FIFO Survivor Auntie Sandy on the joys of travelling to new mining towns

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Hi! I'm Sandy (although lots of people call me 'Auntie') and my husband works offshore in oil/gas on a 6 in 1 roster. We've been together for 27 years and are the proud parents of two daughters, aged 19 and 21. I wanted to write for Mining Family Matters to show you can survive FIFO.


Who decides to travel from the east coast to the west coast of Australia on a limited timeframe and towing a trailer? Well, that would be us; tackling three states and 4500km. To top things off, my husband had been doing FIFO and we weren't used to each other's company, let alone travelling with about 50cm separating us. If we got to the end with both of us in the vehicle, it would be a miracle!

To start the journey we farewelled friends, with tears rolling and anticipation in our hearts. The trailer contained all our worldly possessions - if it didn't fit, I couldn't take it. Man, how I tried to leave the ironing board behind.

Initially the roadhouses offered an array of foods including salads, fresh fruit and of course a grand selection of fried foods. Toilets were clean and showers offered. Things would change.

Nobody could give us much information about what services were available along the way. The visitor information centres seemed to only provide information on their own state, so talk about going into things with blinkers on.

We can do this! We armed ourselves with extra water, fuel, a first aid kit, tool kit, fan belt and silicone tape that would fix anything in an emergency. We also had a laptop and mobile internet connection. Along the way we lost cellphone coverage but always had internet. We made an agreement with a friend to email each night - if she didn't hear from us, she would contact authorities. The nightly email turned into a travel log.

Travels each day were long; in one day alone we covered 1400km. Part way across with the husband in the passenger seat (which is often not a positive place for him to be) I had to overtake my first road train. I am sure I allowed 10km of clear road before I did this manoeuvre, but to this day I am not sure whether my eyes were open or not. All I remember is him firmly saying in a raised voice "Keep going girl."

Another time with my beloved in the passenger seat, the temperature was rising he was in control of the air conditioning. I kept telling him the aircon must be faulty, or I was going through early menopause. I got hotter and my legs were roasting. Was the car on fire under the bonnet? So we stopped to investigate further. Yes, my legs were bright red. What was going on? Sandy does a bit of look around to discover the man of the house has the heater on and not the air conditioning. No prizes for that one!

We decided early on to make sure we were not driving at nightfall. Too much wildlife and very stressful. Kangaroos can move at a great pace when you least expect it. We made the mistake to carry on one night and ended up in a town in the Northern Territory that I would avoid at all costs. The accommodation was a caravan with limited attractions and my husband checked the linen before we got into bed. I'm still surprised nothing was moving.

We had passed through from Queensland to the Northern Territory without any problems. There were no marching bands and fanfare, although we did stop for the tourist photo at the border. This was an experience I will never forget. It was dead quiet, no trees, stinky hot and no breeze. It was  like a scene from some Friday night horror. Time to move on and find the coast again.

Moving from the NT into Western Australia was like going into another country. The pleasant gentleman on the border was out to make my day. Of course I was driving. First question (out of about 50): Do you have anything to declare? I have no idea what are you looking for? Where have you come from Ma'am? Well, don't the Queensland plates on the car and trailer give you a clue? By this time we were out of the car and the cover was off the trailer, where all my worldly possessions were exposed. He had the pantry items out of the boxes and wasn't at all pleased to see the house plants. I was completely honest about what I had when he finally showed me the items I had to declare. The icing on the cake was when he decided that he would need to see in all the clearly labelled boxes. Why did he need to see inside the box labelled 'coat hangers'? There was no stopping this guy. Fine mate, help yourself. I'll be sitting over here eating all my North Queensland honey you've taken off me. I understand that he was doing his job, but did he need to be so happy about my misfortune, especially when I saw a truck pass through and there was clearly fruit sitting on the passenger seat?

The luxury of the road houses had by now taken a downturn. No showers and fresh food, yeah right. Fried or fried.

Closer to our new home, we reached a town that we'd been told would be our shopping centre (it was still about three hours from where we would be living). If this was the hub of the area then I'm glad I'm not a shopper. Questions were by now being asked as to where we were heading!!

Next morning, up early. Closer to our new destination and my heart is in my throat. My husband is asking, "Where have I brought you to?" My motto for all these moves is "no expectations and no disappointments." Sure as the sun comes up, this little town proved to be wonderful and I would return tomorrow. I started work as there wasn't much else to do - met some amazing people and saw sights that nearly brought tears to my eyes with beauty. When we move, we get out and explore. You never know how long you will be there. We tend to give different things a go and get involved in the community. Here we discovered the fun of four-wheel driving and outdoor movie theatres.

So cast the apprehension aside and give it a go...


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