Two years have passed since Stawell Gold Mine workers were told not to come back to work two weeks out from Christmas.
Much has changed since that fateful day on December 13, 2016 that tipped the worlds of 150 hard working mine workers upside down.
Since going into care and maintenance, workers at the mine and the community of Stawell have had to find other ways to survive, live and not rely on an industry that had been the lifeblood of the town for such a long time.
Many in the town noticed a drop in morale and overall atmosphere after the mine closure, but two years on things are looking much brighter.
With the ongoing successful planning of the Bulgana Green Power Hub and Nectar Farms, the community is no longer solely reliant on the mine for survival.
The abattoir continues to flourish and earlier in the year, after more than 12 months of closed gates and no activity, the Stawell Gold Mine slowly started to get going once again.
Starting with a skeleton staff of just 12, the mine is now employing more than 100 people once again and there will be no disappointed families come Christmas time.
“Things are so different now than what they were two years ago,” Northern Grampians Shire mayor Kevin Erwin said. “You can really see the positivity in Stawell.”
We take a look at how Stawell has changed in 24 months, the personal impact its closure on workers had and just what lies ahead for the mine now.
How the past 24 months have unfolded for Stawell Gold Mine
- Tuesday, December 13 2016: 150 job redundancies announced as the mine goes into care and maintenance. Two weeks before Christmas, the announcement hits hard. “We feel like we are nothing, we are merely a number,” a mine employee at the time said.
- Early-January 2017: State government launches Jobs4Stawell website to try and get employment for those left stranded after the mine closure.
- July 2017: Public scrutiny surrounds potential approval of an open cut to Big Hill. The matter divides opinion.
- Mid-December 2017: Kirkland Lake Gold enters into a share sale agreement with the Stawell Gold Mine buyer Arete Capital Partners. Arete acquires all of the issued and outstanding common shares of Stawell Gold Mines.
- Late-February 2018: Stawell Gold Mine begins advertising jobs 14 months after the site entered into a care and maintenance phase, making positive steps towards the reopening of the mine.
- April 2018: Intentions made to recommence mine development blasting at the mine. Employee base grows from 12 to 45.
- Late August 2018: Arete Capital Partners confirms Stawell Gold Mine has returned to production. “We have made a number of major new goldfield discoveries underground, which has got us very excited,” Arete Capital Partners executive director and chief executive Campbell Olsen said.
- Tuesday, October 30 2018: State government extends Stawell Gold Mine’s licence until 2035.
Stawell slowly bouncing back
One of the biggest winners of the resurgence of the Stawell Gold Mine has been the town and community members of Stawell.
When the mine shut in December 2016, it had a severe impact on business in Stawell which is still being felt today.
“It was a bit of a shock at the time, things seemed to be ticking along okay. It was a bit of a rude awakening,” Northern Grampians Shire mayor Kevin Erwin said.
“I think things are slowly bouncing back. Stawell needs a bit of work but next year should be a really big year for the town.
“It has taken a little while but we will get back on our feet which we are already seeing.”
The retail sector of Stawell has been the one hardest hit since the mine shut, but one industry that has continued steadily has been real estate.
“When it closed the biggest hit was on the rental market,” Monaghan’s Real Estate agent Matt Monaghan said.
“We thought ‘how the hell are we going to fill these rental properties’, but we did it quite easily in the end.”
Mr Monaghan said he hopes to see more people make Stawell their home, with the return of the mine and the growth of the Bulgana Green Power Hub and Nectar Farms playing a key role. “It is an exciting time ahead,” he said.
“We were terrified when it closed but now we are really hopeful people will consider investing in the town by buying rather than renting.”
As more and more people begin work at the mine once more, business in Stawell is slowly growing once again.
StawellBiz treasurer Kaylene Urquhart said she has seen a big boost in confidence in business owners in recent months.
“There is definitely a positive vibe with some activity coming back to the town,” she said.
“Despite a few empty shop fronts – which every small town has, I have heard some really good things about how businesses are travelling along.”
Northern Grampians Shire Council has been on the front foot since the closure of the mine, working hard to create jobs in town for those who were left without employment two years ago.
Programs such as Bulgana and Nectar Farms have created new employment opportunities to help ease the load in the area.
“The abattoir continues to grow and the Ararat jail also soaked up quite a few jobs which has been great,” Cr Erwin said.
Cr Erwin said council will have a focus on continuing to build business in Stawell throughout 2019.
“The streetscape, along with the retail doctor have put us in a good position to push forward,” he said.
“There is a lot of pressure on traditional retail but we will continue to help business, and the gold mine will really help.”
Employment on the rise as production draws nearer
There is a “very positive and upbeat” attitude from all on the ground at the Stawell Gold Mine heading into a big 2019.
120 people are currently engaged with the mine, with those numbers expected to rise to about 140 or 150 in the middle of next year as more and more processes become fully operational once again.
Just 12 months ago the mine had 12 people employed, making significant inroads since that time.
“It is no small feat to have grown the workforce by so much in a year,” Stawell Gold Mine general manager Troy Cole said.
“In new year we will continue to increase that as we build production.”
The mine is also currently employing a number of contractors.
Mr Cole said the atmosphere of the mine is an overall positive one at this point in time.
“The work culture is very enthusiastic, everyone is really happy to be at work and helping get us back to where we want to be,” he said.
Mr Cole said they are in a strong position at the moment, with the underground mining process already commenced.
“We are looking to be into gold production by February,” he said.
“What we have been doing over last 12 months is building a foundation to enable the mine to go forward for a number of years.”
The regional town of Stawell in Victoria will host the SABRE dark matter detector at the bottom of a gold mine - imagine the focus of the world's particle physicists will be on this country town. I love it!— Alan Duffy (@astroduff) November 27, 2018
The state government showed faith in the mine back in late-October, extending its licence until 2035.
Mr Cole said the extension has placed confidence in all involved that things are looking up.
“It is a great thing to have some security that sits in behind the investment made by Arete Capital Partners earlier this year,” he said.
“In general it is a well backed initiative to get it up and going again.
“We have a lot of people doing a lot of good work and the community has been very supportive.”