent of the dump-truck drivers in the Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines' Super Pit were women.

Across the industry, however, women's participation in plant operations and trades, as well as in some professional areas (such as engineering), has been slow to change despite promotional programs. While the overall national female participation rate in the workforce (2012) is approximately 45 per cent it stands at less than 20 per cent in the mining industry and at around 11 per cent in non-traditional (for females) mining jobs. These overall figures mask considerable differences within the industry; for instance, women's participation stands at only 4-5 per cent in non-traditional roles in the coal sector. After twenty years in the industry, geologist Sandra Epps, who graduated in 1972 and became one of the first two female AusIMM councillors in 1993, noted: 'attitudes have started to change, but the reflection of this change is very patchy with women being accommodated- dare I say encouraged?- in certain companies (generally larger ones) or in certain professional areas' (Cunningham, 11-15; Dew). These gender disproportions in employment reflect entrenched cultural attitudes that are changing only very slowly. In addition, there are some gender-based Indigenous cultural constraints emerging in northern Australia where mining companies are seeking the increased involvement of Indigenous people and have contractual relationships with local Indigenous people. These cultural restrictions apply to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous women on site (Parmenter, chap 5).

State government jurisdictions lifted their legislative bars on female employment underground in the 1980s, a process assisted by the passing of the federal Sex Discrimination Act in 1984. Victoria had already acted in 1978; the other states followed, Western Australia in 1985 and both NSW and Queensland in 1989. The initial push came from women graduating as mining engineers and requiring work experience underground to qualify for their competency certificates. Australia's first female graduate in mining engineering (Joan Bath) completed in 1974, the second (Sandra Bailey) in 1979; by 1987, fifteen women had graduated (Bailey, Mine management was now in principle within women's reach but, on graduation, Joan Bath pointed to the major hurdle as she saw it: 'You didn't meet sex discrimination head on. But you tended to get shoved into office jobs and not be involved in making full use of your knowledge' (Bath). This gendered mindset has been the biggest barrier facing female mine engineers, although the legal and customary gender prohibitions and sometimes major workplace harassment also had to be overcome (Franzway et al., 89-106).

Joan Bath and Sandra Bailey were both determined to build careers in mine-site operations. Joan Bath initially found jobs 'scarce', partly because of the end of the 1960s boom, and she had to be satisfied with office jobs. Her 'breakthrough' came with her first employment as a mine planning engineer on a new mine site (Cunningham, 11-15). She went on to become, in 1986, the first woman in WA to gain a quarry manager's ticket. After employment as a mine planning and technical services superintendent and project manager, she became principal mining engineer at CSA Global. In 2009, Sandra Bailey/Collins, by then mine manager of Cement Australia's East End Mine near Gladstone in central Queensland, won the Queensland Resources Council's Resources Award for Women for her achievements and contribution to the industry, and her status as a role model for other women ( It was a not an easy path for these first women. Frances Burgess, the first female metallurgist to graduate in Australia, remembered her first job: 'I endeavoured not to ask for help, because I knew that most people expected me to fail (Cunningham, 11-15)'.

A New Era of Women's Involvement, Influence and Leadership

While mining women have determinedly shaped their own careers over the last half-century, they have not done so in completely adverse circumstances. Governments have promoted women's participation in non-traditional jobs, joined by the peak industry bodies, which have come to recognise the benefits of greater workforce diversity (WIMNet, 2007, At its most basic, mining faces ongoing labour shortages. It needs to source labour from wherever it can and therefore has run targeted recruitment campaigns aimed at traditionally under-represented groups, notably women, to increase the attractiveness of the industry. Greater employment of Indigenous people is another goal; however, the double challenge of employing Indigenous women has not yet been much tackled (Parmenter). The industry has recognised the need to change its culture and image. Mines inspector Alex Atkins described it as a change from 'a cowboy/macho culture' to something 'a lot more civilized' (WIMWA, As new generations of mining men have replaced the old they have brought with them some understanding of gender equity and the potential value of social and cultural diversity in the workplace. Corporate rhetoric has changed and practice is changing. Raising the female participation rate has become an aim of industry and government, and a series of programs has followed (MCA, 2007). These initiatives have altered the political and media environment in which women negotiate leadership in the industry.

The Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM) has set up a Women in Mining Network to promote the recruitment and retention of women by providing an online support network, professional development seminars, research (for instance, on reducing the gender pay gap) and advocacy for family-friendly policies (such as maternity leave, childcare, part-time work, flexible rosters), as well as providing a forum for 'success stories' (WIMNet). Similar state-based organisations exist in WA (WIMWA) and Qld (WIMARQ). Mt Isa consultant geologist Alice Clark commented in 2009 that the 'advancement [of women] is for the moment a special case so we need WIMNET. I look forward to the day when we don't need WIMNET' (Roberts, 2009, In the meantime, these formalised networks 'legitimise the idea of "women in mining"", according to WIMWA's founder, Sabina Shugg (Roberts, 2010,

Awards to publicly recognise leading women in the industry were set up first in 2006 by the Queensland Resources Council to celebrate the achievements of 'resourceful women'; the Chamber of Minerals and Energy WA followed in 2010 with its Women in Resources Awards (CMEWA, 2011,,_Events_and_Media/News/NewsDetails/Women_in_Resources_Finalist). At the national level the Australian Mining Prospect Awards recognising excellence in the industry, added a category- Mining's Female of the Year- in 2011. These awards, together with government and company public relations promotions, have brought successful mining women to public visibility. Each 'first' has been identified and celebrated; for example, Queensland's first female mine manager, Tina Markovic, and second, Sandra Bailey/Collins; Australia's first female general manager of an underground metalliferous mine, Frances Burgess; WA's first female underground manager, Sabina Shugg; and the first female mine inspectors, Julie Dryden (Qld) and Alex Atkins (WA); the first women in mine-rescue teams; the first female underground workers, haul-truck drivers, leading hands, apprentice masters, shift supervisors, drilling managers, chief executives and so on. These milestones are notable events as they occur in each company, mineral field and mineral sector.

The awards promote mining's changing culture by not only affirming the valuable place of women in the industry but also the increasing involvement of Aboriginal people and the growing importance of environmental best practice. For example, environmental chemist Michelle Iles was chosen as the Australian Mining Prospect Award's first Female of the Year for her work with the uranium miner, Energy Resources Australia, on environmental management at Ranger mine in Kakadu National Park, particularly water management and ecosystem protection ( The entry of women to positions of influence in mining is one component of the industry's adjustment to society's changing expectations of it.

How have these growing numbers of successful mining women exercised their emerging leadership? Most often they have identified themselves as role models for girls and women, encouraging them not to fear entering areas that have previously been male preserves. When Queensland electrician Julie Griffin was recognised for her work with BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance mentoring apprentices as well as appearing in promotional videos and a television commercial, she said of her efforts: 'I have tapped away slowly at changing people's perceptions of females in a male-dominated industry. I consider myself a role model for young girls and ladies who would like to enter a trade' (Bahr, They have affirmed and encouraged women's self-confidence and determination: 'go for it. Don't feel restricted by what is considered a "normal" career', metallurgist Julie Shuttleworth, general manager of Granny Smith Gold Mine, advised at the time of her national award as mine manager of the year in 2011 (Shuttleworth, Many have been active mentors. Common advice, such as that given by mine manager and active WIMNet member Kate Sommerville, has been to 'take charge of your own career' (Sommerville, 51-2). Mentoring also supports women if they experience harassment or discrimination with the affirming message that- 'you are not alone'.

Most of these women have juggled family responsibilities with their mining careers and are therefore acutely aware of the need for more family-friendly policies and work to achieve these. Sandra Bailey/Collins recalled: 'I succeeded without maternity leave, without childcare assistance and without part-time work, as these were not available at the time. These are changes to working conditions I have helped to bring to the companies where I have worked' (Bahr, Erica Smyth advised a Perth audience of company executives:

We now [2010] rarely think past FIFO [fly-in, fly-out] and wonder why we can't keep women in our workforce and when we do get them up north we don't assist them with child minding centres matched to our shift work schedules. Your brand will standout from the rest in a positive way if you enable such services to be available (Smyth, 2010,

These mining women who have been active in networking, advising younger women and mentoring are all crusaders for gender equity whether they choose to describe themselves as feminist or not.

Leading Women in the Industry, 2010s

Most notable of mining's leading women is entrepreneur Gina Rinehart. Wealthy enough to chart her own singular course in a manner reminiscent of the power in their times of earlier male entrepreneurs and promoters, such as the Brown brothers, Lansell and de Bernales, she is exceptional not least because of the growing extent of her wealth. Through her private company, Hancock Prospecting, where she works as executive chairman, she holds extensive mining tenements and has built on the flow of royalties from Rio Tinto to move into mine promotion and development herself in joint ventures at Hope Downs and Roy Hill (Hancock Prospecting, 2007,; Treadgold). Rinehart is politically active in support of mining, free markets, tax reduction, the abolition of government 'red tape' and northern development. These views have been put in an occasional by-line in the small mining magazine, Australian Resources and Investment (Rinehart, 15-16); on the ANDEV (Australians for Northern Development and Economic Vision) website, she has argued for a special Northern Economic Zone. Rinehart is an industry leader by virtue of her WA and Queensland tenements and her wealth, if not by the popularity of many of the views she espouses. These right radical beliefs, together with her close focus on her core mining interests and her dislike of the public spotlight, have limited her public influence and leadership until recently. The extraordinary increase in her wealth and her media acquisitions, however, are changing this situation in the 2010s.

By the early 21st century women, have had the opportunity to work in mining companies for sufficient time to enable them to rise to positions of formal leadership on mine operation sites and in administrative roles. From around 2005, women began to be appointed mine (or general) managers at particular mine sites, project managers, managers of rail and port operations, and to management positions in head offices. Nevertheless these top women are still a minority and a tiny one at the top of company hierarchies. Only a small number have reached the levels of chief executive officer or managing director (for instance, Nicole Hollows at Macarthur Coal, Julie Beeby at Westside Corporation, Denise Goldsworthy at Dampier Salt, Alison Morley at Brumby Resources, Merrill Gray at Syngas) or directorships on ASX-listed boards (for instance, Colleen Jones-Cervantes, Erica Smyth, Jyn Baker, Rebecca McGrath, Karen Field, Eve Howell, Mary Shafer-Malicki). Changing business culture at its apex, as the EOWA Census 2010 shows, is proving to be a very slow process indeed.


Mining women in Australia past and present have had in common a commitment to, and often a passion for, their industry. While they may have wanted to change aspects of it, none has doubted the benefits mining brings or its overall worth to society. It is a hard industry, not for the faint-hearted, and these have been strong-minded and determined women unafraid to enter an industry culture renowned for its maleness.

The leadership exercised by women prior to the 1970s was so marginalised as to be hidden from history. Reclaiming it reveals women taking agency at the extremes of individuality in some instances and in collaborative ways in others. This early leadership was highly localised and outside the industry's formal hierarchical structures. The 1970s began to change everything as women pushed for equal opportunity as an expectation and entitlement at the same time that mining adopted major technological innovations. The industry began to change its practices (if slowly) in response both to the presence of this small but growing group of females as well as to new government and public demands for gender equity. In the early 21st century, leading women have begun to emerge to dilute mining's masculinity. An industry, which has drawn a great deal of its success from its openness to international expertise and enterprise, is now slowly becoming more open to recognising and utilising the talents of enterprising women.

Additional sources: ANDEV, Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 'Mining'. 1292.0-Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC), 2006 (Revision 1.0),!OpenDocument. Bailey, Sandra G., 'Women in Underground Mining in Australia', AusIMM North West Qld Branch, Underground Operators' Conference, Bath, Joan, Sydney Morning Herald, 8 January 1975. Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia (CMEWA), 'Women in Resources Finalists', 13 February 2011, media release,,_Events_and_Media/News/NewsDetails/Women_in_Resources_Finalist. Clark, Megan, 'Dr Megan Clark: Chief Executive and CSIRO Board Member'. CSIRO website, EOWA, Australian Census of Women in Leadership 2010, EPA Northern Territory, 'EPA Congratulates Mining Female of the Year', media release, 28 September 2011, 'Marnti Warajaanga - A Walk Together' (Museum of Australian Democracy travelling exhibition in association with Wangka Maya Pilbara Aboriginal Language Centre and photographer Tobias Titz), Menghetti, Diane, 'Australian Prospectors and Miners Hall of Fame Historical Profile - Kitty Pluto (Unknown-Unknown)', Minerals Council of Australia (MCA), Annual Report 2007, Smyth, Erica, 'Erica Smyth: Winner of CME's Women in Resources Lifetime Achievement Award-Presentation at CME's 2010 Annual General Meeting', CMEWA Women in Resources, Sunday Times (Perth), 16 May 1937. West Australian, 29 February 1896. Women in Mining Network (WIMNet) 'Muggeridge, Maureen 1948-2010: Geologist Left No Stone Unturned in Quest for Glittering Prize', Telegraph (London) reproduced Sydney Morning Herald, 26 November 2010,

Published Resources


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Book Sections

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  • Griffiths, D.M., 'Cornwell, Alice Ann (1852-1932)', in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Oxford, England, 2004. Details
  • Layman, Lenore & Hartley, Richard, 'Mining Towns', in Beilharz, Peter & Hogan, Trevor (ed.), Sociology. Time, Place & Division, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, Victoria, 2006, p. ch. 17. Details
  • Mitchell, Winifred, 'Wives of the Radical Labour Movement', in Curthoys, Ann, Eade, Susan, & Spearritt, Peter (ed.), Women at Work, Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, 1975, p. ch. 1. Details
  • Mitchell, Winifred, 'Women in Mining Communities', in Windschuttle, Elizabeth (ed.), Women, Class and History: Feminist Perspectives on Australia 1788-1978, Fontana/Collins, Sydney, New South Wales, 1980, p. ch. 6. Details
  • Parmenter, Joni, 'Experiences of Indigenous Women in the Australian Mining Industry', in Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt (ed.), Gendering the Field: Towards Sustainable Livelihoods for Mining Communities, Australian National University (ANU) E Press, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, 2011. Details
  • Turner, S., 'Invincible but Mostly Invisible: Australian Women's Contribution to Geology and Palaeontology', in Burek, Cynthia V. & Higgs, Bettie (ed.), The Role of Women in the History of Geology, Special Publication 281, Geological Society of London, London, England, 2007, pp. 165-202. Details

Conference Papers

  • Murray, Georgina and Peertz, David, '"Keep Your Head High": Adaptations and Struggles of Australian Women Miners', in Proceedings, 47th Annual CIRA Meeting/International CRIMT Conference, University of Montreal, June 2010, 2010. Details

Edited Books

  • Kennedy, K.H. (ed.), Readings in North Queensland Mining History, vol. II, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, 1982. Details

Journal Articles

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  • Eveline Joan & Booth Michael, 'Gender and Sexuality in Discourses of Managerial Control: The Case of Women Miners', Gender, Work & Organization, vol. 9, no. 5, 2002, pp. 556-78. Details
  • Franzway, Suzanne, Sharp, Rhonda, Mills, Julie E., & Gill, Judith, 'Engineering Ignorance: The Problem of Gender Equity in Engineering', Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, vol. 30, no. 1, 2009, pp. 89-106. Details
  • Glover, John, 'Lucy Hosking: Assistant Lecturer in Geology at UWA, 1931-1933', West Australian Geologist, vol. 465, June/July, 2007, pp. 10-11. Details
  • Glover, John, 'The 1920s and 1930s: Financial Difficulties and Social Changes in Geology', West Australian Geologist, vol. 477, June/July, 2009, pp. 10-11. Details
  • Holcombe, Sarah, 'Indigenous Organisations and Mining in the Pilbara, Western Australia: Lessons from a Historical Perspective', Aboriginal History, vol. 29, 2005, pp. 107-35. Details
  • Layman, Lenore, 'Lou Henry Hoover in Western Australia', Early Days: Journal of the Royal WA Historical Society, vol. 13, no. 5, 2011. Details
  • Metcalfe, Andrew, 'Manning the Mines: Organising Women Out of Class Struggle', Australian Feminist Studies, vol. 4, Autumn, 1987, pp. 73-96. Details
  • Mowbray, Martin, 'The Red Shire of Kearsley, 1944-1947: Communists in Local Government', Labour History, vol. 51, 1986, pp. 83-94. Details
  • Salt, Annette, 'Women on the Northern Coalfields of NSW', Labour History, vol. 48, 1985, pp. 44-53. Details
  • Sommerville, Kate, 'Taking Charge of your Career: A Women in Mining Perspective', Australian Resources and Investment, vol. 4, no. 3, 2010, pp. 51-2. Details
  • Strachan, Glenda, Burgess, John, & Henderson Lindy, 'Equal Employment Opportunity Legislation and Policies: The Australian Experience', Equal Opportunities International, vol. 26, no. 6, 2007, pp. 525-40. Details
  • Wickham, Dorothy, 'Who Rocked the Cradle: The Impact of Women in the Development of a Victorian Gold Mining Town', Circa. The Journal of Professional Historians, no. 2, 2011, pp. 51-60. Details

Magazine Articles

  • Cunningham, Kishore, Are Women Being Undermined?, The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM) Bulletin, vol. 1, 1992, 11-15 pp. Details
  • Rinehart, Gina, Australia's Lessons from History, Australian Resources and Investment, vol. 3, 2011, 15-16 pp. Details


  • Inquirer & Commercial News, Perth, Western Australia, 1855-1901. Details

Newspaper Articles

  • Chambers, Matt, 'Female Trailblazer Still Fired Up', The Australian, 13 June 2011, p. 26. Details


Online Resources