‘I was one of Australia’s first female mining engineers. This is what I want you to know.’

Thanks to our brand partner, BHP

It was the 1980s, and Gabriela Love was just the eighth woman in the country to graduate as a Mining Engineer.

Almost 40 years later, and Love is the Manager of BHP’s Processing Plant and Site Infrastructure at Mt Arthur Coal mine, two hours north-west of Newcastle. 

But the early days were tough.

Love was attracted to the industry as a teen, following a high school careers day. Mining and engineering were sold as “a passport to the world” promising “a well-paid career” with “huge opportunities for women,” Love tells Mamamia

Upon graduation she gained entrance into the tertiary course. On her first day at university, she opened the classroom door only to see that in a cohort of 24 students, she was the only woman.

“I was in a bit of shock. I realised that ‘huge opportunities for women’ was code for, there are none!”

Image: Supplied.


But she had always enjoyed maths and science, and was keen to stick it out. Then, in her second year of study, Love had her first experience on site at a mine. 

“I saw the large scale equipment; the dragline excavators, the dozers, the trucks, and then I saw my first blast; they blasted the ground, and I was hooked. There was no turning back after that.”

Love graduated in the mid-1980s, and she was quickly met with her first major career challenge: getting a job. 

At 23 years old and armed with a one-way bus ticket, Love travelled across the country to Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, figuring she would have the best chance of finding work there. She slept on the couches of her graduate friends who had secured work, and literally knocked on doors. 

“But at that time, women were not legally allowed to work in an underground mine,” she explains. “The legislation didn’t allow for mining engineers to be female and work underground.”


(Love shares that a couple years later, that legislation was overturned thanks to some trailblazing Mining Engineer women that entered the industry after her and successfully challenged the status quo.) 

Love recalls the words of one Kalgoorlie mine manager – older and male – before the law change: “As long as my a** points to the ground, women will not work in this underground mine”. 

She continued looking for work, but to no avail – “It was also a downturn, and I couldn’t get a job as an engineer”. She eventually settled for work in a laboratory, and then, on a RC drill rig taking samples. 

Then, finally came the break. 

18 months after graduation, Love finally got inside the gate of an open cut mine with the blast crew. She learned how to drive a dump truck – “and learned the fundamentals of mining from that."

For Love, it was… love. 

“That sense that you’re actually creating something, and you could see it changing every day, and you could see the movement and the dynamic nature of it all. Equipment moving mountains, blasting and drilling… it was just the scale. I really enjoyed it,” she tells. 

She progressed to an engineer role, but Love’s presence on site as a woman still made many men uncomfortable. 

“They were criticising, ‘what was I doing there?’. In their opinion, a woman's role was not to be there. I was the only female on site in a professional capacity who was having a say in the day-to-day.”


Feeling disheartened, a friendly colleague shared some invaluable words with Love: “My advice to you is to prove them all wrong, and outlast. You just hang in there, and do what you can to keep working and doing what you're doing.” 

“And I guess that stayed with me,” she reflects, “And I literally persevered through really difficult years in the early days.”

Her passion for the work deepened further with the variety and challenge it presented: “Designing open pits of the mine; thinking in 3-D and utilising computer technology; factoring the economics of the mine, how you determine the size and shape of an open pit depending on the price of the commodity at the time; and the challenges around logistical and technical challenges of water – any hole in the ground will potentially create a bathtub effect.”

“All those challenges were particularly exciting right through my career, and they kept me engaged with it.”

Even when met with further challenges. 

When Love fell pregnant with her first child, she tried to keep it secret for as long as possible. Back then, in the early-'90s, there was no such thing as maternity leave. Leave was taken from whatever annual leave you had accumulated. 

Technical team (including a pregnant me!) in 1995. Note the lack of high vis workwear in those days! Image: Supplied.


And so, just one month after giving birth she was back at work. 

She also felt there were “certain biases” at play that meant she was pigeonholed, and often overlooked for career progression opportunities. 

Love went on to have two more children, and says that while she was focussing on getting them through school, she took on whatever role, pausing her career goals. But then, as soon as her children graduated, she turned to her career with renewed focus. 


About 10 years ago, she completed an MBA, and joined the AUSIMM Women in Mining Network group, improving on her self-esteem, and learning how to better advocate for herself and self-promote. 

“Finally, I was able to get some diverse experience in my roles, which was really exciting.”

The industry was changing too, realising the imperative of attracting - and retaining - women. 

She was then approached by BHP for her current role. 

“I was surprised, flattered, and a little bit scared to jump into something completely out of my lane as a Mining Engineer. But I saw it as a huge opportunity to demonstrate my ability to transfer my skills and knowledge of the industry.” 

Now, as Manager of the Processing Plant and Site Infrastructure at Mt Arthur, Loves days are varied. 

“It all depends on what’s happening on site. I could be starting at around 6am to attend pre-start meetings with maintenance crew or production crew,” she tells.

The hours are then often filled with meetings – in her office, and in the field: reviewing team performance, looking at cultural improvements, safety management and looking for opportunities to run the operation better, improve outcomes, and staff capabilities. 

There has been a huge shift in Mining, especially from a female standpoint, tells Love. 


“There is a deliberate action towards levelling the playing field,” she says, calling it the “biggest and best changes she has seen in the industry”.

Now, parental leave is offered – 16 weeks to the primary caregiver. 

There are very good systems for staying in touch while on parental leave too, says Love. “And flexibility should you want to return to work quicker or more gradually”.

“Those conversations can happen now without a woman feeling guilty and scared she might lose her job.”

That flexibility is also extended across all families, and their individual circumstances are taken into consideration. 

“It’s not about watching the clock, it’s outcomes based,” says Love. 

“We have plenty of women and men who leave the office in the afternoon to pick up the kids, and then they might work from home for an hour or two when the kids are in bed.”

Working conditions for women have also been improved, with measures put in place to ensure a safer working environment, good support systems, and education for men on the value of respect and how to be an active bystander if they witness a woman being harassed or bullied. 

With 34 per cent female representation in their workforce today, Love shares the BHP are actively encouraging more women into mining – irrespective of their career background. The goal is to achieve a gender balanced workforce by 2025. 


Image: Supplied.

“We're deliberately giving women a chance to come in and be offered the role. Because they are female, because they bring that diverse perspective, a different group dynamic and a healthy balance of men and women.”

“We’re trying to bust the myth that mining is a stereotypical male dominated industry and a rough environment for women. Mining is for everyone and more than ever, the door is open to women.”


Love says they’ve had people of all professional backgrounds join BHP – hairdressers, bankers, child care workers and hospitality professionals. 

“We can teach them the technical skills; but we want the right attitude and qualities such as their ability to learn and adapt.”

For any woman who might be considering a change in career towards mining, Love’s advice is simple: 

“Don’t limit yourself to the roles you’ve had and what you’ve done, or if you think you don’t have the right experience… Put your resume in and your best foot forward – and think about what you bring from your work experience or your history and your achievements.”

“Think of mining as a career option because it’s a wonderful industry. It’s a ticket to the world – I’ve worked internationally. It’s an industry that brings so many exciting challenges and great people together.”

“There is no limit to what you can do in mining. It’s an adventure.”

Thinking about starting your working life, juggling family and career or looking for a fresh challenge? Explore a career at BHP.

Keen to read more from Rebecca Davis? You can find her articles here, or follow her on Instagram.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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