Life after little mining towns

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By Annabel Williams

You don't appreciate life in the city until you’ve lived in a mining town - or at least, that’s my view.

Things we take for granted in major cities or regional centres are just not the norm in most small mining towns: think readily-available fresh food, anything beyond the most basic medical services, clothing and footwear, restaurants, cinemas, and the list goes on.

More and more employees fly in and out of mining towns for work, but there has also been an increase in the number of permanent residents. A recent study released by the Minerals Council of Australia revealed that the growth rate of permanent populations in mining regions has outstripped the national average, with families attracted by higher wages and lower unemployment.

But while mining communities offer significant benefits for families such as higher wages, subsidised housing, tighter community bonds and a less frenetic lifestyle, this often puts us out of step with life in the wider world. The disparity between the two lifestyles results in an adjustment period when we return to city living, often resulting in loneliness and a loss of identity.

After 11 years in mining towns such as Kalgoorlie, Karratha and Paraburdoo, Adrienne Seery returned to Perth with her husband and two young daughters. While she was overjoyed to be close to family again, she says it took about two years to feel really settled back in Perth. Apart from the traffic and commuting, one of the challenges for Adrienne was building a social network.

"People in small communities are drawn together as they are all in the same position without family and support networks," she says. "I found it really difficult moving back to Perth as you don’t make friends or join social circles as quickly, so it can be quite lonely after the experience of being in a mining town where you are embraced into the community almost immediately."

Adrienne says that in the city, it takes longer to move from quick chats outside the school gates to the point of real friendship, where you might have friends around for a cup of tea or a Sunday barbecue. 

"I found it much easier once I went back to work again and of course the kids didn’t have an issue at all. One of the best things, though, is being close to family again rather than making do with visits."

Marissa Sprott returned to Melbourne after more than eight years in mining towns such as Paraburdoo, Tom Price and Kalgoorlie. Like Adrienne, she was thrilled to have easy access to fresh food, family and all the advantages of city living. But she missed the intimacy and close sense of community that she and her family enjoyed in mining towns.

"In the city people have pre-existing relationships and support networks and aren’t necessarily open to new ones," says Marissa. "Living in small communities makes you learn the real value of relationships and how they impact on your life."

Marissa recommends being patient and understanding that other people have had different experiences and that it will take time to form new relationships. She also says it is easier to adjust if you stay true to your values and lifestyle rather than trying to change. She and her family decided that they would continue to do things that made them feel comfortable, for example, entertaining friends at home rather than going out. Inviting friends around for lots of barbecues and being open, welcoming and giving has been a successful approach for them.

As well as being patient, accepting and upholding your values in life, readjusting to life outside small communities means you also have to move out of your comfort zone. Finding work, taking a course or volunteering for school, sporting or community groups can help you find your niche. Marissa says that a big help for her family was being part of a church.

"Although the social relationships still take time, you have a large common ground with people that keep you connected," she says. "For us, because of our faith, when it did feel overwhelming, it was good to know that we were where we’re meant to be, so we took comfort and hope in that. There was a bigger picture."

Strategies for life after mining towns:

  • Be patient: it takes time to readjust and feel settled but it will happen
  • Lead by example: when making new friends, take the initiative, put your best self forward and don’t expect anything in return
  • Move out of your comfort zone: find work you love, volunteer for schools or community groups, take up a new hobby
  • Be true to yourself: know what’s important to you and how you live and stick to it
  • Stay positive: Try not to focus too much on the difficulties you’re facing, but don’t be too hard on yourself – you’re only human!