A fair chance for everyone
Rebecca Roper is mine manager for Glencore’s George Fisher Mine, an underground zinc, lead and silver mine in Queensland, Australia. She is passionate about ensuring that talented individuals are recognized in the operation, regardless of their gender.
Q: TELL US ABOUT GEORGE FISHER MINE.
A: George Fisher Mine (GFM) has a long and rich history. It is one of the largest zinc, lead and silver mines in the world. The Hilton zinc-lead-silver ore bodies, located 20 kilometres north of Mount Isa, were discovered in 1947. After 40 years of on-and-off development, Hilton finally began production in 1989.
Renamed GFM after Sir George Fisher, the former chairman of Mount Isa Mines, the mine was officially opened in 2000. 2020 marked the 50-year anniversary of the sinking of the Hilton Shaft, the 30-year anniversary of the official opening of Hilton Mine and 20 years of operation at GFM.
Q: WHAT IS YOUR ROLE WITH GFM?
A: I’m the GFM manager. I am responsible for the Mine Operations team, which incorporates the production, development, and fill and services departments, employing close to 400 people, including underground operators and technical staff.
In February 2020, after spending 12 months as mine manager at Glencore’s Lady Loretta Mine 140 kilometres north-west of Mount Isa, I moved to GFM. This was just before the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down. My first 100 days turned out very differently to how I had initially mapped them out.
Q: WHAT ARE YOUR DAY-TO-DAY RESPONSIBILITIES?
A: I’m responsible for ensuring the safe execution of the mine plan, from diamond drilling, raise boring, development, production through to backfilling the waste voids created underground.
Q: WHY DID YOU ENTER THE MINING INDUSTRY?
A: I grew up on a farm in outback New South Wales and although I loved it, the droughts, floods, bushfires and being at the mercy of commodity prices meant at times it was soul-destroying. This taught me resilience, the ability to plan and problem-solve, and instilled within me a strong work ethic to see a task through to the end. These proved invaluable skills when I was introduced to the day to day of the mining industry.
As a child, we used to go fossicking near the farm in an area that was mined for copper during the early 20th century. I was fortunate to see the evolution of a new open-cut copper mine on the site. My older siblings worked holiday jobs on the exploration drill rigs, and I was always jealous I wasn’t old enough.
Geology was on my career list, however. I investigated it further by attending the careers open day at university. The talks by the civil and environmental engineers were very formal, held in a large theatre with hundreds of people. In contrast, the mining engineers were having a barbecue outside their building and it was very relaxed and informal. I felt at home.
Q: WERE MANY WOMEN GOING INTO MINING WHEN YOU STARTED?
A: I started university in 1998, as the mining industry was taking off. My year had an intake of 70 students, and only 12 of those were women. By the time we graduated, there were six women left. This was still more than any previous year. The six of us have remained friends and keep in touch regularly. We are all still in the mining industry.
Q: WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES YOU CURRENTLY FACE IN YOUR JOB?
A: The challenge is always around the people – how to lead a culture of safety and change. A lot of the workforce at GFM have a generational connection to the mine. Part of my role is changing and driving the culture and explaining why we no longer do some of the things that we used to do, that there’s now a safer and more efficient way to do the same task. That continuous drive for improvement and to change mindsets is the hardest challenge.
Q: WHAT IS THE MOST REWARDING PART OF YOUR JOB?
A: The most rewarding part is interacting with people and providing guidance and assistance to empower them. I’m a collaborative leader, so I’m always looking to ensure that everyone feels valued, has a voice and is heard. It’s also rewarding to be an advocate for the women in mining. In the past, I’ve felt like I’m just doing my job. I now realize that other women see me in the role and think, “I can do that too.” That’s really significant, and if I can make their path any easier, then we all win.
I have a focus on diversity, inclusion and, importantly, excellence. I encourage a culture where we choose the best person for the role, ensure that our eyes are open to everyone, and that all voices have a seat at the table. I encourage my superintendents to keep their minds open to different possibilities, and suggest different options.
Q: HOW WOULD YOU SAY MINING HAS CHANGED SINCE YOU STARTED?
A: There are things that I did in mining 20 years ago that we just don’t do anymore. There are even things that we did five years ago that we don’t do anymore. In mining, we have that quest for safety and striving for excellence all the time. We have removed people from the line of fire.
Likewise, technology is evolving. As a graduate completing time on crew, we used to fill out our daily activity sheets which required the employment of six administration people to complete the data entry, with the results of the shift available hours later. Now, it’s done electronically, direct from jumbos over Wi-Fi, with data available instantly on dashboards accessible on your phone.
The other exciting change is the variety of careers now available in mining. Apart from the usual suspects, we now have data scientists, linear programmers, drone pilots, and we’ve got an operational technology team. These careers didn’t exist when I started.
Q: DO YOU FORESEE MORE WOMEN WORKING IN MINING?
A: If you’re a data scientist, health professional, chemist or IT specialist, the opportunities are boundless in mining. I still don’t think we always do a good job of marketing ourselves to other women in both the traditional mining roles (trades, operators) and non-traditional roles.
We need to tap into the sustainability of mining and the roles required for sustainable mining practices – electric cars, mobile phones and solar panels all need minerals.
Here at GFM, I have started Women in Mining (WIM) Wednesdays. Once a month on Wednesdays, many of the women at the mine meet for lunch and discuss different topics – things like confidence, having courageous conversations and resilience. It’s a great networking opportunity and a “safe place” to discuss specific issues, ask for guidance and gain confidence with public speaking. A lot of women end up taking a technical role because they think that’s going to suit their family life better. But I say that if your passion is in operations, you can make it work. Find a supportive mentor and supportive leaders in the business. If you’re not getting that, don’t stay in the job. Find a mine, a company, a leader that is supportive, because they are out there. Find your passion and find a mentor or someone in your business who will listen to you.
I’ve been fortunate enough in my career to have some senior leaders that have actively encouraged me and “had my back” to whom I’ll be forever grateful. But if I also hadn’ t stepped out of my comfort zone, I wouldn’ t be in this chair now.
Q: GOING FORWARD, DESCRIBE YOUR APPROACH TO SUSTAINABILITY.
A: We aim to achieve and maintain the highest standards of health, safety and environmental performance at our Queensland Metals operations. We take a continuous improvement approach to managing our operations and apply a variety of actions to measure and manage the potential impacts of our activities on our communities.
A major project has been rehabilitating two former waste rock facilities at GFM. The final stages of works are underway on capping 230 hectares of land, with almost six million tonnes of earth moved as part of the project. We’re committed to minimizing environmental impacts from our operations, with about 45 million dollars’ worth of work being undertaken to restore mined land across our Queensland Metals operations between 2016 and 2022.
We will be looking at the success of this project to set the benchmark for other rehabilitation works across our Queensland Metals business. At Queensland Metals we are committed to responsibly sourcing the commodities that advance everyday life in countries all over the world, as well as creating a sustainable metals business that is a source of pride and prosperity for the region.