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Ben Hannant joins campaign to save Byerwen mine

Former international and State of Origin footballer Ben Hannant has joined the campaign to save the mining camp, and potentially the mine, where he now works as a contractor.


Ben, best known as a hard-running front rower for the Broncos, Cowboys, Queensland and Australia, has also been known as a popular radio announcer on the Gold Coast and Brisbane over the last few years.


While retaining his Saturday morning Brisbane radio appearances, Ben has spent the last few months learning the trade driving heavy vehicles at the Byerwen coal mine.


The father of eight said it has been something he has always wanted to do, and a career he sees himself in for the rest of his life.


“I’m at the mine yeah, working for MPK on the civil side of things,” Ben told CityBeat this week. “I'm getting all my licenses, learning how to drive trucks, I'm learning to drive diggers, dozers, graders, scrapers, essentially, I'm learning an apprenticeship again.”


“It was something I was really interested when I was playing footy. So being up here at Byerwen has been fantastic for me. It's essentially me doing my apprenticeship and learning everything, not only learning about the equipment but learning the lingo.”


Ben has also established his own equipment hire company, HannantHire, providing the vehicles he is learning to operate to companies across the sector.


“It’s been a transition. Reminds me a lot of football, actually. It's very team oriented, and when you do things, you have to follow certain rules.”


In his time at Byerwen Ben has been living at the on-site camp which is now under threat after the State Government introduced discriminatory secret legislation without consultation or referral to the Parliamentary committee to close the camp and forcibly move the workforce to the nearby Glencore-owned and operated mining camp town of Glenden.


Byerwen Coal owner QCoal and other companies operating the mine, including its Japanese steel partner JFE, have formed Energy Resources Queensland to campaign in the lead up to State Election through the tellthemwheretogo.com.au campaign.


“Camp life, when you're up here with the boys and girls, it's fantastic,” Ben said. “The food's outstanding, and it's really important to make sure you got that balance from work, but also looking after yourself as well.


“The great thing is every morning I get up about 3.30 in the morning, I hit the gym and there's about eight or nine guys and girls in there with me hitting the gym, doing cardio or doing strength work.


“It's so important to look after yourself and they encourage you to do it here. They make time so the people do it before work, some people do it after, but it's great to know that it’s not only important to bring money in for your family or buying a house, whatever it may be, but also make sure you look after your wellbeing and that's a big priority here.


“So, we're living here in camp It's only five minutes to work, which is fantastic. To be able to have that so that once you've finished work, you are straight doing what you want to do for you. You have time to work on yourself, and maybe it might be reading a book, going for a run or it might be just congregating.


“We've got areas here where people stop and have a beer together and sit and chat and debrief and talk about their family, say a few jokes and that's fantastic for mental health and to be able to have that where we worked so hard for so long.”


Saving the camp while giving the mine workers a choice of where they live have become important for Ben.


“I don't think that it's fair, what's going on at the moment here. They're trying to move us out, which is ridiculous. We work so hard. Once we finish work, we need to rest straight away and be able to get back to speaking to our wives, our kids, and get to bed, a normal life again,” Ben said.


“Otherwise, we're going to be stuck on a bus. For two hours a day. For me is a big part why I came here, because I'm working five minutes from where I sleep, and you speak to anyone out in this mine site, it's a big part of why they're here and they're not happy about what's going on, that there's a possibility they're trying to move us all to Glenden.”


Ben said it was hard to explain to people living in the SEQ and working in an office what working at a mine site on 12.5 hour shifts for seven days straight was like, and the toll it took on mind and body.


“Realistically, when we're working, it's not just sitting in office. It's literally we're moving dirt around, we're bumping up and down. It’s a lot of toll on your body, so you're exhausted by the end, after 12 hours,” he said.


“When you're absolutely stuffed on the way home, when you want to be speaking your family, you’re missing everyone, and there’s no phone coverage on the road to Glenden.


There's another hour before you can speak to your loved ones again and before you can eat and get hydrated and then debrief and get ready for the new day.


“The mines are the heart of Queensland and I've seen a lot of mines in my time, but this one, the way it operates and the teamwork, everyone's approachable. It's actually a really fun place to be when considering you're not with your family, obviously people would rather be with their families, but the next best place to be is here.


“We just need the government to do their part and give back a little bit to people that give so much back to this state,” Ben said.

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