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I Went To Australia's Mining Awards And It Was A Deeply Weird Evening

Penguins to the left of me, miners to the right…

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So last week I went along to the Australian mining awards, an evening to celebrate the people "making a difference in the mining industry".

Any second now, I thought to myself, they'll fire a diamond cannon into the crowd while we sprinkle cocaine on our creme brulees but unfortunately it wasn't nearly as decadent as that, and more like going to a work event with your dad.

Still, it was a pretty strange way to spend a Friday night.

1. There were penguins on escalators.

Penguins have invaded the prospect mining awards at the Sofitel.

Protesters in penguin onesies went up and down the escalators saying "coal prices are going down!" while guests looked on and sipped champagne under the giant chandelier at the Sofitel.

"If you really believed what you were saying you wouldn't be using escalators!" heckles a white-haired man in an expensive looking charcoal suit.

2. After a Benny Hill-esque chase with security guards, the penguins got moved along in the sweetest way possible.

Alex Lee / BuzzFeed

"Off you go, thank you," said a security guard after he rounded them up.

"Waddle a bit faster if you wouldn't mind." They do.

3. Activists staged a game show on the street, and dressed up as Liberal politicians grabbing notes with Gina Rinehart's face printed on it.

Greenpeace Australia

They were protesting the $40 billion in fossil fuel subsidies paid to the industry by federal and state governments each year.


6. And apparently, neither am I.

Alex Lee / BuzzFeed

A security guard thought I was an activist and wouldn't let me in.

"You can't go in," he said, physically blocking the way when I tried to walk into the roped-off area.

"But I'm the media! Why not?" I say, panicking that my ASOS dress was giving me away.

He looked me up and down and shrugged. Eventually one of the organisers let me through, which was lucky because my next idea was to bribe my way in with a giant $100 banknote.

7. Everyone seemed a bit disappointed that the protesters didn't get to do one more big stunt in the main ballroom.

There tends to be rules of engagements between the two groups, an organiser from Cirrus Media explains to me, with protesters agreeing not to interrupt the more sensitive proceedings. Still, they are quite peeved that protesters seem to have stolen the nametags of important people.

Two massive security guards from the hotel stand at the sides of stage with their arms crossed, looking very bored.


8. Topics of discussion at my table included the benefits of nuclear energy, solar power, mine safety, Australian wine, and "global warming".

Yes, someone actually said "global warming" making air quotes with his fingers. One of the award's judges explains to the table how the world will run out of coal before we ever see a change in global temperatures so there's really nothing to worry about. Wheeee!

9. The sector is remarkably positive about its future.

Alex Lee / BuzzFeed

"It's no secret that the mining industry is in a rough time," says the editor of Mining Australia, Cole Lattimer in his opening address.

(Yes, the first name of the editor of the Mining Australia magazine is Cole.)

"We're at the bottom of the downturn, but every industry has their peaks and troughs. We've reached the bottom, and the only way is up."

The crowd gives it a solemn applause. But for the rest of the night it's clear that a lot of people are really proud about their industry and the work that they do.

11. They show some really weird ads for mining equipment.

This man tried to punch a rock in an ad #miningawards


12. Mining is a really dangerous industry.

Mark Kolbe / Getty Images

A highly commended award went to Moya Sharp for setting up the Western Australia Virtual Miners Memorial, to commemorate the 1,484 people who have died in the mining industry in WA.

In Australia, 10 people have died this year alone and the numbers are much higher in other mining countries like China.

13. There is an award called Coal Mine Of The Year.

It went to London-based company Anglo American for their Moranbah North mine in central Queensland. It produces 6.9 million tonnes of coal each year.

The award for the best overall mine went to Doray Minerals for a gold mine called Andy Well.

14. There is a Facebook page dedicated solely to sharing pictures of mining accidents called Mining Mayhem.

Loader under the stacker? Classic mistake! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

15. Gina Rinehart took out the prize for Contribution to Mining and Who Run The World? (Girls) by Beyonce blasts out of the speakers!!! I am the only one who finds this amazing.

Gina couldn't make it tonight due to it being a busy time at the Roy Hill mine #miningawards

16. Then the night wrapped up. Aside from some rowdy cheering about the rugby, it was pretty boring. This was what I ate for dessert.

Alex Lee / BuzzFeed

I left the little gold balls because I didn't know if they were real.

Alexandra Lee is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Alex Lee at

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