Blackwater's Marla Hicks who works for Sallee Collins.
Blackwater's Marla Hicks who works for Sallee Collins. Allan Reinikka ROK020917ablackwa

The CQ mining town fighting hard to stay afloat

IT worries Sallee Collins to think what is going to be left of Blackwater in 10 years' time.

The Blackwater local has lived and breathed the small mining town's highs and lows over her lifetime.

While there have been many highs, over the past 10 years the lows have been slowly starting to outweigh them.

The most frustrating part? The community has done all they can and now they are forced to sit and wait for their town to thrive again.

Sallee, who owns her own clothing shop, Billeez, says times became tough when the mines started to casualise their workforce and house the workers in camps instead of accommodation in town.

The roll-on effects, particularly for small business owners, have been tremendous with many having no other option but to shut their doors.

Sallee has felt the pinch of the hard times herself, with the doors of Billeez nearly closing due to high rent and not enough customers due to lack of residents.

READ | Mines putting the pressure on small businesses out west

"The camps and casualisation has made times tough," Sallee said.

"There are no permanent jobs so people don't move out here because there is no confidence or if they do commit a week later they don't have a job.

"Because of that, people aren't moving out to Blackwater or any mining town for that matter."

Sallee and a few other people from the area formed a group to protest the casualisation of the mines two years ago, with hopes of seeing their small town bounce back to its old lively self.

The Blackwater Community Group was determined to make a change and went to see the Premier as well as the "head honchos" of the mines down in Brisbane.

"We as a group wanted to try and be heard," Sallee said.

"The Premier was supposed to come out and meet with us in Blackwater; she hasn't.

"There's been no change, except there's been more camps made and apparently (one of the mines) have an agreement where workers don't have to be housed in town, they can just go into camps."

Which comes as a bit of surprise to residents as they were told miners would be housed in town.

With less and less people in town and more vacant houses, the community has felt the pinch.

"The flow-on effect does have a big impact, I don't know what will happen in the future with job security and buying a house," she said.

"Going back awhile the rent was up around the $600/$700 mark just for a 30-year-old box house and now they are trying to give them away."

Sallee says while the situation is frustrating, there is nothing more the community can do.

"People say 'what can change' but really there is nothing we can do unless they put on permanent jobs," she said.

Sallee said the lack of permanent jobs and falling confidence has had an effect on community morale throughout the town, which was once bursting with support.

"Most people from Blackwater and Bluff are third generation and their kids are coming up through the ranks," she said.

"The community events which we used to go to as kids, the whole town got behind it and now all we really have is May Day once a year.

"The town doesn't seem to get behind things because there are no people."

Sallee says while people have suggested to pack up and leave the small mining town, it's just not an option for her. "My family are on the land here and people say 'oh just pack up and move' but we can't. That's not me, we're here for the long haul," she said.

And although elements are working against her, her dedication to the town hasn't faltered yet.

Through high rent prices and customer lulls, Sallee has managed to keep the doors to her business open.

"We bought this business 10 years ago, we were here for five years and then we moved down to the shopping centre for five years and we've only just moved back to this location in the last couple of months.

"We couldn't afford to pay rent down there but we've sort of always struggled with business here.

"We used to be one of the main sellers of workwear but we don't do that now, we just don't see any of the contracts any more; it's just done straight out of the cities.

"It got to the point where we were going to shut our doors but we decided to come back here and give it a go and see if we could get some foot traffic."

Sallee says with people leaving Blackwater, businesses struggling, casualisation of the mines and drive-in, drive-out workers, she's worried for the future.

"It worries me to think what is going to be left here in another 10 years' time, are we going to have to go into Rockhampton just to do a grocery shop?"


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