In a now-demolished farm house in Iowa I taught the older grandsons to make pasta carbonera. It is easy: while pasta (any type) boils in hot water, in a pan fry bacon and onion; throw the boiled pasta into the pan; break in a few eggs; mix the whole until the eggs are cooked; eat with wine (adults) or soda (kids).
This was the lunch food of Italian underground miners. It was probably the high point of the day, as it was the high-point meal for five boys and one girl in that cold, old farm-house in Iowa.
Recently an Australian journalist asked me about the grubbiest job in mining. I replied: front-face, underground miners. Just like those Italians who ate pasta carbonera.
The dark side of mining, and there is one, is the hard, grubby, dangerous work in deep underground mines drilling, blasting, mucking, and moving ore-laden rock.
They are called mining laborers, or labourers, depending on your spelling preference. In the USA and Canada they earn between fifteen and thirty dollars and hour. Much less in Chile, South Africa, and China. And they die regularly. My paternal grandfather was one and he died in a rock-burst before I was born.
The fact is that while we write about and revel in tales of junior mining exploration undertaken from luxury offices, the reality is that rock has to be broken and moved to liberate the gold and silver that make the money that makes luxury offices in high-rise towers possible.
Journalists and blogger seldom write of this dark side of mining. We never go below to do what they do; we never deign to don water-proof gear, and advance to the raw rock-face. Like those miners in Chile who got caught and trapped and rescued—a miracle.
It matters not whether you are at the mining face in Chile, Diavik, Ekati, a coal mine inVirginia, or a coal mine in China. It is the same: descend the shaft, walk to the face, and in the dark, drill holes, push in explosive, retreat for the blast, and go back to muck out the broken rock and ore.
We can hardly imagine this dark, damp, and dangerous existence. We wonder what sort of men do this. Maybe, like my grandfathers, they are simply men desperate to make a few dollars to support family. They have no education and no skills. This is the only way to make money. Toil and travail is their lot. A brute patience and simple endurance. It breeds a comrade, solidarity, a union spirit, and a disdain for the manager, engineer, and money-maker. They eat pasta, sandwiches, buns, fahitas, welch pies, and any other high-carbohydrate food. Screw the organic and vegetables—that is for the effete.
They live blackened by coal, dust, and oil. They die of lungs clogged by fine quartz particles. They smoke for the relief and care not for the consequences–for smoking in nothing by comparison with the fine dust of the deep mine front face.
I challenge somebody to write in detail and from personal knowledge about these men (for this is not women’s work) and to go below in mines across the globe and document the truth of this dark, hard side of mining. I volunteer if somebody will provide the finance.
And if nobody does, then this piece is all I can offer to their honor. For the rest, let us not forget them in glorifying the other fun parts of mining and making money.