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In the heart of the East Kimberley, at a mine site globally renowned for producing extremely rare pink and red diamonds, a major rehabilitation program is underway.
Owned by Rio Tinto, the Argyle diamond mine ceased production in November 2020, after nearly four decades of producing some of the world’s most precious stones.
The important process of respectfully and environmentally safely shutting down the site has since begun, undertaken by local contractor MDM Mining and Civil, a 100 per cent indigenous owned and operated business.
The rehabilitation program is a comprehensive and detailed process that’s expected to take five years to return the area to its traditional custodians.
Director of MDM Mining and Civil Mika McLennon is one of the local Traditional Owners of the land and has a special connection to the project.
“Argyle’s actually my grandmother’s country,” Mika says.
“I had a very strong connection with my grandmother, she’s passed now but I know she’d be proud that we’re all involved in healing country.”
Mika created the earthmoving and surveying company to provide better career pathways for indigenous workers, after he spent nearly 20 years progressing through the mining and civil industries.
“I struggled to see that sort of same progress with some of the younger guys, and I knew they had the potential but probably struggled with being given the opportunity,” Mika says.
“I thought by creating my own company, then I could provide those opportunities.”
Today MDM Mining and Civil has 80 per cent indigenous participation in its workforce, and Mika says the swift yet safe progression up the ranks of the business for local workers has an impact on not only their lives, but their community.
“What’s really noticeable is the improvement and change in body language and the general mindset and approach to everyday, onsite you see people walking with their chest pumped up and a smile,” Mika says.
“At the morning prestarts for example, people are more vocal and engaged; they want to get involved so we do see a big change, and it’s a good thing."
“Back in the community, I’m sure they’re taking those stories home to their families and talking about how they’re progressing.”
Some of those stories would include their involvement with the rehabilitation of Rio Tinto’s Argyle mine site.
With a strong connection to country and in-depth knowledge and experience in mining and earthworks, Mika’s business was tasked with helping Rio Tinto with its closure project.
“Mika brings with him a wealth of cultural, historical and technical knowledge and experience that is of great benefit to our closure project,” General Manager of the Argyle Closure, Melissa Cundy says.
“One example is he’s been able to combine his earthworks expertise and cultural knowledge to perform a number of culturally significant boab tree relocations as per Traditional Owner requests.”
Mika’s strong relationships to other Traditional Owners and connection to the region has also helped the mining giant who has been working with local indigenous communities throughout the rehabilitation process.
“I try and assist where I can, if they’re struggling in a particular area, because I’m a Traditional Owner myself,” Mika says.
“If there’s a communication break down and they need assistance, we absolutely jump in and try and help out where we can.
“It’s all about making it easier for everyone.”
The Argyle mine closure project was a launchpad for MDM Mining and Civil, when their first contract was awarded in 2021.
“That’s actually when MDM started,” Mika explains.
“There was a couple of small opportunities that came up initially, they were only three-month projects, so we hired a lot of our equipment, had a lot of breakdowns and reliability issues, it wasn’t great."
“Then we won some more work and eventually built up to start purchasing our own equipment and start building pretty rapidly from there.
“We’re heavily involved in trying to return the land to as close to natural form as possible.”
As his business and equipment needs grew, Mika turned to WesTrac.
Working for nearly two decades in mining and civil, Mika has significant experience with Caterpillar’s wide range of machines and the technology available to help operations run smoothly and efficiently. At the Argyle mine site, Mika has over 20 Cat® machines at his disposal, including a range of articulated trucks, dozers, excavators, and wheel loaders.
“It was a very easy decision for myself to go, that’s the gear we’re getting, that’s what we’re sticking to,” Mika says.
“We’ve seen the competitors trying to use outdated methods, having the whiteboard up there and tracking all their utilisation and manning and resourcing.
“If I stood back and had a look at that whiteboard and how many hours it took to generate all that information, it would be a waste of time."
“We’ve got all our data and information at our fingertips, and it doesn’t take a lot of man hours to capture it or display that data back to the team. This is what generates conversation about how to do it better, and that’s our advantage.”
An integral part of MDM Mining and Civil’s operations, providing this vital data, is Cat VisionLink®.
The all-encompassing software monitors Mika’s fleet, managing everything from productivity to safety.
WesTrac Technology Application Specialist Neil Dodge says customers who measure their productivity can generally improve their operations.
“If you haven’t got any data to understand where you’re currently at, all you’re doing is really making assumptions,” Neil says.
“Once you have data, you analyse it, and then start putting in ways of improving simple stuff like idle times and shift management. You can quite easily pick the low hanging fruit, like when people take meal breaks."
With most of Mika’s operations occurring in remote parts of the East Kimberley, Cat VisionLink acts as an extra set of eyes watching his machines."
We do have one project which is down towards Halls Creek, on the Tanami, that is 200kms away from Argyle,” Mika says.
“If there are any faults that might pop up, we have visibility on what those faults are and how serious they are, then it helps us plan what we’re doing here with our onsite maintenance team."
“We can tell if a person has their seatbelt on in a machine, so it’s a tool I would use to help train and monitor safety on the job as well.”
“Where there’s areas of significance, they walk the ground initially and plot those locations, and then those locations can be uploaded into the model that then goes across his machines,” Cameron says.
“That’s a key part of what Mika is able to do, so there’s awareness for the operator of significant locations.”
Mika’s relationship with WesTrac has grown over the years as the two companies worked together, utilising the latest in technology to advance the business.
“We’ve been able to articulate with him the value of technology, how he is able to leverage the most out of his product and help him grow and develop as a business in that unique remote location,” Cameron explains.
“It’s easy to support a customer that knocks on your front door and walks into the branch, it’s far more difficult to work in the most remote locations but coming up with solutions, they’re part of the reward.”
One solution to keep Mika’s fleet up and running is the FitFleet® Premium Customer Value Agreement (CVA), providing a dedicated WesTrac technician to help with maintenance and repairs.
“If you have certified WesTrac technicians carrying out your maintenance, it just makes the equipment a whole lot easier to manage,” Mika says.
“If you’re starting out and you don’t have a full dedicated workshop, you’re going to struggle."
“It was easy for me to sign up and say look, you guys take care of that.”
According to WesTrac Customer Service Manager Erica Stringer, the FitFleet Premium CVA ensures Mika’s fleet is being managed by those who know the machines best, providing him with peace of mind.
“We go out with the parts, and we do the labour plus a general inspection and check over the machine, which Mika likes it because he knows that a dealership trained technician is looking after his stuff,” Erica explains.
“He likes the security in having a dealership looking after his investment.”
Importantly for Mika, having a FitFleet Premium CVA means he doesn’t need to think twice about maintenance of his hard-working fleet.
Instead, he can focus on ensuring culturally significant projects like the Argyle closure run smoothly and safely.
“It’s pretty important that we try and heal country,” Mika says.
“It’s going to be good to see all the profiling completed but even better when you see all the vegetation come back. There are some areas that have already been completed and you can see evidence of the seed taking and a bit of regrowth."
“I’m proud of being involved in that whole process and I’m sure our staff are as well.”