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In early 2011, MiningFM received an email from a woman who wanted to thank us for the website, but also to speak out about the fly-in, fly-out lifestyle. In response we asked her to write directly to our readers, to ensure we properly and honestly present all views on the challenges that families will face if they decide to make a go of FIFO living. She generously agreed, but asked to remain anonymous. Here's her story...

To start, let me say I am very positive about the mining industry.

I love many of the people I have met through mining, both men and women. I have found generally that people associated with the industry have an intelligence and a sense of humour that is not commonly found in other industries.

Living in mining towns has also always been an extremely positive experience for me and I have many friends in other countries and all over Australia because of living in mining towns. Personally, I would live in any remote community rather than FIFO. Maybe if you have long-term family and friends nearby, FIFO can work ... sort of. But I have known and know of many, many couples who have not survived the rigours of FIFO, and in all honesty I can’t recommend it.

A couple of recent columns on MiningFM, one about a child with separation anxiety and another about schooling options for mining families, have prompted me to write.

We spent the children’s early years in WA mining towns and loved it. But when my youngest child was three we were living in Indonesian Borneo and my husband was home only every second weekend. On one 'off weekend' my three-year-old stood at the table and asked "Do I have a Daddy?" I replied that he did. He then asked "Who's my Daddy?" I explained who his dad was and his reply was "Oh, I like him!" You can only imagine my relief – I mean, what would I have done if he didn't like him?!

Years later we were living in Australia. My husband was still FIFO and home for nine days every 4-6 weeks (it was the early days of FIFO). My youngest was then 10 years old and would stoically try not to cry at the airport every time his father left. (I had no relatives or long-term friends to leave him with.)

These were the most heart-breaking years. My elder son would fly into rages of temper each time his father left. My understanding of this was that he could get angry at me – I wasn’t going anywhere. He wasn't angry at his father, he was angry at the disruption the roster caused in our lives. 

He eventually asked to go to boarding school. He was so much happier there, and even while he was away at school he repeatedly commented that his father's rosters didn’t bother him so much. We organised my husband’s flights via Brisbane so they could see one another, and my son often commented that he had is father all to himself. He’s now in second-year uni and has developed a positive relationship with his father.

My youngest son later went to boarding school as well. After some significant behaviour and psychological problems he is also developing a positive relationship with his father. He is now in Year 11 and we have arranged that he can pursue skydiving as a sport ... for some strange reason it keeps his head in a happier place.

As a mum, it broke my heart to send my children to boarding school. But they have both benefited from the experience and agree that they like the stability it has provided. And interestingly, they have both developed close friendships with kids from other mining families! Plus, they now holiday in interesting places – at present it’s Ghana, West Africa.

Both children were consulted about which school they would attend, and regularly asked if they wanted to continue there. It has been very much their choice.

For myself, my husband and I really barely held together through the FIFO years. We are better off together and personally, I would rather live the restricted life of an expat wife (and not have a career) than FIFO. I really didn't plan on getting married to live apart from my mate!

My husband has worked in mining for three decades. I have lived as an expat in three countries and faced the challenge of raising a family as an all-but-single parent during many years of FIFO. I sacrificed my own paid career. If I worked, who was available for the children?

So after many years of FIFO and boarding school, our family has worked extremely hard to put a positive spin on our lives. But in truth the experience has led to significant sadness, difficulty and sacrifice on every member’s part. 

My husband is no longer FIFO, but we are now both in Ghana. That means we are both FIFO from our children (who still pay the cost of absent or rather distant, difficult-to-contact parents). They are both visiting in July and I just can barely wait.

May 2011