The mining family conundrum: FIFO, DIDO or move to a mining town?

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By Brooke Martin

If you're keen to get into mining and resources to capitalise on Australia's mining boom, here's a question you'll need to consider: do you want to be a FIFO family or a DIDO family, or do you want to all head off on a family adventure and move to a residential mining town?

Of course, there are pros and cons with every option - FIFO might work at one time in your lives, residential living might be better for the here and now. Every family situation is different, and only you will know what's best given your current circumstances.

Before we go any further, FIFO and DIDO are not upcoming bands flooding the music charts. They are acronyms for fly-in/fly-out and drive-in/drive-out. Most Mining Family Matters readers will already know that, of course! But for newcomers, let us educate you...

FIFO

FIFO jobs are those where employees fly in to their work site for the duration of their roster, before flying out to their home or favored location when they're off duty. Workers are provided with accommodation, meals, cleaning and recreation facilities (sometimes up to flash resort standards!)

When families consider FIFO, often the financial rewards spring instantly to mind.  The salaries and extra bonuses/allowances can be tempting. And because of the skills shortage, companies are paying big bucks for good employees and are willing to fly them from anywhere in Australia, meaning you can base your home anywhere you like! 

Obviously the downside of FIFO is that your significant other isn’t at home with you every night of the week, or for those weekend kids' soccer games and weeknight school concerts. 

The preference for FIFO varies greatly among families. I have spoken with many Australian mining wives, and quite a lot of them actually prefer FIFO living for their family. As one mining wife said, "Yeah sure my husband is away for 14 days. However he is then home for seven days straight, which allows him to get up in the morning with the kids, spend all day with the younger ones and take the older ones to and from school, and the time we all have together for that full week is amazing.” She feels she has an advantage over friends whose husbands go to work at 7am and are home at 5pm, because those husbands take family time for granted and don’t fully appreciate the family unit because they see their wives and children every day. She commented that she and her husband "work better together" when they don’t see each other every day; therefore FIFO is definitely for them.

Then again, another mining wife living with her husband in a mining town said that she has "seen too many families breakdown and split up because of FIFO rosters". She and her husband are not willing to risk weeks apart from each other because of the possible strain on their relationship, and the extra pressure on her to raise the children "practically as a single mum".

For single blokes with the main priority of making big bucks – FIFO is definitely a winner! Andy, an engineer working in Africa, spends eight weeks onsite then has four straight weeks to travel anywhere in the world before the start of his next eight-week swing.  In the past two years he has covered some major ground - he's had amazing experiences and made many new friends. However, the down side is that he's never in one place long enough to meet that someone special, and feels like he doesn’t really "have a home" at the moment.

For couples without kids, FIFO also has its advantages and disadvantages. One half of the relationship can pursue a career at home, while the other half does FIFO on roster. For some it's tough because they forge separate lives away and therefore grow apart. For others, "distance makes the heart grow fonder"! Communication and effort are essential for any couples spending regular blocks of time apart, to ensure they're still living their lives together, physically and emotionally.

DIDO

DIDO jobs are those where the family is based relatively close to the mine site. However the employee must drive themselves to and from the mining operation, which could be hours away. The pros and cons can be similar to FIFO, but the rosters are generally shorter so you're reunited more often. Another advantage of DIDO is that the miner is close enough to leave work in times of emergency, whereas this isn't always possible with FIFO. 

One DIDO mining wife (whose husband works five days on and two off) says the weekends often seem to be dedicated to what her husband wants to do. He spends long hours at work and commuting all week, so when the weekend comes around she's happy for him to dictate activities and outings. This couple does not have children, which changes things slightly. For couples with kids, I've noticed two trains of thought: some wives say "I spend all of my time looking after the kids during the week, so when hubby is home he can spend his time with the children so I can have a break!"; others are of the opinion that their husband spends hours working and driving throughout the week so they let him off the hook on weekends. 

Again, different couples deal with situations differently! 

Residential

Residential living in a mining town can be fantastic if you have young children and the mine site is close to home. I've spoken to many couples in their 30s to 40s who deliberately choose residential positions where there are no long commutes to work and therefore their family unit is home together every night. Some husbands are able to take a break from work during the day, catch up with their wives for lunch, and duck back to work for the rest of the afternoon. 

Paul, a mining boss who lives with his wife and two young children in a mining town in WA, says "I couldn’t bear the thought of being away from my kids for days or weeks at a time – I honestly don’t know how other blokes do it, I couldn’t put that stress on my wife to basically raise the kids by herself, and I don’t want to miss out on those memories like actually being at home to witness their first steps, first day of kinder, first day of school. Each to their own, I know, but I just prefer to be at home every night with my family." 

For young couples, working and living residentially is great for socializing on weeknights and weekends, and you’re able to develop and maintain an active social circle. There’s no taking off every second week for work and possibly losing touch with mates – you’re always there to maintain relationships. You can join committees and sporting groups, plan weekend activities/getaways/camping trips etc. You feel like you belong someplace, and have a home. 

The downside of living residentially for some families can be that infrastructure and services (such as hospitals and schools) are limited, they're too far away from close family and friends, and career opportunities are limited for mining partners.  

No matter what situation you're considering, just remember: FIFO isn’t for everyone; DIDO isn’t for everyone; residential isn’t for everyone. Speak to other families and find out what works, what doesn’t work, and why. Good luck!