The Thalanga operation outside Charters Towers is a study in tapping the best of the old and the new.
General manager of operations Karl Spaleck said a number of people working on the Thalanga project for Red River Resources had been employed there under the previous owner Kagara, or even earlier in the operation’s history.
“We have people here who have been working for about four different companies, just the same mine,” he said.
“When we arrived, we met a worker named Mona Polinelli who had been employed by the first site owners Pancontinental Mining.
“When Pancontinental Mining was acquired by Sterlite Industries she worked for them, and when Kagara came along she worked for them.
“Mona was part of our care and maintenance team and is part of our workforce as well. In total, she must have been here for nearly 30 years.”
Mr Spaleck said that Ms Polinelli had proved a wealth of knowledge on subjects as varied as the people who had worked at the operation previously or where water pumps were located across the tenements.
“We would use a GPS to go somewhere, but you could just ask Mona and she would tell you ‘just over that hill there and on your left-hand side’,” he said.
The majority of Red River’s Thalanga workforce was recruited from Charters Towers or have moved there for the job.
About half of the team involved in restarting Thalanga were very experienced people who had clocked up ‘a fair few years’ in the industry, Mr Spaleck said.
But about a quarter were brand new to the mining workforce.
“Our focus on them has really helped a lot – making sure the onboarding process is good and getting our safety values across to them as well,” Mr Spaleck said.
“You don’t want them to learn bad habits, you want to make sure everything is perfect and we just drum safety into them every day.
“We basically tell people that no job is so important that it can’t be done safely.”
The operation had been brought online without major incidents or injuries, he said, and the site had clocked up more than 1000 days lost-time-injury free.
Mr Spaleck said he was very proud of what had been achieved in bringing the Thalanga processing plant back online after being mothballed in 2012.
“I think it’s a testament to everyone who was on the project – a lot of people,” he said.
“For me, what I like is to actually see it running. Three years ago, when we acquired, it had been just sitting here still for four years. To put some life back into the plant is good to see.”
Red River employs a workforce of 65 for the Thalanga operation, in addition to 57 people employed by mining contractor Pybar.
Mr Spaleck said the operation had a focus on local suppliers as well as local employees, but maintained a lean approach to business.
“We won’t just pick you because you are local – it’s all about the quality and the service and the price,” he said.
“We go out to tender for everything, get three quotes.
“I think the advantage that the Charters Towers and Townsville businesses have is they don’t have to fly people from interstate and all over the place and bring equipment up. Transportation costs can be huge, so that gives local guys the advantage.
“People realise that this is not a Rio Tinto or a BHP.
“We keep things as lean as possible. We know exactly where we spend our money and make sure we get the best value for money.”