Changing face of Moranbah

Mining town, Moranbah, has gone through many changes.
Mining town, Moranbah, has gone through many changes.

FOR more than 40 years, Damian Vella has been a proud Moranbah resident and witnessed the population growth spurts and the community downturn.

Given a choice, he wouldn't live anywhere else.

"My wife Rose and I raised 11 kids here, in the early days we saw the town grow from a village to a very close-knit community where everybody knew each other," he said.

"They all went through Moranbah High School with good achievements so being educated (here) was not a disadvantage for them."

Mr Vella loves his town, but he conceded it was different to live in now. When he moved from the Goonyella Mine barracks in late 1971, the mines it served were more than 4km away.

Miners worked five days a week and families spent their weekends getting involved in sporting and community groups.

There was a strong community spirit, but when 12-14 hour shifts were introduced, Mr Vella noticed a change.

"The guys are fatigued when they get off shift... they are time poor," he said.

"Community life struggles now because of the availability of their time."

In 1981, Moranbah experienced its first big growth when Riverside came online.

"From that point on, the town changed its characteristics," he said.

"On the weekends we used to build community facilities, we used to use mine equipment to do it, but that hasn't happened for a couple of decades.

"Now, the contributions from the mining companies are more in terms of money and facilities to the council or by way of match-giving programs."

He said times when neighbours worked side-by-side were a sadly missed and can remember when rent was about $10 a week, and a weekly income averaged about $100.

"Lucky we were young then because it was a lot harder," Mr Vella said.

"But in the context of the early 1970s, we were very fortunate and were given brand new, fully electric houses to live in."

The town's personality began to evolve in the mid 1980s when workers were offered to buy their own homes.

He said that has recently taken a different turn as newly developed houses take on a "coastal home" look.

The development is closer to the Isaac Plain mining operation and the noise made by the heavy equipment.

"That's had a huge impact," he said.

"In the still of night, you can hear the trucks backing up and the rumble of the coal preparation plant.

"It's to the east and upwind from the town and so Moranbah is a much dustier place."

In recent years, the night noises and dust serve as a reminder to residents of the town's purpose - mining - similar to the predominance of high visibility clothing.

"Everywhere you look, there's a good chance you will see someone in a high vis orange shirt," he said.

"The other thing is mines vehicles - all white with a yellow stripe and flashing yellow light on top. These days, no matter where you are, you can always see the job."

The job has dictated who lives in the town since 1971, he said, and he pointed out the 2003 economic downturn that prompted mining companies to offer their employees voluntary retrenchments.

"That means the older people leave and new people come to town," he said.

Mr Vella said it was great to see young people in town again, but questioned how they could afford to pay the skyrocketing rents.

"Rent is absolutely obscene," he said, and believes it to be a case of profiteering.

"I believe it needs to be regulated. I know plenty would disagree with me and say it's a free economy, but the way I see it, there's no future for our kids right now. And we can't do that to them."

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