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First female winder makes history

Western Australia has welcomed the first female winder driver to its ranks, with Tracie Walker at BHP’s Leinster Nickel Operation receiving her Class 1 Winder Engine Driver Certificate from the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety.

“I feel really fortunate and honoured,” said Tracie. “Anyone can achieve their goals if they want to. When I started, I didn’t know I was the first female to do this. It’s a huge achievement for women coming through the mining industry.”

The winders at Leinster Nickel Operation are the hoists that drive the cage and skips from surface to the lower levels of the underground mine.

The cage can transport up to 100 people at a time, up and down the 1100-metre shaft and travels at five metres per second. The skips hoist approximately 18 tonnes of ore (or waste) every two minutes to the surface at speeds of up to 13 metres per second.

“Winder driving is a highly regarded and specialised mining role requiring extensive training, a high level of awareness and strong communication skills,” said General Manager of Nickel West’s Northern Operations, Chris Stone.

“As well as being responsible for the safe operation of the cage and skips, the winder driver is the first point of contact in an emergency, and also controls the underground crushing and conveying system.”  

Tracie started at BHP’s Leinster Nickel Operation in 2006, first in mine control, then as an underground truck operator. In 2017, Tracie spent time in BHP’s iron ore operations before returning to the Leinster team in 2018 as a trainee winder driver.

Twelve months later, having successfully completed the training required to pass the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety exam, Tracie was awarded a Class 1 Winder Engine Drivers Certificate.

“My mum was very proud to find out I had qualified, and she passed away the week after. So this is something I did for her, and also myself,” said Tracie.

“Part of my training was to understand the electrical and mechanical components and I continue to learn new things each day. I was very fortunate to train with a fantastic team with a wealth of knowledge and experience,” Tracie continued. “Everyone cares about each other and there is a strong supportive culture.”

“Traditionally, work in the shaft and underground crushing systems has been a male dominated area, and normally winder drivers are sourced from this experienced pool candidates,” said Leinster mining manager, Craig Hatch.

“Having Tracie join our team in one of our most specialised roles is great. We are all very proud of Tracie and her achievement.”

Leinster Nickel Operation is a part of BHP’s Nickel West asset. It is located in the northern Goldfields region of Western Australia and consists of underground and open-cut nickel mines and a nickel concentrator. Nickel concentrate from Leinster is transported to the Kalgoorlie Nickel Smelter by rail for processing into nickel matte.