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WMWA delegate on a mission to fundraise for mental health

September 10, 2021

It is hard to get long-time WMWA delegate, charity fundraiser and onsite mental health supporter Nigel Gould to sit still.

But in his latest effort to raise awareness and funds for his workmates and the community, Nigel has stopped moving just long enough to get his picture painted.

Nigel has begun sitting for Victorian artist Kaye Levannais, who is planning to use his subsequent portrait as an entry into the prestigious Archibald portrait prize.

The portrait aims to highlight Nigel’s character, his union background, and in particular his work promoting mental health.

Nigel lives in Melbourne with wife Chris, travelling to and from Rio Tinto’s Yandicoogina iron ore mine near Newman in the Pilbara as a fly-in, fly-out miner.

But while he oversees the running of the pit’s giant autonomous trucks, Nigel is also a “peer support” officer, helping workers struggling with mental health issues in an industry that sees workers living in camps away from home for weeks on end.

“I get to see my workmates at their very best and their very worst,” Nigel says. “COVID has certainly increased the mental stress and anxiety of many of my workmates.

“I am sick of workmates and friends taking their own lives. Sadly this occurred again in April this year with a work mate who helped train me at the Yandi mine in WA.”

“This prompted me to do more, like sit for this portrait to promote mental health.”

Nigel’s career has taken him around the country from far north Queensland to western NSW to remote Northern-Western Australia, and from the get-go he has been a staunch union player.

Nigel and the WMWA team

On his first job in the mining industry, in Weipa on Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula, Nigel was a leader during the nationally significant industrial dispute over Rio Tinto’s aggressive attempt at union busting, with the company moving workers on to individual contracts, with the non-unionists paid more.

The fight saw Nigel and others take to the water in a flotilla of tiny boats to stop the passage of giant ships carrying valuable loads of bauxite.

Their eventual victory at Weipa, which helped establish the principle of equal pay for equal work and outlaw discrimination against union members, is recognised to this day as a game-changer for working people’s rights to organise.

Once finished, the portrait (“win, lose, or draw”) will tour Australia to promote mental health support, with the message “it is OK to ask for help”.

“As part of my role I like to encourage our members and workmates to ‘ask for help if you are not OK, it is OK’,” Nigel says.

“While it may not be a solution to everyone’s problems, it is a good start.

“I also encourage them to get involved in great community causes like Movember and the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

“I think that in these stressful times it really helps people by letting them help others, supporting these charities.”

Nigel’s support for the RFDS came while working at Weipa when Nigel and his family saw first-hand how important it was for the remote community to have access to medical facilities.

In two separate medical emergencies, his wife Christine and baby daughter had to be transported by the Royal Flying Doctor Service to Cairns for treatment.

Out of gratitude – and noticing the RFDS aircraft needed an upgrade – Nigel and his mates established a fundraising tradition that would win them international acclaim: Weipa’s Running of the Bulls.

The event, a nude 2km charity fun run in the dead of night, began in 1993 and has turned into a world-renowned fixture, raising thousands in donations each year.

The Running of the Bulls committee was recognised in the Australia Day Awards as the best charity organisation for the community.

Nigel now hopes WMWA members, including those in the Australian Workers’ Union and Mining and Energy Unions, will help him with his fundraising and mental health support work.

If you would like to support Nigel’s fundraising efforts, you can donate to his Movember “Mospace” or contribute to the Royal Flying Doctor service of Australia directly here.

Nigel also appears in the AWU’s R U OK? Day video, encouraging workers to speak up to their workmates 

If you’re struggling and need help, please reach out to Lifeline’s 24/7 crisis support line at 13 11 14.

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