Does this mine shaft hold the key to Terry Floyd's disappearance?

HARD WORK: Miners Steve Burchell and Steve Johns at the bottom of the Avoca mine shaft.
HARD WORK: Miners Steve Burchell and Steve Johns at the bottom of the Avoca mine shaft.

Special feature: The search for Terry Floyd - part 3 of 6

PICTURES: Down the mine searching for Terry Floyd

BLINK at the wrong time and you will miss the turn-off to the Morning Star mine.

A windy dirt road leads the way towards the now infamous site.

Fire has torn through the state forest and the consequences are apparent.

Trees in the forest have charred lower trunks.

But human-induced impacts on the landscape are also apparent.

Like so many years earlier, the park remains a dumping ground for people wanting to offload possessions.

Strewn household items and clothing litter the landscape.

The drive from the road to the mine site is short.

A temporary fence lines the immediate surrounds, limiting access for the public.

A green temporary storage facility acts as an office, change room, tea room and secure location to store items.

Off to the north-west is a temporary wood structure that acts as a cover for the winch that rests below.

The canopy includes shade cloth and corrugated iron and offers relief from the summer sun.

The mouth of the shaft is just metres in front. 

The search for Terry has made rehabilitating the mine shaft a must.

There is a two-chamber opening to the mine, with metal mesh that bisects the shaft.

A ladder descends on one side of the chamber.

The other is for buckets to move safely between the miners below and Mr Floyd at the surface.

A pungent odour wafts from the mouth of the mine.

There is a constant hum of machinery while work is underway.

A large white pipe sucks oxygen from the bush and transfers it through the shaft to the miners.

A donated generator powers the winch, while a pump sucks water from the base of the mine.

The water initially goes into a drum at the 40-metre mark before rising directly to the surface.

To the left of the mine mouth sit piles of debris that Mr Floyd has sorted through.

A collection of animal bones lay nearby.

Discarded car engines and vehicle parts are in another pile.

Gun canisters also sit among the debris.

Standing at the top of the mine while the men work below is a long way from “normal life” for Mr Floyd.

He lives at Rutherglen in the state’s north-east and is a security firm manager.

His only mining experience was 20 years ago when he worked in Kalgoorlie in Western Australia.

“Here it is such a confined space – I couldn’t do it,” Mr Floyd said of the Morning Star mine.

“It is just back-breaking work but these miners don’t whinge.

“They come here and do the job.

“These guys are doing it all day, and they are long days, and they don’t whinge.”

Maldon-based mining company owner Steve Burchell and Bendigo’s Steve Johns have been with the search team from the start.

They enter the mine about 9am each day and won’t emerge until eight hours later.

The miners sport gumboots, overalls, a hard hat with battery-pack powered light and gloves.

They wear a gas meter around their necks at all times.

When they returned to the mine this week, they had to pump water from the shaft.

They continued to work in two feet of water throughout the week.

The miners eat limited food while in the mine to prevent the need to use the toilet.

They communicate to Mr Floyd via a radio and have a bell system that dictates the winch’s movements.

As soon as the bell rings, Mr Floyd drops whatever he is doing to tend to the winch.

One ring indicates stop, two for down and three for up.

But he is not alone at the top.

Mr Burchell’s 26-year-old Melbourne-based daughter Brooke is also on hand, often in charge of the winch.

The winch at times strains as it heaves heavy bucketloads to the top. 

It makes a chugging noise as it hauls items to the surface.

Mr Floyd jokes that Ms Burchell is the boss.At times she dictates proceedings, ordering the miners to emerge for air, and tells them when it’s the end of the day.

There is an obvious contrast between the ground-level workers.

Mr Floyd is a burly man in his 40s who easily sports high-visibility clothing.

Ms Burchell on the other hand is an athletic woman who hopes to join the police force.

She spent the time between excavations travelling abroad.

However, when she arrived at the mine this week it was as if the break hadn’t existed.

Together they work like a well-oiled machine.

Ms Burchell lifts the buckets to the surface and Mr Floyd inspects.

It is repetitive work but essential if they are to find Terry’s remains.

The group searching for Terry has cemented a friendship that extends beyond work.

There is a sense that they are working towards something bigger than themselves. 

They’re aware that this isn’t an average mine excavation.

They speak fondly of Mr Floyd, yet he is quick to shift the praise back to his loyal workers.

Every two to three days of excavation follows with a day of maintenance.

The miners continually work to ensure the mine is safe and secure.

Mr Burchell has a mining contract in north Queensland.

He works two weeks up north and returns home for two weeks.

During the two weeks back, he spends eight to 10 days with Mr Floyd and the search team looking for Terry.