I’ve worked in underground mining for close to fifteen years, so that’s most of my working career since I was 21. After keeping being gay to myself for those fifteen years, I recently finally made the leap to come out to workmates.
I grew up in country Victoria in a small town of around three hundred people and moved to a mining town called Kambalda in Western Australia, roughly a 30 minute drive from the mining hub town of Kalgoorlie, shortly after my 21st birthday.
I moved over to Western Australia with two cousins, a suitcase, and a hope to get a job in the mining industry. I had no idea about the industry, or what a mine even really was.
The three of us were lucky enough to get jobs at an underground mine. This is where my career began.
Working underground is hard work. It can be dark, hot and physically demanding. After a twelve hour shift, you come back to the surface knowing you’ve done a day’s work.
Throughout my career I’ve worked for four different mining companies at different underground mine sites.
The culture and environments have been similar at each mine.
Gay men in particular are made fun of. Jokes fly around about being gay.
Disrespectful and hurtful things are said about being gay and it is normalised, the guys don’t blink.
I’ve even had a supervisor in a previous role make a remark that all gay men should be lined up and shot.
Hearing abusive, vulgar, offensive language almost daily, as a gay man, you keep your identity to yourself.
It seems easier. “Why the hell would you say anything?” I remember thinking this constantly, it made me so fearful of anyone at work finding out that I was gay.
I came out to friends and family when I was 27. This was after sleepless nights and almost making myself sick wondering what their response would be.
The response was really fantastic, they were so relieved that I had got the courage to tell them.
My life went on. However, I still chose to keep it to myself at work and it was far from an accepting place.
I continued to live two separate lives at work and at home, fearful of what my work colleagues, management, and others would say or do, or potentially jeopardise my career.
It took until age 35 for me to finally make the decision to come out to work colleagues, and despite my initial fears, it has been the best thing that I have done.
I’m currently working as an underground jumbo operator (a senior mining role) at Olympic Dam in South Australia for BHP.
I had been reading an article and watched a short video on BHP’s intranet about bringing your whole self to work, and I knew I definitely wasn’t.
I messaged BHP’s LGBT+ ally network for guidance on coming out at work and how I should go about it.
I spoke to members of the group who helped me get the courage to speak to my direct manager. Over the next few weeks we had numerous discussions on how to go about this extremely difficult thing to do.
I finally decided to post a picture of myself and my partner onto social media accounts. As you can imagine word spread very fast as I have a large number of workmates on Facebook.
The response was surprisingly very accepting and everyone has been supportive about the whole thing.
I was asked to shoot a short video in the lead up to Wear It Purple Day. I talked about what I had been through, what inspired me to come out, and how I hoped to help make things a little easier for others who were in a similar situation. The video was posted onto BHP’s global website, their Linkedin page and their Facebook page.
Since then I have received countless messages of support from friends, workmates, family and even people I have never met.
I’m really humbled from the response and really hope we are at a turning point in the mining industry where men and women can bring their whole selves to work, despite their sexuality.
This year I attended the first ever Wear It Purple Day event organised underground. I helped distribute 500 purple cupcakes and information underground. I managed to get a picture with South Australian Premier Steven Marshall and the Asset President for Olympic Dam, Laura Tyler, showing our support with a purple cupcake.
BHP have been fantastic with their response to me coming out as possibly the first Jumbo operator in Australia to do so. Let’s hope it’s a sign things are changing for the better in the industry.
Dwayne Mullins is a mining industry professional and BHP employee