Let’s Talk – Day 2

This week is National Women’s Health Week.  Their slogan is “Let’s talk!” and their logo is a delightful pink elephant in the room.  This week, I’m getting us talking about periods with an engineering spin.   Have a look at yesterday’s post to get up to speed.
We will continue to use the Engineering Hierarchy of Controls to examine this topic each day of this week.
Just a note that some of the health and medical things discussed here aren’t the right solution for every one and your doctor might have some really good reasons why it won’t work for you (like, you might have a stroke), so treat this information as if it were a casual gossip with a girlfriend and not tailored medical advice.
Today we’re up to Substitution.
Who remembers “Ready or Not?”  This and Degrassi Junior High were staple teen issue viewing for me in my formative years.  One of the quotes from the tomboy character who had just become a woman (much to the dismay of the jealous girly character) regarding her sanitary napkin sticks in my mind, “It feels like having a football down my pants.”  Based on this and my own personal preferences, I’ve concluded that pads are not everyone’s cup of tea.
But it is no longer the 80s in regional Cananda (aboot time!), and just because a gal doesn’t want to insert foreign objects at her most vulnerable time to stem the flow, doesn’t mean she has to be subjected to the bunching, sticky, messy horror that is sanitary pads.
Today, there is such a thing as anti-microbial fabric, which can be used to create period-proof undies which claim to hold two tampons worth of fluid without feeling like sitting in a pool of your own blood.
Check out their website to see some of their cute but functional designs!
Icky mess substituted!
But stick around, tomorrow, we’re looking at Engineering Controls!

“Let’s Talk!” National Women’s Health Week

If you are someone who is uncomfortable with thinking about the fact that I, and a large number of other women, periodically expel their unused uterus linings, please stop reading now.  You have been warned.  There will be blood.
This week is National Women’s Health Week.  Their slogan is “Let’s talk!” and their logo is a delightful pink elephant in the room.  As if I needed any more of an excuse to get behind an event…  They had me at pink elephant!
I wanted to write about periods and working as an engineer because I when I was younger and more self-concious this was the type of topic of conversation that would have been useful to me, but the thought of bringing it up with anyone put my social anxiety into hyperdrive.  But my mind was full of questions such as:
Is anyone else dealing with trying to change a tampon underground where there are a scattering of portaloos and your fingernails are caked in lead?
Does anyone else care that there are no sanitary bins for 40km?
How do you survive your day of walking around the middle of nowhere when you just want to curl up in a ball in your shower?
This was a continuation of my preference for not asking awkward questions and just making assumptions, and is the kind of thing which made 10 year-old Yvette dread growing up because she thought that grown up women had their period continuously for the rest of their lives (that is, without the three week blood-free gap).  There was lots of teaching about getting your period but nothing about it stopping or it starting again after the next month…
Now that I’m more ballsy (ovary-y), I talk about whatever if I think it’s worth it.  And I’ve been encouraged by some of the other awesome women I’ve met (shoutout to Betty Lovecat and Vivien Victory!) that there’s no such thing as TMI when it comes to women’s health.  And now even Olympic swimmers talk about cramps on international television!
But, one thing that I was concerned about when highlighting that there are some women who don’t feel 110% for 5 to 7 days of every 28, was that this would give the patriachy yet another reason to discriminate against the “weaker sex”.
But basically, if you haven’t cottoned on by now, my mission in life it to prove that princesses make great engineers. And some princesses get PMS.  And they deal with it incredibly well.
However, I might be getting defensive all too soon.  Statistically it seems that succumbing to period-related presenteeism (rocking up to work even when you aren’t 100%) doesn’t even feature in the top twelve medical reasons for presenteeism (according to this article).  Despite the hype, such as this article about period leave being a thing, a worker is significantly more likely to be underperforming due to depression, allergies or hypertension, than a visit from Aunty Flo
Put this together with the fact that the female engineering population is tiny, chances are having a watercooler conversation about having a tough period is probably going to be a rare occurrence.
So if you do happen to be a female, and a female of reproductive capacity, and a female who is adversely affected by her cycle, and you want to hear about how some other engineeresses have made their lives a little easier each month, read on.
We will be using the Engineering Hierarchy of Controls to examine this topic each day National Women’s Health Week.
Just a note that some of the health and medical things discussed here aren’t the right solution for every one and your doctor might have some really good reasons why it won’t work for you (like, you might have a stroke), so treat this information as if it were a casual gossip with a girlfriend and not tailored medical advice.


When I mentioned to an engineeress friend of mine that I was thinking of writing about life hacking my “moon time”, she gave me a look that said “way ahead of ya, sister” and revealed that she’d avoiding periods by taking her combined oral contraceptive back to back for years.  (This is listed as a solution for period pain on the Jean Hailes for Women’s Health site.)
Theoretically, you can also do this with other types of combined contraceptive like Nuvaring.  (The Nuvaring is one of the coolest medical gadgets I’ve come across recently.  Imagine a colourless glow stick bracelet, filled with hormones, which is inserted somewhere you should never insert a glow stick.  Because the location is so close to the target, the dosage can be smaller.  Nuvaring is to combined oral contraceptive as Implanon is to mini pill.  I can’t express how much of a difference not having to remember to take a pill has made on the quiet enjoyment of my life, while still knowing when crimson tide is nigh.)
Periods eliminated!
Tomorrow, we’re looking at Substitution!

Celebrating Gin and Visitors


Here’s something I posted last week for a good friend of mine who was celebrating World Gin Day in proper style, with a Gin Week on her blog!

As an oompa loompa of science I find the world of distilling and brewing quite fascinating.  Basically Chemistry class for adults!  So to celebrate Gin Week and a couple of visitors from home I headed to Edinburgh’s first gin distillery in 150 years Pickering’s, situated in Summerhall in Edinburgh’s south.  I had unfortunately missed out on Juniper Fest over the weekend and had already visited the Edinburgh Gin Distillery, so was keen to learn what made Pickering’s special.


This way to gin!

Pickerings gin is based on an original Bombay recipe dating back to 1947 and kept as a family secret until it resurfaced in 2013 when Matt and Marcus began distilling at Summerhall.  The tour begins at the Royal Dick Bar in Summerhall, also home to one of Edinburgh’s breweries Barney’s Beer, with a G&T to sip throughout.


Great way to start a tour, G&T with a slice of pink grapefruit

From the bar you are taken past the Mens room, then the ladies, through winding corridors and over uneven ground to what used to be dog and cat kennels. They have since been repurposed with some of the kennels used to store raw ingredients, gin and boxes.  But how do they make their gin?

A neutral grain spirit with 96%abv is piped into one of two copper stills on site, one called Emily, the other Getrude after Matt and Marcus’s great-grandmothers.  In the still the 9 botanicals are added and the spirit left to steep.

The 9 botanicals that go in to making this tasty drop are juniper, coriander, cardamon, angelica, fennel, anise, lemon, lime and clove.  The two stills have an ingenious custom-designed bain marie heating system that provides a gentle simmer able to coax out their subtle, soft, highly drinkable flavours.


With their 9 Botanicals

After steeping this bain marie system is used to heat the spirit to vapour.  As the heating begins this vapour is trapped in the ‘onion’ of the still, condenses and travels back down to the heart of either Emily or Gertrude.  This process of vapourising, condensing and travelling back to the spirit can occur up to 16 times before the spirit is warm enough for the vapour to bypass the onion and travel through the swan neck to the neighbouring condenser.

The condenser uses water that is stored in a local underground well to cool the vapour back to a liquid.  Similar to whisky distilling, the potable alcohol the distiller wants to capture has a boiling point of 78.2OC, with the first vapours to boil off being more volatile and known as the ‘heads’. The hedas include chemicals such as acetaldehyde (CH3CHO), acetone ((CH3)2CO) and esters (pretty sure I learnt about those in chemistry back in the day!). Once the desired boiling point is reached the ethanol liquid is called the heart and piped through copper piping to one of three vats.  The heart will be ethanol. The tails are left, containing water, carbohydrates and less volatile alcohols, all undesirable. The tails will consist of 1-propanol (CH3CH2CH2OH), butyl alcohol (C4H10O), amyl (Isobutyl carbinol) and acetic acid (CH3COOH) to name a few.

The copper in the still and piping is very important as it helps produce an even, smooth flavour and impurities are left on the inside of the copper piping thereby keeping the spirit pure without excessive filtration.

Once stored in the vats the distillers will monitor the temperature and density of the spirit, regularly taking temperature and density readings and adding water until the desired alcohol content is arrived at.  Pickering’s Gin has 42%abv, slightly more than the required 37.5%abv to qualify as a London Dry Gin.  It is a particularly high tech process at Pickering’s, adding the water by hand in smaller and smaller quantities, stirring using a oar bought from an outdoor shop and taking individual measurements with thermometer and hydrometer then double checking them in a large book full of tables.

This is a one-shot method, only mixing their end distillate with water to cut it to bottling strength, compared with larger distilleries who use more base spirit to stretch their distillate before cutting with water.

When the desired alcohol content is achieved then it is piped in copper pipes to the room next door where it is bottled by hand.  It is also stoppered and waxed by hand.


If you’ve ever seen a bottle of Pickering’s you’ll know the bottle isn’t square which makes attaching labels by hand consistently rather difficult.  The distillery is housed in part of Summerhall, an old Veterinary Hospital that is now home to many community groups including Edinburgh Hacklab.  This hacklab is a space for people to mess around with technology for fun so Pickering’s asked them to come up with something they could use to attach the labels, as they were worryingly close to their launch date and had a few hundred bottles to label.

The resulting machine is quite something, and is still going well considering it was designed to be used on a few hundred bottles and has now been used on over 60,000.


What a beautiful machine

Once labels are attached, and the stoppers are waxed the bottles are boxed up and stored in the old dog kennels.  Throughout this whole process it s evident that everything is done by hand by a very small team, and it is definitely a labour of love.


Dog kennels being used as an excise store for gin

The original 1947 recipe was altered as they were creating a gin that goes perfectly with tonic, and it seems they have hit the nail on the head.  They also produce a Navy Strength gin, as official partners of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and have also created a gin using the original 1947 recipe which is a spicier, sweeter and more intense spirit.

Their most recent release has its beginnings in a trip around Scotland to the iconic whisky regions in search of the best casks they could find.  They then age their Original gin in one of five ex-Scotch malt whisky casks, and the result is truly something!

Well that’s all from me today. I hope you feel a little better informed about the process of creating one of my favourite gins. I definitely believe a greater understanding of something leads to a much deeper appreciation of its beauty. So next time you sip that G&T ask yourself what botanicals are in it, how they affect the gin, whether it is a one or two shot distillate, and never forget how much love and care has been put into your handcrafted gin.

If you want some wonderful ways to cook with gin, don’t forget to head to Kitty’s Storecupboard and have a look at all her wonderful Gin Week posts.

Sunshine on Lapland, and Iron Ore


It would seem like Spring has finally made it to Lapland.  The large pile of snow in the hotels courtyard has almost melted, and the nearby hills are starting to look a little naked.  It’s amazing the transformation that has occurred over only two weeks.  The landscape is full of hope – green leaves rapidly unfurling from trees that looked two weeks ago like they would never recover from the long winter, hares can be frequently spotted throughout town, and the moose and reindeer have come down toward the river and are more often seen on the road outside my hotel than cars.  There’s also the 24 hours of daylight, coupled with 5 weeks on the road, that have resulted in me starting to resemble Al Pacino from 2002’s Insomnia.  As an aside, if you haven’t seen insomnia, it’s worth a watch just for Robin Williams.

So, why am I in rural northern Sweden, and where am I exactly anyway?  I am spending three weeks in a place called Gällivare, about 3 hours north-east of Luleä, which I’m sure you’ve never heard of either, unless you read Yvette’s blog last week! When you include nearby Malmberget and Koskullskulle the area has just over 15,000 inhabitants and is the second northernmost urban area in Sweden.  The only urban area further north is Kiruna, an area Yvette was lucky enough to visit recently as well.


Gallivare, in the heart of Swedish Lapland

It is 100 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, and from May till August it never really gets dark.  It’s not all doom and gloom though, today was a balmy 23 degrees, a rare treat before the area becomes ‘mosquito hell’ over the summer months as it is known by the locals.

I am here working for the nearby LKAB Malmberget iron ore mine.  The town is known as the mining capital of Europe, with other nearby mines including LKAB’s Svapavaara and Kiruna Mine’s and Boliden’s Aitik.  LKAB markets itself as ‘a high-tech international minerals group, world leading producer of processed iron ore products for steelmaking, and a growing supplier of mineral products for other industrial sectors’.  They are a major employer in the area and in 2015 produced 24.5MT of iron ore, the majority of which was pellets for steel making.  To put that in perspective, Australian iron ore exports for 2015 were in the region of 750Mt, however Sweden makes up about 90% of the European Union’s steel production so LKAB are a significant European producer.  They produce three main product types: pellets, fines and special products.  Pellets and fines go to steel mills and special products to foundries and the oil industry.  The Geologist who was our guide proudly proclaimed that the pellets produced by Malmberget are the best quality pellets in the world, and they certainly receive a premium for their product.

What also makes LKAB unique is that they are state owned.  Nationalisation of mines became the norm after the world wars, when developed countries were concerned with ensuring self-sufficiency of commodity supply, and developing, often recently independent, nations saw this as the route to economic independence from their colonial oppressors.  However management was often poor, production was never optimal, and nepotism was rife so nationalisation of mines decreased, with privatisation the new norm.  There are still a number of state owned enterprises including Chile’s Codelco, a laeading producer of copper, Morrocco’s OCP, the main producer of phosphate in the world, and Botswana’s diamond producer Debwana currently operating successfully.

LKAB has two underground mines, Kiruna and Malmberget, and one open and two planned open pits in nearby Svappavaara.  The ore is shipped to one of two harbours, Kiruna and Svappavaara products to Narvik harbour and Malmberget products to Luleå.


An overview of LKAB’s operations in Sweden

All sorting, milling and pelletising is completed on site at the mines, and it is the final product that is then railed to ports to be shipped to their mainly European customers.  The diagram below will give you a better idea of their production structure and how vertically integrated it is.  It is certainly an impressive industrial area when you are used to an underground mine and associated concentrator.


The vertically integrated production structure

Before we get to the really interesting stuff, a quick run-down on the geology of the Malmberget deposit.  Malmberget is an Apatite iron ore of Kiruna-Type.  Yep, you read correctly – Kiruna morphology is distinct enough to have its own deposit type named after it.  The area strikes 5 kilometres in a West-East direction, and 2.5 kilometres in the North-South direction and comprises of 30 current and historical magnetite and hematite mines.  The ore itself consists of medium to coarse grained magnetitie and hematite and it is high in apatite.  The host rocks are strongly metamorphosed and deformed vulcanites of felsic to mafic composition.  Vulcanite areas are intruded and surrounded by a later granite-pegmatite succession, which is the probable cause for the high metamorphosis and deformation grade.  So put simply, it was originally a deposit very similar to Kiruna, that then underwent folding and subsequent metamorphism which resulted in much smaller vein-like deposits then is seen in the Kiruna deposit.


On aerial view of the Industrial Area with the underlying deposits

As a result, Malmberget deposit is mined with a combination of transverse and longitudinal Sub-Level Caving.  The Sub-Level caving method is a large scale mass mining method, that is sequenced from the top of the deposit downward, where material is blasted, extracted but not filled so the overlying rock caves to fill in the void created by loading the rock out.


Mining in the area began in the 1600s but not on an industrial scale until the railroad to Lulea harbor was built in 1888.  There are currently 13 orebodies in production, producing on average about 18Mt per annum.  The majority of ore produced is magnetite and mining is divided between the Western and Eastern fields, with the big magnetite orebodies in the Eastern field and the small magnetite and hematite orebodies in the Western field.

As an engineer who has worked in a 5Mtpa underground mine (and I thought that was sizeable), the sheer volume of rock that is moved astounds me every time I visit.  All their production and development statistics are equally staggering however, as in 2014 they completed almost 21km of development, installed 65,000 rock bolts and drilled 794,000 production metres.

Apart from the challenges that come with mining at this scale, the mine is actually underneath the town of Malmberget and the Community Centre had a fascinating model that showed the relationship of the orebodies to the town.

Throwback Thursday – Workin’ on the Järnväg

Today’s post is not throwing back too far, only to mid April, when I had the pleasure of getting my rail geek on in Northern Sweden, as part of my 7-week Grand Tour of the UK and Nordic countries.

Ever since I had seen a video on the underground automatic trains at LKAB’s Kiruna mine, I have wanted to visit to see them for myself.

This week, my team of rail fairy godfathers – the exceptionally well-connected Jonesy and the incredibly obliging guys at the Swedish trade commission – made my Swedish rail dreams come true!

My first excursion was a train cab ride on an iron ore train from Kiruna, in Northern Sweden, to the Norwegian port in Narvik.  Apparently, this opportunity is only offered to about 10 people a year, and they are usually important foreign dignitaries.  (I told you all I was a princess!)

I travelled with a Norwegian driver who wasn’t accustomed to talking about train handling and supervision equipment in English, but he did an excellent job of explaining with gestures and pointing out the best parts in the journey for photo opportunities.

One of most exciting things pointed out to me was a majestic, white reindeer galloping along the corridor.  I got a great photo of him… just before we ran him over.

I was very pleased to discover that the cabins are fully heated.  This line is run as driver only with supervision by a system called ATC, which has a similar level of supervision to Westec ATP in that a violation in speed initiates an brake intervention.   (This line will be the next line which Trafikverket will fit with ETCS, but it’s not underway quite yet.)  Vigilance is achieved via a half-on-half-off dead man’s pedal.

The Swedish aspects are reminiscent of those in NSW with a something over something setup indicating the current signal and the next one.  The mostly still yellow balises on the track provide location and signal information to the onboard equipment.  Trackside equipment is stored in half width locs painted red with the Falun mine style iron ore paint (to match the rest of the buildings in Sweden).  There are HBDs on the track the same as what one would find in Queensland but there were also signals interlocked with avalanche detectors on the Norwegian section of the track.  The landscape was certainly different to my last journey on a commodity train in the Hunter Valley.  I especially enjoyed the smell of woodfires which greeted us at many of the passenger stations and was fascinated by the “snow galleries”, above ground tunnels with glass windows designed to allow prevent snow fall and avalanches from affecting operations.


The train we were travelling in was a standard configuration, 746m long and 8454 tonnes.  The route has a long of curves and hills with the gradients and level above sea level signposted next to the track.  The driver explained how to feel when the train was stretching as we went up hill (the stretch is about 6m) and very soon I could tell from the train vibrations whether it was a positive or negative gradient.  Running brake testing is completed before the downhill slope is reached.  The driver prefaced this with, “If it don’t work, we jump.”  Luckily, we didn’t have to jump.

It wasn’t a particularly cold or snowy day, but there was a little snow fall.  In order to ensure that snow on the brakes doesn’t turn to ice, the brakes have to be used a little every 10 minutes.  The driver showed me a photo of what the train looked like on a bad day.


The trip took just over 2 hours, travelling 60km/h in Sweden and 50km/h past the Norwegian border.  At the border there are national flags painted in the rail tunnel, to signify the crossing, but if you blink, you’ll miss them.

The ore is unloaded quite quickly via six openings into a massive underground silo.  This was where I left the LKAB train to do a little sight seeing in Narvik.

Unfortunately, Narvik wasn’t as exciting a place as I thought it was going to be, although I did love the view of the houses overlooking the fjord (enough to paint it).  I went to two different shopping centres, took a few photos with statues and visited the very sombre war memorial museum.

I caught a passenger train back to Kiruna in the afternoon.

When I arrived, I had lost the internet connection on my phone so I trudged around in the snow for about 40 minutes until I saw buildings I recognised and bought myself a Risifruiti (my favourite Swedish kid’s snack) to celebrate my navigation success.

The next morning, I arrived back at LKAB for my underground tour, where I was assigned a personal tour guide for the day!

After getting kitted up, we drove down to the visitor centre at 540m, which was the original main level.  This was the most beautiful underground space I’d ever seen.  There were garden beds of iron ore pellets and blue lit rock walls.

I was ushered into an auditorium for a private viewing of a very glossy film about the mine.

Here’s what I learnt about the mine:

  • There are approximately 2000 employees with about 500 on shift at any time
  • RFID tags automatically keep track of employees’ movements throughout the mine
  • LKAB produces 90% of Europe’s iron ore
  • The mining method used is sub level caving, which leaves no voids with a very stable foot wall
  • The mine is as deep as six Eiffel Towers
  • Approximately 100,000 tonnes are mined each day
  • The iron ore is shipped in pellets, including “green” magnetite pellets which oxidise to haematite during combustion, decreasing the energy required for processing
  • The ore body extends under the town and the town will be moved a second time, to the east, when the mine extends too far under the town
  • The two mountains on LKAB’s symbol represent Kiruna and Malmbeget (LKAB’s other mine)
  • LKAB have rock bolts with wifi transmitters so that they can sense rock stability information
  • This wasn’t from the film but until 1978 it was actually illegal for women to work in Swedish mines
We spent a little time on the visitor centre level, looking at displays, especially one showing the train I travelled on the previous day, featuring the 1000th wagon, which is painted bright yellow.
A large contingent of tourists arrived, so we drove down to the cafe level at about 1300m, which had the vibe of an IKEA cafeteria.
After lunch, I had the opportunity to see the underground, driverless trains dumping ore into a pass below.  The whole base of the wagon falls away as opposed to merely having doors at the base open.  The trains’ location is determined by balise and they are automatic, although can be manually overridden, especially in the case of a “stalemate”.  I was quite excited and was teased by my tour guide for my enthusiasm.
After seeing a few more mining machines in the underground workshop, we drove to the surface and admired the beautiful view.  Then, we visited the control centre where the trains (and everything else) are monitored.
The last stop of the day was to see the rollingstock workshop, which was housed in a old red brick round house.  This wasn’t just a maintenance facility but also where LKAB make their own (and others’) wagons.

In the evening, I caught the train south east from Kiruna to Lulea, which was the port city for the second LKAB mine.  After a brisk walk in the fresh evening air, I arrived at my hotel, just before the restaurant kitchen closed for the night.

In the morning, I was met by Professor P-O, the rail guru of Sweden.  He took me to visit Trafikverket, the rail and road infrastructure owner of Sweden, where I had the opportunity to ask the rail asset owner about their network, its upgrades and issues.

Then we visited the university, where the rail centre of excellence is located.  I met some researchers who are working on cloud-based asset management, including bearings that transmit their state wirelessly and onboard infrared cameras (which I tested out).

P-O isn’t just a rail expert, he also is a brilliant tour guide.  We had lunch at a mountain top restaurant, visited the port, saw Facebook’s European data house, went to visit the world heritage Gammelstad village of “church houses” with the church built of 80 different kinds of rock, and had princess cake at a cafe untouched by the passage of time.

This marked the end of my rail-geek adventures and I flew back to Stockholm that evening, for some Falun sausage pasta (al la Marcus), Swedish hockey ice hockey semi-finals and Toby snuggles.


If you’d like to read about more (less engineering) Grand Tour adventures, you can at my travel blog, Yvette on Tour.


Sarah’s Self Interview


This week it’s my time to answer Yvette’s questions, so you can all get to know the mining engineer in your life a little better.

Where do you work and what do you do there?

I am a Senior Mining Engineer for an Australian company that makes mine planning software, based in their Edinburgh office.  Just in case you’ve not been lucky enough to cross paths with a mining engineer, once the geologists use their magical powers to locate an orebody a mining engineer is then involved from the long term evaluation and mine design through to short term production of the orebody.  At Maptek I dabble in selling software, technical support and consulting projects.

What is your favourite thing about your job?

Though I sometimes miss site work, as our office covers the European, Northern & Western African and Russian regions I am gaining a much greater understanding of different mining methods and the global mining industry, projects that are upcoming and the various players in the industry.

What did you study at uni and where?

I graduated with a Bachelors of Mining Engineering from the University of New South Wales back in 2006. It seems like an awfully long time ago…


Myself and my fellow engineers competing in the University Mining Games. Yep, that’s a thing!

What is your biggest regret?

Not completing my Underground Mine Managers ticket.  At the time it was the best decision as my head and heart just weren’t in it.

Who has inspired you?

My Dad was a geologist in a past life, and family holidays often had a geological bent.  It also meant that Dad’s friends and colleagues were banker, geologists and engineers so I’ve spent time with some inspirational women who have had amazing success in their chosen fields.

What decisions have led you to where you are?

In high school, all I really wanted to do was play with rocks so I studied all the requisite subjects to begin a career in Geology.  Halfway through Year 12 however I thought that given the cyclical nature of mining, a mining engineer could better withstand the busts. Honestly though, I was mostly just excited about large trucks and being able to blow things up.

I was then lucky enough to be offered a position with Xstrata’s graduate program at their geologically interesting George Fisher Mine near Mt Isa.  It was definitely a case of choosing my graduate job for the deposit and mine rather than the company.

What was the greatest moment in your professional life?

I have been given some amazing opportunities throughout my career to date.  From a personal point of view surviving 12 months working underground and then 9 months supervising a crew of 12 to 16 underground workers.  It was really tough as a 24yo female in a very male dominated industry, but I made some long lasting relationships, gained some amazing experience, hit all my safety and production targets, and grew a lot as a person! No awards at the end, but the sense of achievement has been unequalled since.


What is your favourite thing about yourself?

I’m still fascinated, often overly excited, by the world in which we live.  So many things to see and learn about.


Five minutes in New York and I’d already found the Flatiron building

What advice would you give your 16 year old self?

No matter how uncool it is, keep doing the things you love. One day you’ll end up living in Scotland and it will all make sense!!

Where is your favourite place in the world?

The beautiful glacial U shaped valleys of Yosemite, and The Lakes District isn’t far behind.


The Lakes District

What is the hardest decision you have ever had to make?

To quit my job at EHM and travel.  Thankfully I had a bit of a financial security blanket, but it was still really stressful to take that leap.

Why do you need feminism?

All through these questions I’ve just been copying over the top of Antionia’s answers, and her answer to this question is spot on so I’m going to be cheeky and not change a thing!  To quote Antonia “I need feminism because having children shouldn’t end my career and not having children shouldn’t make me less of a woman. I wish Women in Leadership conferences didn’t require a parenting tips segment.”

What is at the top of your bucket list?

Living in Scotland was at the top for a long time, as was taking a gap year to travel, but now they’re both ticked off I need to put a bit more thought into it!  I’ve done the solo travel thing, so now I would most like to take my boyfriend to the States and Canada, hire a car and just drive!  It would allow us both time to get back in to photography, and the Scottish music and dance scene is bigger than you think so we’d always have something to do.


Showing Pete around Sydney

What would be the most effective items in your Eden Jar

The most rewarding items would be of a musical or dance bent, along the lines of “Tickets to a gig”, “A new CD” or “A fiddle lesson from one of the many amazing muso’s in Scotland”.  But even “A new box of tea” or “High tea with a good friend” would put a very large smile on my face and bring balance back to the force!

Where are you going from here?

I have recently started studying an MBA in International Resource Management, so ideally coupled with my practical experience I would like to evaluate projects for a medium sized mining company in a head office somewhere.

Is there anything else you’d like to know about me? Feel free to ask in the Comments section below.

IWD 2016


International Women’s Day has undergone quite the makeover in its 107 years of observance.

In 1909, the inaugural Woman’s Day (singular) was celebrated in the US, instigated by the Socialist Party of America. In the subsequent years, European socialists introduced the concept to Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, with more than one million people attending rallies campaigning for women’s suffrage, the ability to hold public office, the right to work, the right to vocational training and to end workplace discrimination.

The day continued to be, largely, celebrated as a political event in socialist and communist countries (such as Russia, China and Spain) for the remaining first half of the 20th century until it was adopted by the UN as an official observance in 1977.

Different cultures celebrate International Women’s Day in a range of ways. In some countries, like Italy, it’s less of an opportunity for political rallies and more a day for the appreciation of women, where flowers and chocolates are given in a sort of Mother’s/Valentine’s Day hybrid celebration. Some nations (including Afghanistan, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Moldova, Mongolia, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia) declare 8th March as a public holiday, and in others (like China, Madagascar, Macedonia and Nepal) women get the day off.

Without a sanctioned public holiday here in Australia, I tend to spend my International Women’s Days at work. However, in the last few years, I’ve been fortunate enough to be invited to attend the Aurizon Women’s Conference – one of the ways my organization marks IWD.

Last year, you may recall that I was the first speaker in the inaugural Aurizon Great Debate, but this year, I got to sit back and enjoy the day as a conference delegate.

As always, there was a plethora of inspiring and thought-provoking material presented by impressive speakers, networking opportunities and stalls, but the standout for me today was Julie McKay, Executive Director UN Women National Committee of Australia.  (Unfortunately, I took the most inopportunely timed photo of her, but at least you can see her passion…)


Whilst acknowledging that gender equality is an incredibly complex issue, Julie simplified the broad solutions in three ideals:

  • The provision of leadership opportunities for women
  • The economic empowerment of women
  • The elimination of violence against women

One of the things which I struggle to articulate well without offending practically everyone or sounding paranoid is the existence and extent of unconscious bias and male privilege. Julie, not surprisingly, had an eloquent and logical explanation, which I am shamelessly stealing.

When evaluating a potential candidate for a role, we consider past experience and future potential. Past experience is relatively easy to be objective about. However, future potential is an incredibly subjective and personal assessment. Humans, it seems, are inherently arrogant creatures. We tend to think that the person who will be most successful is the person most like ourselves. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself, except when everyone who is already established in the management chain is a particular type of person (perhaps a Caucasian, middle class, straight, alpha male, although not necessarily, and not that there is anything wrong with being a Caucasian, middle class, straight, alpha male).  But what this means is that you just hire lots of the same person over and over with little opportunity for anyone who is different to be considered and no hope for increasing the diversity of the workforce.

This is why we make an effort to make leadership opportunities for women. Aurizon, as a platinum partner of UN Women have obliviously been listening to Julie because we have heaps of these; you can take your pick! You can be mentored, rotated, transitioned to operations, lunched with the CEO, networked with other senior women, and these are just the official opportunities!

Career breaks have a massive impact on the earnings and superannuation of many female workers. The taking of parental leave (and other career breaks) shouldn’t only be painted as a women’s issue, but it does affect a lot of women and it does contribute to the lessened state of economic stability suffered by many women. So, what can we do about this, besides “leaning in” to get more cash?

It seems that every time I get an email from our Diversity team, it’s announcing a new game changing initiative. We’ve had the super booster which pays superannuation to women on unpaid maternity leave (after they have used up their paid maternity leave), $1500 to spend on help at home (nanny/childcare etc), and the big one this week, the Shared Care plan which will pay Aurizon dads half pay for 6 months to be the primary caregiver of a child or Aurizon mums 150% of their pay if they return to work and have their partner as the primary care giver.

Aurzion is my employer but I must say that I would be writing about these initiatives even if they weren’t. Everyone else is writing about them it seems! Have a look at all this press:






This could be something that has a major impact on gender roles and parenting norms across the world!

And whether you are a parent, planning to be one, or are not interested in reproducing whatsoever, a society in which parenting and family responsibilities are equally shared could lead to an end of deliberate and unconscious bias towards women in the workplace, completely smashing the (ridiculous and archaic) attitude that women are a risk cause they leave to have babies, because some still will, but equally, some men will do it too.

I hadn’t completely made the link between gender equality in a career sense and the elimination of violence against women until today. Obviously, violence against women is abhorrent, but also a society in which one in three women experiences violence is hardly the most nurturing breeding ground for future female leaders. It turns out it is really hard to focus on CPD when you fear for your life.

Over the past year, my aunt, Wilma Simmons, has been organizing a project called Flying Free, which aims to spread awareness and raise funds to end violence against women. Her original goal was to run workshops to make 1000 textile birds which would be sold to raise money for women’s refuges. The current count is at 1070.  Here are some being prepared for the big day:


These are a few of the birds which I contributed to the flock.


Julie’s parting message was one which gave me hope. (I’d been flirting with despair all day about the state of gender discrimination in the world and this perked me up.) She said that we need to stop trying to fix women. We don’t need more confidence, or training, or programs, or anything to achieve equality. We need to exist in a society that is aware of the value that we already possess.

So, ladies, don’t go changing…

And have a happy International Women’s Day!