Newspaper article News Mail Bundaberg Qld.

Dark Days at Emerald Coalface

Newspaper article News Mail Bundaberg Qld.

Dark Days at Emerald Coalface

Article excerpt

OWEN JACQUES

APN NEWSDESK

IT FEELS like you're descending into an apocalyptic world. A future in which people are forced underground following a devastating event on the surface.

The light at the end of the tunnel dims then disappears as the steel machine you're riding in rambles into a network of tunnels stretching more than 30km. This is the coalface.

We reporters arrived on the government jet early in our business shirts, slacks and smart shoes then headed to Rio Tinto's Kestrel South from Emerald airport by bus. I do my job dutifully but the promise of disappearing below looms large.

The fluorescent overalls fit my waist but not my shoulders at 185cm so it is a tight squeeze. Switching up a size would delay the adventure so I struggle on.

A hefty tool belt of breathing equipment, alarms and communication gizmos is fastened.

There will be no jewellery, no phones and nothing metal - you do not want to be caught on something, you do not want to cause even the tiniest spark in this atmosphere.

The mandatory safety briefing begins. In case of an emergency, open this small metallic box on your belt and do the following things so you can breathe. We are all paying attention.

Once you have this simple plastic mask keeping you alive, head to a Compressed Air Breathing Apparatus stop where this simple mask and air bag is replaced by something more sophisticated so you can continue your 2km hike to ground level.

All okay? Good, on to the Drift Runner.

This diesel-powered monster looks born from an unholy night shared by a tank and a Land Rover.

I clamber into its rear and travel back-first.

The burbling roar of the engine echoes and the Runner restrained as we gently descend down a seemingly endless slope.

The distant light of the outside grows increasingly dim as the air becomes thicker, the moisture drips on our heads and we become accustomed to the smell of diesel exhaust.

The vehicle pauses and our guide turns on his headlamp. …

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