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When we’re not mining…

Posted December 28, 2006 By AussieSapphire

A mining operation like ours requires the manager to be something of a “jack of all trades”.  And one of the most important jobs supporting the actual mining process is maintenance.  This is an area where costs can blow out through expensive repairs and downtime.

Truck & excavator in for repairs

The picture above shows a typical scene at our workshop – one truck in for a replacement motor with the excavator required to assist with the lifting (it will also be given a thorough service while close to base).  It is a challenging job to keep the trucks going - rattling over rough roads in dusty or muddy conditions means frequent repairs are needed.

The mine plant requires constant maintenance – the abrasive nature of the sapphire and corundum wears the steel in most areas, particularly the bin and trommel.  The trommel has been replaced a few times over the life of the plant but this is a very expensive and time-consuming task so patch-up jobs are needed  to prolong the life of the trommel. 

Welding up the trommel

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 This sometimes involves welding in some quite tricky spots as seen in these photographs.  Regular maintenance of the electric motors and pumps are also required.  From time to time, we have problems with power irregularities (lightning strikes, power surges and brownouts) but this requires expert assistance by one of our local electricians – electricity is dangerous stuff so I dont attempt these repairs myself.

trom.jpgThe trommel rests on some wheels which drive this part of the plant – you can see in this photograph the mark caused by the constant rotation.  These wheels do many miles in a week and so the occasional flat tyre needs to be fixed.  After plenty of practice though and a few spares in the shed, we can be up and running pretty quickly. 

Using heavy equipment to run our mine simply means we can process larger quantities of dirt – if we control costs carefully, we are able to utilise ground that would be marginal for other miners.  As always, the profit margin depends on many factors, something that was lost on one American gem dealer who gave us the benefit of his “knowledge” some time ago:

“I’m very aware of your cost of working and the conditions, however, most of mining operations isn’t human labor, but heavy equipment and machinery. If you own these machines, your profit margin is astronomical.”

The lack of understanding in this statement is incredible and would be laughable if we hadnt just had to pay over $7,000 for a reconditioned motor for one of our trucks that took some days of heavy and dirty work to fit.  For some reason, writing cheques of this size is just a little stressful when you dont know what next week will find in the jigs. 

It is a substantial amount to keep just one piece of essential machinery in operation.  Far from astronomical profits, some days it seems that large scale equipment just means large scale repair jobs with the spare parts dealer on speed dial.  However, it is essential to work our kind of ground this way – too deep for hand miners and too marginal for larger miners.

Unfortunately, these dealers are only interested in their own profit which means offering prices that do not reflect the effort required to produce these gems – no matter what country they come from.  I’m quite sure he would be telling the miners that work by hand that their price is too high since they only have to pay for their shovel and bucket.  I have to admit that this ruthless desire to get the lowest price possible combined with such an obvious lack of understanding of the gem mining industry at the “coal-face” is very frustrating.

Anyway, we have a couple of weeks break from mining now as we turn our hand to the harvest.  The toolbox wont be too far away though as the trucks are needed to cart the grain back to the silos and when the crop is ready to cut, everything needs to be ready to go.

cheers for now from Andrew (Aussie Sapphire)

Last Minute Gifts

Posted December 21, 2006 By AussieSapphire

It is now too late for deliveries in time for Christmas but not to worry as our Gift Certificates are available immediately upon purchase.  Although we will not be able to deliver parcels until the middle of next week, we will be working through the Christmas break so please feel free to contact us any time.

To everyone who is taking time off during the holiday break, take care and enjoy your down time with family and friends.  Wishing everyone a fantastic year for 2007,

cheers from Andrew and Leah (Aussie Sapphire)

ETHICAL GEM MINING – Yes, it’s possible.

Posted December 17, 2006 By AussieSapphire

There is plenty in the press at the moment about “Blood Diamonds”.  Much less about the unethical and environmentally destructive mining methods used to produce many of the worlds fine coloured gemstones.  This is a pity because these practices are prevalent today, not in the past but right now!  However, we have proven gem miners can co-exist with landholders and produce positives for the land and its workers.

Aussie Sapphire and Wilson Gems are the only major Sapphire Miners that remain in consistent, full time production on the highly productive New England Sapphire Fields in NSW Australia.  We work closely together and share the passion needed to succeed in today’s competitive market.  While all successful businesses must focus on profit and growth, we have seen all too well the results of greed in the past.  I have worked directly for such operators – keen to dig holes but never the time or money to fill them back up.  Inevitably, their attitude to staff and landholders is as disappointing as the lack of concern for the environment.

 

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Images above show that our gemstone mining causes little disturbance to the land with ground cover maintained (left) and cattle grazing during mining (centre).  The third photo (right) show land being plowed adjacent to the cut as part of the restoration process.

While some may claim that mining in this way is too expensive compared with low-cost competitors, we have proven that we can run a profitable operation.  We have strengthened our full time and part time workforce despite the last 5 years of generally depressed markets for sapphire.  At the same time, we have maintained our strict restoration process by returning mined land back into full agricultural production as we progress.  The tangible proof of this being the plough and seeder working adjacent to the open cut and crops growing only metres ahead.

How can this be achieved?

  1. Planning is critical, we work directly within the cropping/farming plan.
  2. Keep up with the restoration.  The temptation is always present to just leave that till later but if you always fix as you go, it never becomes too big a job.
  3. Pride in your work – both from management and workers.  A good example of this must be set by management but we depend on quality work from staff that are happy in their job and appreciate the satisfaction of a job well done.
  4. Sound practices are essential to achieve success all round.  A profitable business structure, our efforts to find new markets and value-add our product where possible has made us strong in a time of market weakness.  We anticipate that this will stand our business in good stead as markets improve.

Some basic priciples we adopt:

We only ever have one hole open at the cut where possible.  In the past many operators left long open cuts but final finishing in these cases can take thousands of metres of fill to restore.  Our way normally only requires about 5 truckloads of backfill to completely finish any one cut.

All soil is removed and placed back in the same general order and levels it was before mining.  In other words, the waste from the plant (washed rock/muddy gravel) is placed back in the very bottom, the subsoil layer is then replaced and leveled.  At this point, the area is rolled with the excavator tracks to ensure an even and level surface which is compacted enough to remove any air pockets.  Finally, the topsoil from the next small hole is placed on to this restored pad ready for dozing level and planting down to crop or pasture.

This single hole method also increases the whole safety of the open cut.  Rather than working an excavator with tracks against a sheer open cut, we can always leave one track against solid ground.  This also applies to unloading of tipping trucks at the cut where one wheel is always against solid ground.  With the risk of wall collapse at almost zero and a relatively shallow depth of work, this method of mining is very safe for all concerned.

The other advantage of one small hole is in case of flooding.  Only small quantities of water ever need to be removed from a small cut while long open cuts can contain many thousands of litres of often dirty water.  This can pose both a pollution problem and a safety hazard.  The health of the land and water is extremely important – the nearby creek is both habitat for wildlife and water source for domestic and livestock use.

Redd_Creek Swans Planting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The photo on the left shows a section of Reddestone Creek with deeper waterholes where fish and water rats make their home along with shallow sections suitable for a wide variety of waterbirds, some of which may be seen in the centre photo.  The land is also a productive farm with both cropping and beef cattle enterprises as seen in the last photo.

While our message is a positive one and one we are proud of, it hasnt been easy.  We pay a fair wage to all that work for us throughout the whole process.  This does hurt our short term profit as it is possible to get the work done cheaper – but we strongly believe in rewarding quality work.  Unfortunately, most of the trade is strongly dollar driven – large sectors of the industry ruthlessly drive the price down regardless of quality or a fair living wage for the workers.  We do see evidence of change however and with the support of the forward thinking in the market place, we have grown our business and we only see positives ahead.

In conclusion, I would like to restate that mining for sapphires and other gems can be done in a way that looks after those involved in the industry and the land which provides these riches. Lets keep encouraging those miners and countries that can’t see this to change.  Remember that the end buyer does have power in this process – demand for ethical gems will drive change for the better.

IT AINT THAT HARD!

Christmas Newsletter

Posted December 14, 2006 By AussieSapphire

Christmas trading is brisk, thanks to our many loyal customers.  There’s still time for delivery with us subsidising Courier where possible to beat Santa. We have plenty of great last-minute gift ideas so we recommend you take a look at our various items.

Time is running out for delivery by Christmas though so best to mention a couple of deadlines. If you live overseas, we cannot guarantee parcels will arrive by December 24th even if sent by Fedex so please keep this in mind when ordering from now on (they should but no guarantee).  Our Australian customers only have a few more days for guaranteed delivery by Star Track Express with Tuesday night the 20th being the cut-off date.

If you have left things to the last minute, may we suggest our new Gift Certificates.  This new feature allows you to load funds into your Gift Certificate account and then send to anyone via email.  Your recipient can redeem their certificate by simply following the instructions in their email. 

We have a lot of great items in the online shop now so there is plenty to choose from.  Have had a big run on our rough sapphire catalogue and a great response to our parcels of rough so we hope to list more when time permits. 

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We will be working through the Christmas holiday break so please feel free to contact us any time.  Our mining activity will be a little interrupted by the need to harvest our oats crops and take care of other farming jobs along with scheduled mainatance work on the mining plant.  Apart from that it will be business as usual.

Aussie Sapphire would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our customers for their support over the past year.  You are the most important part of our business and the reason we keep looking for fresh products and ideas for 2007.

Andrew,Leah, Patrick, Angus and staff wish everyone a safe and happy Christmas and all the best for the New Year.

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Posted December 13, 2006 By AussieSapphire

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