REVEALED: The final, dark days of failed mine
A SACKED worker at the Goondicum ilmenite mine east of Monto has shared details about the torrid last days of the project, which saw a major contractor walk off the job, production targets missed and a mysterious white four-wheel drive with tinted windows follow the miners into work the day they were told they no longer had a job.
The worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said he had been informed by an ex-co-worker that "our employment agreements explicitly state that we're not allowed to disclose 'confidential information', of which the conditions of our employment and subsequent termination is considered as such.
"This condition continues after we're no longer employed," the worker said.
He was born and raised in the North Burnett Region, with strong ties to the community.
"Almost half the staff at Goondicum were from the one family," he said.
The worker described it as a "big family affair, we were all very close".
The worker had held a full-time position at Goondicum until Monday when workers were told they no longer had a job.
He said there was little warning about what was about to happen.
"On Monday morning, the workers boarded the bus at Monto and we noticed a white four-wheel-drive with tinted windows parked near the bus with its lights on," he said.
"It was just hovering around, it was really weird.
"The bus took off at 5am and the four-wheel-drive followed us up.
"We saw these random people in hi-vis jackets hop out and go straight to the general manager's office.
"At 6am, we have a morning pre-start meeting and normally the night shift workers would board the bus and go home."
But instead, he said, the workers were all "rounded up" and told they had been terminated, effective immediately.
The worker said the news came as a shock to everyone.
"On Thursdays, they have meetings with the heads of department and some executives, where they usually talk about where the plant is going," he said.
There was "positive feedback" during the last meeting, as the production figures had shown that the prior week they had exceeded their daily target of 500tn for the first time.
"The process teams worked well to reach this target and were motivated to push further," he said.
But by the next day, they had slipped behind again, and then on Saturday came the jolt which reverberated throughout the entire mine: RSA Contractors, whose fleet was responsible for digging up the ore, walked off the job at around 3.30am.
The plant processed all remaining materials before production ceased on Saturday afternoon and Sunday.
Administrators were officially appointed to Goondicum mine on Sunday.
Bryan Hughes, chairman of administrators Pitcher Partners, confirmed to the Times that 38 workers had lost their jobs.
"We had no idea administrators had been appointed," the worker said.
"They rolled into town on Sunday and kicked everyone off on Monday."
The worker said, in hindsight, things which seemed odd at the time, now make more sense.
He said in the weeks leading up to the mine's closure, it had become harder and harder to procure parts, equipment and services, as staff were told Goondicum had exhausted its credit.
However, he acknowledged it was "not uncommon" in the mining sector to leave accounts unpaid until the "last minute", right at the end of the 60-90 day mandated period for paying contractors.
"It didn't raise any real red flags, but it meant that there were delays in getting the supplies we needed," he said.
What was of greater concern to the workers, however, were the twin resignations, around one week apart, of Melior Resources CEO Mark McCauley, who had been with the mine since its days of being operated by the defunct Belridge Enterprises, and general manager Alastair Bauer, whose LinkedIn listed him as being employed at Goondicum since January 2014.
According to his LinkedIn, Mr Bauer is now the general manager of the Texas silver mine, owned by ASX-listed Moreton Resources.
"It seems suss," the worker said.
"If you're the CEO (Mark McCauley), you know the financial direction the company is heading," he said.
Mr McCauley said there was "no relationship" between the two departures.
The worker said he is one of the lucky ones: he owns his own farm, doesn't have a young family to support, and skills which will transfer into a similar sector.
But, he warned, people "will exit the community".
He said people are looking for jobs as far afield as Biloela, Gladstone, Bundaberg and even Cracow, while others will return to farm work like tordoning.
"There will be less money spent in the community," he said.
"It's bad news for home owners - Goondicum leases a lot of rental properties in the area that workers lived in.
"Owners will have their rent forfeited."
The worker said it rankled with him that the discussion as to who was kept on as care and maintenance staff and who wasn't seemed like a "'who you know' sort of affair."
"Why weren't we afforded the luxury of keeping our jobs, too?"
"It's a bit rich. Especially since this isn't the first time we've been made redundant from the project."
Mr McCauley said he did take "some responsibility" for the mine's downfall.
"I've been the CEO for a long period of time, I can't walk away from that," Mr McCauley said.
"But everyone involved with the mine while I was there put in their best efforts to make the thing work, it didn't, that's the way it is."
RSA Contractors were contacted for comment.