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Camilla, 17, chooses the mine

Camilla Dokken is the only woman working in the coal mine 'Gruve 7' in Svalbard. FOTO: Christopher Engås

Camilla, 17, chooses the mine

There aren't many women working in the mines. Camilla wanted to become a machine operator and then a blaster. So she got the opportunity as a mining apprentice for Store Norske.



11.10.2014 kl 16:00

Autumn has secured its cold grip around the surface complex at Mine 7. Inside the lunch room there are many men with sooty faces and hands that are having words. There have been so many tourists on the roads, complains a driver. Another talks about how good it is to work in Mine 7 after many years of commuting weekly to and from Svea.

Between the guys sits a girl. Camilla Dokken is not yet 18 years old and is starting her first year as an apprentice for Store Norske.

"I feel I am being treated equally with everyone else," she says, immediately getting nods of agreement from colleagues.

"When working in the mine it does not matter if you sit or stand and piss," opines a stout man with a toothpick askew in his mouth, before proceeding with a conversation of a different direction in the lunch room.

The bolt rig
The roof of the mining tunnel encloses a car as it disappears from the neon lights of the surface complex. Two guys are in front, Camilla and a guy are in the back seat. Their goal is a bolt rig in a crosscut a few kilometers into the mine. The men dominate the conversation in the car.

We hear about the water irrigation line break last year, when one had to use boats to negotiated some parts in the mountain, and about the measures implemented to prevent crews from driving too fast into the mine shafts.

After 15 minutes of driving, the car is parked the gang takes an "Ohlemann," a low vehicle designed for driving inside the mine. Even in a prone position, they have to duck under various installations in the overhang until reaching the goal at the head of the adit.

"This is the bolt rig where I have worked at so far in my apprenticeship," says Camilla as she dons a dust mask and goggles properly.

Along with Guttorm Wilhelmsen, she will now finish the adit by setting long bolts into the overhang. 

Hanging with dad
Camilla is from the Sør-Aurdal municipality in Valdres. As a child she played with dolls along with other girls. But it was not the typical girl things that interested her most.

"I always thought it was much more fun to be out and driving a tractor with my dad, and I was with him very much growing up," she says. "He is a machine operator and that was what I also wanted to turn into."

She almost gags when asked if she has ever considered office work.

"I like to be where something is happening," Camilla says.

Her education as a machine operator began at a secondary school in Valdres, where she started in building and construction more than two years ago.

During the training course, what happened with Camilla is what often happens with young people: a changing field of interest and a course correction.

"I wanted to be blaster. Again, I like to be where something is happening and I thought it sounded exciting," says Camilla, who started at VG2 Transport and Logistics by a secondary school in Våler, specializing in mountains and mining.

Then Knut Sørensen came from Store Norske and held a lecture about the business activities of the company in Svalbard.

"He told me about the place and about the business, and I thought right away it sounded exciting. Not only doing the job, but to get away and try something new was also alluring," says Camilla, who envisions earning her trade certificate in about 18 months.
But first she must complete the mandatory assignments in the mines of Svalbard, including a long period at Svea. 

Getting praise
Under the expert guidance of Guttorm Wilhelmsen, Camilla maneuvers the bolt rig and put the bolts in the overhang with a gentle touch. Wilhelmsen brags about his colleague, who did not take any shortcuts.

"One should not talk about the differences, really," he says. "For this work, girls can do just as well as boys. But Camilla is good and my experience is that girls are a little more cautious than boys. It can pay off in this type of safety work, since one does not destroy as much equipment along the way."

A diamond tip on a bolt costs about 2,000 kroner. Caution means breaking fewer bolts and losing fewer of the precious tips in the rock.

No nail polish!
Camilla is being treated as "one of the guys" and so far she thinks she has been one as well. There is nothing she has not been able to do and colleagues believe there won't be one. But she is experiencing some small problems her fellow workers don't suffer from.

"I want to have long hair, but somehow it will not get that long," she says. "The worst thing isn't that one gets dirty hair, but it tangles so horribly at times."

What about using nail polish when her hands reflect she is working in a coal mine?

"No, thank you," she says firmly. "I'd suffered from even more by using nail polish instead of having dirty hands. It is not for me."

Glad to have more
During the removal of the bolt rig, Camilla sits on her knees and waits while she breathes out slightly. It creaks slightly in the mountains, but that does not bother the 17-year-old at all. At 1.6 meters in her stocking feet, she fits perfectly into the coal seam of Mine 7.

That she's getting media attention because she is a girl in a male-dominated mining environment does nothing for her.

"It's actually just fine," she says. "Maybe more girls can try out in the industry."

Is is a bit lonely there?

"No. There is a very nice environment in the company and in Mine 7, and the guys are great," she says. "But it would still be nice to have another girl."

Se bildet større

Working several kilometers inside the mountain. FOTO: Christopher Engås

Se bildet større

A short break together with Guttorm Willhelmsen. Camilla has to wear a green helmet as long as she is an apprentice. FOTO: Christopher Engås

Se bildet større

There are not mush space inside the mine. Camillas job is to secure the roof. FOTO: Christopher Engås

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