By Gav Ross

IF you wanted to scare the daylights out of someone, take them for a walk under Wonthaggi’s poppet head at Apex Park at midday.
Be sure to bring earplugs for yourself, though, because the iconic, booming mine whistle is louder than ever.
Since its return two months ago, the whistle has begun blaring at a near ear-splitting volume, especially if you happen to be close to the park when the clock strikes 12.
Watching unsuspecting shoppers moseying back to their cars from Woolies, only to be startled half to death when the horn blows at full force has become the norm for nearby trader, David Norton from Ramalama Books, located just a stone’s throw from the poppet head.
“It’s great to hear the whistle again because I missed it, but it is a bit loud,” he said.
“There have been times when customers are either startled or they start panicking and ask whether an emergency alarm has just sounded.”
Those thinking the whistle is louder than it once was aren’t imagining it.
The whistle’s caretaker, Friends of the State Coal Mine president Steve Harrop, says there’s a logical explanation for the rise in volume.
“When we first installed the whistle in 1995, the noise frightened a lot of people,” he explained.
“It just seemed too loud.
“So we eventually fitted it with a proportional valve, which meant the whistle would open slower for a slightly longer period when it sounded.
“This brought the volume down a bit.
“When I was (fixing it) a few months back I found the proportional valve had a lot of mud in it, so it was removed.”
Steve says he hasn’t heard much feedback or criticism concerning the decibel level of the whistle, but he agrees it has the same bite it had 21 years ago.
“I have had a few people tell me ‘it’s good to hear it again Steve, but gee it’s loud!’” he laughed.
“I think maybe it’s only loud because it seems so sudden.”
If you stand in in close proximity to the poppet head and really listen, there’s actually a three-second giveaway that the whistle about to toot.
There’s a faint hissing sound as the valve gets ready to open, which is fair warning to cover your ears.
Steve admits he could “crank the volume back a bit”, but that’s easier said than done.
“The biggest problem is getting up to the thing,” he said.
“I have to organise someone with a cherry picker to get me up and down again.
“There was talk for a while of setting the valve up at ground height – that would have helped.”

How loud is it really?

THE Sentinel-Times measured the noise level of the mine whistle using a decibel meter.
The measurement was taken standing directly under the poppet head on a calm day with no wind.
Below is a list of common sounds and their decibel level in comparison to the mine whistle.
Leaves rustling – 20
Washing machine – 50
Vacuum cleaner – 70
Ride-on mower – 90
Chainsaw – 100
Wonthaggi’s whistle – 103
Gunshot – 120
Jet engine at 25m – 130
Source: National Acoustic Laboratories