Miners seek answers for wives' life changes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 October, 2007, 12:00am

To miners, talk of 'the change' usually concerns the time when one shift ends and another begins.

But one group of burly Australian blokes who spend their working lives deep underground are changing in that they are becoming more sensitive about the menopause their wives go through.

Designed to boost understanding of why their wives might seem unwell or just cranky, the Toolbox Talks are said to be reinvigorating long dormant sex lives.

About 200 men at Bulga coal mine in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales, have been finding out everything from what makes their partners menstruate to why they might reject their husbands' advances.

The classes have been so successful that Xstrata Coal is planning to introduce them to workers at all 30 of its mining operations in Australia.

'I think it's fair to say there were eyebrows raised at the suggestion of talking about menopause in a male-dominated industry like mining,' said Xstrata spokesman James Rickards.

'But the response from workers themselves, who have asked about how they can help their wives and other loved ones who have been affected, has been terrific.'

Even better for management, a happy miner often equals increased productivity. Company bosses know from experience how sex-starved workers can become 'mighty grumpy'.

Organisers say most men have been keen to learn and talk about the physical and psychological effects of a woman's midlife change.

With topics of conversation including how to arouse a post-menopausal partner, the stereotype of strong silent types unable to express personal feelings has been blown away.

Course co-ordinator Tammy Farrell told the Sydney Morning Herald that miners sniggered at the mention of extra-virgin oil in a talk on healthy eating, but became 'very serious' when told to put more effort into their sex lives.

'There was no laughter then, just a lot of interest,' said Ms Farrell, a registered nurse. 'I told them that they needed to start exploring their wives like they did when they were 18, and they were all extremely attentive.

'And they snapped up all the flyers left out after the talk, so we've obviously got some cranky men with cranky wives out there who want some help.'

The menopause classes are part of a range of health initiatives started by Xstrata after one employee last year asked to share his experiences in battling prostate cancer with other miners.

Now miners also attend talks on alcohol abuse, smoking, heart disease and fatigue management.

'In Queensland we have the 'Big Rig' programme, which is a weight loss and health management initiative,' said Mr Rickards. 'And from senior management down, that's had huge results for our employees in helping them to lose weight, improve nutrition and get active.'