THE Burrum Coalfields were a hive of activity when 17-year-old Doug Wilson first ventured underground with his pick and shovel.

It was the early 1930s and the conditions were back-breaking - there were no drills, no machines and certainly no such thing as workplace health and safety laws.

But while the work was tough the workers were even tougher, and for more than 40 years Doug worked under the soils of the Burrum District, producing an average of anywhere up to 20 tonnes of coal a day.

Now aged 96, Doug is the district's oldest surviving coalminer, and on Sunday was one of 80 who gathered at the Miner's Arms Hotel for a reunion as part of the Burrum Coal Discovery Festival.

"It was hard yakka - you were paid for whatever you (produced)," Doug said.

"I lost my big toe. A lump of rock fell on it - I didn't realise what happened until (a colleague) pointed at it."

Nev Yeates was also 17 when he started working in the mines and was still there when Burgowan No. 12 Mine closed in 1997.

His father also worked in the coal fields.

"I was a jack of all trades," he said. "It was tough work, but I was born and bred into that way of life."

Wife Tommy remembers holding her breath for her husband and friends every time an ambulance used to race through Torbanlea.

"I used to worry about him down there," she said. "But they all looked out for each other."



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