First time FIFO miner tells her story

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Watch out for the snakes in the camp – welcome to the Pilbara!

My name is Debbie and I have just started life as a FIFO worker in the Pilbara. I have fallen into this by accident as it wasn't a conscious decision to take on this lifestyle to start with, but I am determined to make it work.

My background is varied. I started life as an unhappy chartered accountant having first taken an undergraduate degree in archaeology, but moved into the environmental field where I was working as a mines inspector, first in Victoria and then in Tasmania. Unfortunately the work in Tasmania wasn't what I hoped it would be and I started applying for positions as an environmental advisor, not expecting a positive outcome having heard about the competitive nature of the mining industry. Consequently I was pleasantly surprised on being offered, not only an interview by phone, but a position as well! Julian my husband and I discussed this drastic change of career at length and decided that this was too good an opportunity to pass up, both from a career and a financial perspective. We felt that our relationship was strong enough to cope with this sort of lifestyle, but it is something we will constantly review to make sure we are both coping with it.

I did quite a lot of research prior to the interview and found it hard to discover much about women's experiences in the mining field, most blogs and websites geared towards the family left behind, overwhelmingly the wives and children of miners. I found a university research paper which reported mixed reactions from women who'd taken up the challenge of a FIFO lifestyle. The percentage of women working in mining is considerably lower than in the general workforce, so I was interested in how this translated to my treatment on site.

I had previous experience working within the mining industry in Victoria where I was received as a professional colleague and therefore hoped that I would find the same reception, which to date I have done. I am also fortunate that I am coming to this at a later stage in my career rather than as a new graduate so I have developed some resilience and a thick skin! The shifts are three weeks on and one off, flying to and from Hobart which means that I get a good length of time at home in between.

On 23 January I set off for Perth for training prior to mobilisation and flew up for the first time at the beginning of February. The inductions include a component focussed on harassment of all kinds, and the company has a zero tolerance policy to any form of unwanted attention, so it sounded as though the company takes its responsibilities seriously, and none of the women I have spoken to here have had any problems. I have not been to the wet mess on a Saturday night so I may have to report back on that one!

I have been to the Pilbara on holiday so I was prepared for the scene awaiting me, but I have fallen in love again with the stark landscape. At the moment it is very green, the result of summer rains, and the creeks are alive with nesting budgies. I was pleasantly surprised by the camp facilities, small but functional rooms with en suite, a gym, tennis court and fitness instructors, so there is no excuse for me not to exercise! The mess provides a good range of food so it is possible to eat as healthily or otherwise as I want. 

My job as an environmental advisor gets me around the site carrying out inspections and audits, providing training through toolbox meetings and supervising clearing for new works. No two days are ever the same; I might be responding to environmental incidences or removing wildlife from harms way, assessing clearing permits or providing advice on appropriate environmental management. Having arrived in February, the hottest time of the year is a challenge coming from Tasmania, but it also means that it won’t get any worse than it already is!

I have been issued with a fleece but it might stay in the wardrobe permanently! My experience to date has been overwhelmingly positive and I am looking forward to my new life as a FIFO worker.