Oil and gas FIFO families: making it work offshore

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Gary joined the oil and gas industry 14 years ago, working away from his wife Charline and their then six-month-old baby girl. Both Gary and Charline have kindly agreed to share their story, to raise the profile of FIFO families in the oil and gas industry and show that with a little determination you can make the lifestyle (and longer rosters away!) work... 

Charline

My husband Gary and I have a 14-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son. Gary has been working away since our daughter was six months old. That was the worst time - with a baby at home and him away, it was always terrible. When he left I just cried all the time. I hated it! Gary is away for three weeks at a time, then home for three weeks. It is hard when he is away, as the kids miss him heaps and I'm going through the teenage years now and always get "I wish dad was home etc", especially when they are in trouble with me! It's hard with my son - when his dad is home and tries to discipline him, he won't listen because he is used to me doing it, and they just clash all the time. Also, I do everything on my own while he away, and then I want to include him in everything when he is home, and it's hard to juggle. I think you just have to talk things through and realise it's for the best in the long run to get ahead in life and provide for your children. I do think the kids are too spoilt though, which isn't a good thing.

Probably the worst thing is that Gary misses out on all the important things like birthdays, Christmas, anniversarys etc, so we always have two celebrations (one with him before he goes or when he gets back, and another while he is away). It's hard but we just make it work. I think the kids don't mind so much now, because they have worked out they get presents etc twice. LOL.

The 3x3 roster is hard as it's a long time away and we miss him soooo much, but then having him home for 3 weeks is great. We spend all the time together: we take the kids to school; we go shopping; go to sport. It's great but the 3 weeks seem to go so quick.

Change-over days are always hard. He leaves Adelaide around 5pm and we have an hour-and-a-half drive to the airport and back again. It's ok in school holidays but usually the kids get out of school early etc so we can go eat together first. When he comes home it's not until 9.30pm, so the kids come during school holidays. Otherwise they stay home and get ready for bed (which they hate) as it's too late by the time we get home and then up early for school. I think it's easier now that they are older, when they were younger it was very hard.

They have phones to call home and we use Skype when it's working, so we at least get to see each other which is nice.

My advice to other families is that it's very important to keep the lines of communication open. Always remember they are tired when they come home and need some relaxation time. You have to be a very strong person to keep things running smoothly at home and to run the finances etc. It can be scary but always know they are only a phone call away. Celebrate important events when they're home and while they are away. Just keep strong ... or it won't last.

Gary

I got into the oil and gas industry through my brother, who had been doing it for years. My day starts at 4.30am. I get up and get organized (I live on the rig and I'm on call 24 hours a day, so I often get woken up while asleep with problems etc.) Anyway, I have a meeting at 6am then another meeting at 7.30am, then a conference call meeting at 8.30am with the office heads and the company we are drilling for. Then it's just day-to-day reporting and computer work, plus helping out on the rig, seeing how things are working etc. I have more meetings about 11.30am at shift change, answer phones and emails most of the day, try to finish work around 7-7.30pm but might finish around 9pm sometimes. Then I go for dinner, shower and call home if the lines working. To relax I might watch an Austar movie and then try to sleep, but as I live on rig as rig manager it is very noisy and hard to rest. I work seven days a week for three weeks straight, with no breaks or days off, so it is very tiring and very stressful.

I hate being away with my wife handling everything on her own, but I'm lucky because she's strong and capable. A lot of people don't have this and it causes trouble in their relationship. Also missing special events is hard. Even though we celebrate them while I'm home, it's still not the same as doing it on the day.

My only advice for others is that it's a very hard job and takes dedication. Just know that the money is great and if you want to get ahead in life and have strong support at home, then it will work out. You need to have patience, as it's hard on both husband and wife. Before you choose to do this, make sure you understand the risks and the sacrifices you will have to make.