Sarah and Megan Walker grew up in Blackwater, the coal capital of Queensland, where hi-vis was almost the township’s uniform, and the beeping sound of reversing vehicles in the morning was everyone’s alarm.
Even though the sisters were surrounded by the coal industry, and joke it was in their blood, they had plans for a different career and dipped their toes into the possibility of becoming a hairdresser and beauty therapist.
But the coal face seemed more attractive to the pair when they saw an ad in the local paper for traineeships at BHP Mitsubishi Alliance’s (BMA) Blackwater Mine.
Their dad, who worked in the industry, encouraged them to apply.
“I remember thinking, ‘do you know what, I might give this a shot’,” Megan said.
“At the time you didn’t really hear much about women in mining, it was still a very male dominated work force, so as a 17 year-old applying for a mining job was a little nerve-wracking,” Sarah said.
Any nerves felt were soon put to rest, as they started their first day together – Megan as a Production trainee operating trucks, graders, dozers and excavators and Sarah a two-year apprenticeship on the Drill and Blast crew.
Now, the pair is celebrating 10 years with BHP, and a career that has seen them work across many roles at our Coal operations in the Bowen Basin and beyond.
Sarah has spent the ten years working in drill and blast, dispatch on site, pre-strip on rear dump trucks, and IROC in Brisbane as a duty lead.
She said highlights have been driving the biggest trucks on site at Blackwater – the Caterpillar 797s, getting her shot firers ticket and her supervisor’s qualifications before she turned 18, and commissioning for Blackwater at IROC before going live.
Her sister Megan, has spent the ten years operating machinery, working in dispatch on site, IROC, and then at BMC’s Poitrel Mine as an A&I Specialist and contracts coordinator before her current position as a line technical specialist in the BOS team for the South Walker Creek deployment.
With ten years under their belts, they shared there have been plenty of milestones and moments that come to mind when they reflect on their time in the industry – particularly when it comes to twins working in the same function.
“When we started at IROC we were back to back crews… people would see us both and not realise we were twins and would come up to me and ask, ‘why are you always at work, what is your fatigue management system’?” Megan said with a laugh.
“I also wore Megan’s work shirt a couple of times when I was operating… people were very concerned that I shouldn’t be driving trucks when I was working in dispatch,” Sarah added.
But the sisterhood had its advantages.
“We were very productive with sharing equipment, and also very in sync on our thinking strategies,” Megan said of their time working together dispatching on site.
“Being able to work with someone that gets you completely and can support you without asking for help, and knowing that you will be backed no matter the situation was amazing,” Sarah said.
Having an ally has always been important for the pair.
Being young women in the industry, they said they understand the challenges that often come with new ways of working, and can see just how far the industry has come in their ten years.
“I found it challenging at the start, being so young and giving direction to people that I had worked with for two years on the pre-strip circuit… it took a lot of time for people to respect me in such a high demand role, and also giving advice on a situation being so young,” Megan said.
She said inclusion and diversity is incredibly important in the industry going forward, where people bring their strengths to deliver real value.
“It empowers people by respecting and appreciating what makes them different and to have a voice, no matter what gender,” she said.
Sarah echoed her sentiments.
“When I started there was only one other female on the crew… and I was told by so many people that I wouldn’t last working in a male dominated industry, but it made me work harder to prove them all wrong,” Sarah said.
“I now look at how many women are out driving trucks, operating diggers, dozers and draglines… and women that are in leadership roles, and I think how far the company has come in the last 10 years with women in mining.
“I think it’s important to remember that everyone is equal – everyone brings qualities and experience to any job regardless of being a male or female.”
They agree the opportunities they have had at work have helped them excel, and they couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
“The company always has so many pathways and development opportunities, it also supports me to have a great lifestyle… working a roster means I have time for holidays and going on adventures on my days off,” Sarah said.
Both are looking forward to the next decade, with Sarah about to start a new role in autonomous haulage, and Megan setting her sights on becoming a superintendent.
“I’m most excited to be a part of the future of our operations,” Sarah said.
“Technology is such a powerful thing in today’s society.
“The possibilities are endless!”