Solomon’s women: ‘we’re better off without the mine’

‘women are really happy since the mine has closed’

‘families are earning $180 per day’

An artisanal miner from Nusuta village in Solomon Islands showing the gold produced from two to three hours work at the Charivunga river, Gold Ridge. Photo: Copyright Matthew Allen, February 2015.

An artisanal miner from Nusuta village in Solomon Islands showing the gold produced from two to three hours work at the Charivunga river, Gold Ridge. Photo: Copyright Matthew Allen

Money flows to casual gold diggers in Solomons

Radio New Zealand

Around 200 people in Solomon Islands have set up camps in the pits at the closed Gold Ridge mine on Guadalcanal and have taken over gold production at the site.

The local goldminers met and spoke with Australian National University researcher, Matthew Allen, during his trip to the mine in February.

Dr Allen who is studying the political economy of mining in Melanesia and is currently in Bougainville says the women in some of the families say they are earning more money mining for themselves than they ever did when the mine was operating.

“The women were really happy that since the mine has closed access to the pits has been much easier for them and has been providing them with direct access to cash income which they can use for things like school fees and for taking their kids to clinics and to the hospital and so forth.”

Dr Allen says the miners are using very basic methods, digging up the ore and washing it out in streams over astroturf-like material to catch the gold.

He says a family can produce five grams of gold on average per day which they sell to local gold dealers for US$22 per gram, which is a substantial income by Solomon Islands standards.

Listen to the full interview with Matthew Allen on Dateline Pacific ( 5 min 58 sec)

A man from Nusuta village in Solomon Islands digs for ore in Gold Ridge's pit 3 also known as Kupers. Photo: Copyright Matthew Allen

A man from Nusuta village in Solomon Islands digs for ore in Gold Ridge’s pit 3 also known as Kupers. Photo: Copyright Matthew Allen

Full Transcript

Around 200 people in Solomon Islands have set up camps in the pits at the closed Gold Ridge mine on Guadalcanal and have taken over gold production at the site.

The local gold miners met and spoke with Australian National University Researcher, Matthew Allen, during his trip to the mine in February.

Dr Allen, who is studying the political economy of mining in Melanesia, told Koroi Hawkins the women in some of the families he spoke to say they are earning more money mining for themselves than they ever did when the mine was operating.

MATTHEW ALLEN: When I visited the mine pits I estimated that on any given day there were up to 200 people, so men, women and children from the surrounding communities. Particularly from those communities in the immediate vicinity of the mine pits engaged in alluvial mining on any given day. But my sense is that since the operation has ceased in April last year people have actually moved into the pits and are living in the pits. You know people have built temporary housing and shelters. So there are many people actually, you know as we speak living in the pits and engaged in small scale gold production, gold panning on a daily basis.

KOROI HAWKINS: And how sophisticated or what kind of equipment are they using?

MA: Well it is not very sophisticated and you know this type of mining is often referred to as artisanal mining which by definition means that it is low technology. So people are more or less digging out ore and then panning it in the rivers or in other water sources, streams and so on. The most technical it gets is, I guess, fuel-powered or I guess petrol or diesel-powered water pumps which are then used to kind of hose down the ore body. The gold is then collected using kind of astroturf-like materials. So it is all fairly low technology. However people are making pretty good money from it so my interviews with people involved in this alluvial mining indicate that often it is that people are mining in kind of small family units, nuclear family units. So a family might produce around 5 grams of gold on average per day which is then sold to local buyers for around 180 Solomon Islands dollars (per gram). So as far as Solomon Islands goes that’s a pretty good cash income. Now it is really important I mention this small scale mining activity that is going on is that it provides women and indeed children with direct access to cash income. And when I spoke to women, communities from the Gold Ridge land owning communities they were really  unanimous in their view that when the mine was operating the royalty and rental payments which were going to the three land owner associations were basically controlled by men who would often use the money irresponsibly, to use their words. So you know the women were really happy that since the mine has closed, access to the pits has been made much easier for them and has been providing them with direct access to cash income which they can use for things like school fees and for taking their kids to clinics and to the hospital and so forth.

KH: Just wrapping this all up what do you see as the mine’s future and if a new developer does come in these people will I presume. have to be evicted again because they had to do it initially?

MA: Look I think the mine has had a very problematic history. It’s had a short history and it has been very checkered. You know it has opened and closed again on two occasions now. It’s changed hands many times in terms of the owner operator. Obviously there are now significant liabilities for any potential buyer I would imagine. You know, particularly given the tailings dam situation. My understanding is that for much of the time during which St Barbara operated the mine it was very economically marginal. In fact I understand they were operating at a loss due to a combination of low gold prices and very high operating costs. And I think that the expectations on the part of the land owner associations are very high so they will looking to negotiate a new agreement with any new potential operator which will give them more favorable terms. In fact there was a report just recently in one of the daily newspapers in Solomon Islands in which the chair of one of the associations was calling for a joint venture so a 50-50 equity partnership with any new operator that may come in to run the mine.

 

6 Comments

Filed under Financial returns, Solomon Islands

6 responses to “Solomon’s women: ‘we’re better off without the mine’

  1. Great the Gold Ridge mine has closed but remember from news in December 2014, “the mine’s tailings dam may overflow”.
    Potential Gold Ridge mine disaster raised in Solomon Islands ads

    Updated 17 December 2014, 17:42 AEDT
    Solomon Island locals living near the St Barbara Gold Ridge mine are being warned lives could be lost and they may possibly have to evacuate with fears the mine’s tailings dam may overflow.
    http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/international/radio/program/pacific-beat/potential-gold-ridge-mine-disaster-raised-in-solomon-islands-ads/1400037

  2. Verethraghna

    St Barbara Mining, Katie-Jeyn Romeyn, Natalie Flynn it doesn’t matter how many diversity awards you win when the reality is that women who worked for you think they are better off artisanal mining. Your female employees would be rather be waist deep in arsenic than work for you. Maybe the Coach on Collins can stop recommending huge pay increases for her St Kilda Street girlfriends and come up with a real diversity program. Stop wasting shareholder’s resources applying for meaningless awards and get on with actually doing something constructive for your workforce and communities where you operate.

  3. Tess Livingstone

    Thank goodness Katie-Jeyn Romeyn is not coming to Brisbane with her Women and Leadership Australia roadshow because she would be jeered offstage for her false motherhood statements about how she has advanced women in business. Everyone who had to deal with St Barbara and Katie-Jeyn Romeyn in Brisbane knows that they their sole claims to fame are their skills of intimidation and bullying.

    • Jean Duncan

      I saw Ms Romeyn’s road show this week. I recommend she reads “The Wages of Failure: Executive Compensation at Bear Stearns and Lehman 2000-2008.”

  4. Pingback: Landowner pays $100 for troubled Solomon Islands mine from Australian miner | Papua New Guinea Mine Watch

  5. Wake up coach on collins

    Maybe Katie-Jeyn Romeyn should go back and learn the basics of employment law. Here is one for her, you can’t change an employment contract without reciprocity in consideration. How many women will you rip off while spruiking that you are the answer for wage equality?

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