Today I did not work. Instead I took a very old friend and his wife to the Britannia Mining Museum in winter. It was a clear, sparkling day; cold but brisk; beautiful views out over the sound to the distant blue mountains.
He and I were in nursery school and primary school together. His father was the East Geduld Mine secretary, in those days second only to the mine manager. My father was a mine captain, some way down the scale of importance.
He became the mill or plant manager on mines in South Africa, and retired to Cape Town many years ago. He and his wife are visiting their son and grandchildren who live a mere stone’s-throw from me. I came to Canada and did tailings and continue to work–most of the time when not blogging. We have not seen each other for so many years that it is embarrassing to count them. Yet we picked up easily where we left off: both mining brats of yore. Both products of mining and the beneficiaries thereof. That is why I support mining, regardless of what I may write at times.
Here is a story he told me that so nicely captures the social hierarchy of a typical mine.
Ted Pavitt was head of Union Corporation (now blended into BHP Billiton). He was visiting the mine where we lived. He and his party were walking along a stope underground. Beside him was the Mine Manager. Behind them the Consulting Mining Engineer from head office. Behind him, the Underground Manager. Behind him, the Section Manager. Behind him, the Mine Captain. Behind him, the Shift Boss. Behind him, the Miner. And behind him, a black man who was carrying all the coats and other impedimenta as we called them. The black man would in those days have been called the Picannin.
Ted Pavitt saw a dog spike lying in the tracks. From what I recall this was a metal spike used to hold the rails on the wooden ties. Ted Pavitt picked up the spike–for this was waste and dangerous. As befits his status, he turned and handed it to the Mine Manager. Who promptly handed it to the Consulting Engineer, who handed it to the Underground Manager, who handed it to the Section Manager, who handed it to the Mine Captain, who handed it to the Shift Boss, who handed it to the Miner, who handed it to the Picannin, who took a long look at this useless piece of metal and without hesitation threw it behind him between the tracks.
OK, maybe you need to have grown up on a mine in South Africa more than fifty years ago to appreciate that story without becoming PC-incensed. For this could not happen today. The lowest on the mining totem pole would now be the first to pick up an object that could cause an accident. But in a mining museum, this was a good story.
So be it. Here are some photos I took today—and if you get a chance go to the Britannia Mining Museum in winter.