By Brooke Martin
When Mining Family Matters psychologist Angie Willcocks wrote about mining 'black days' and how to overcome them, the response was massive. Within months, more than 15,000 people had read that single article, and a large number of mining families asked for more info.
After speaking to miners all over the world, I've discovered that black days are indeed extremely common. Some miners even have a black WEEK!
As described by Angie, the term 'black day' relates to the person flying or driving out for work, as opposed to those left behind. It is used to describe a miner's toughest day – for some it is the day before leaving for work, for others it is the actual day of leaving, and for some it seems to be the day they arrive home!
Different emotions are felt by miners on their black day: sadness over leaving their family behind; stress about the extremely heavy workload they’re returning to; or simply feeling a bit peeved that they’re going to miss that rugby game, party or wedding they really wanted to be home for!
*Greg, a fixed plant mechanic in his 30s, says he feels at his lowest on the day of returning to work. "I feel like there has to be something better out there than leaving my girlfriend at home for eight days straight," he says. His black day is caused by the anti-climax of returning to work after the total freedom of six days off.
Bob, an electrician married with three children working a 2x1 FIFO roster, says he definitely feels the black day effect. "My black day is more grey than black, but still very bleak." He feels a little lost, unable to focus well, and experiences extreme anxiety the night before returning to work. "I've worked in mining for nearly 15 years and I've always had difficulty with this, it is something I’ve never been able to get used to," he says.
Jim, a geologist in his mid 40s, has been in the industry for 20 years and says he feels the same way. He has three children and despises his current DIDO roster as it keeps him away for five days straight, with only two days off on the weekends. "Every Sunday before I make the trip back to work I think 'Wow, I’m leaving my kids and wife ... again'."
Isn’t it bizarre how some miners, no matter how long they’ve been in the industry, never shake that daunting feeling of leaving their families behind?! So I wonder, why and how do miners stay in a job if it causes such regular black days?
Tom, an unattached engineer working in Africa, answers this question very directly: "The money is just too good, even though I’m on a roster I hate!" Working six weeks on a mine site in the middle of nowhere is a tough ask, and it’s one that causes him not only a black day, but a black week! So how does he get over it? He simply uses his small amounts of spare time at work to start planning the next destination for his upcoming three-week break!
Of course, not everyone has the luxury of scooting off to amazing holiday destinations every break. So what other strategies do our miners have to overcome their 'black day'?
Sam, a maintenance supervisor in his 50s, says he's very negatively affected the day before returning to work. He gets past it by planning out his week the moment he arrives back at work, scheduling meetings and tackling any outstanding tasks. "I basically try to keep as busy as possible on that first day to keep me from missing my family," he says.
Do all miners have a black day?
Grant, a DIDO production superintendent who is married without children, does not. "I don’t have a black day, but I do become a little reserved on Sunday night before driving back to the mine on Monday morning," he says. He says he and his wife have an early dinner and generally just relax. "It’s wasted energy to feel bummed about returning to the mine on Monday morning, because there’s nothing I can do about it. Just man up and deal with it!"
Sue, a HR advisor who has worked in mining for nine years, says she's never heard of the term 'black day' - although she and her workmates often refer to the 'the fly-in day blues'. Sue used to experience a little of the fly-in day blues, back when she was leaving her partner behind for eight days at a time. However, they now live and work residentially in the Pilbara and her boyfriend has a job at the mine as well.
Max, an emergency response coordinator who works 1x1 on a FIFO roster, says: "I don’t personally refer to it as a black day as I associate black days with death or some type of loss." But he certainly knows the feeling. "I have a huge knot in my stomach and spend the last day of my break wondering if I've done enough work around the house, have I caught up with friends and family enough, and generally feel irritable and depressed," he says. He loves his job and the fact that he works in the mining industry, but he dislikes the travel and location factors.
Harry is a DIDO surveyor with four children, making a two-hour commute each way to return home every night. "The drive to and from work everyday is something I choose to do instead of sleep at the mine because I have four children," he says. "But I have real trouble sleeping on Sunday nights and often have to take a sleeping aid to get me to doze off," he says. He is tired most of the time, but by Sunday afternoon his mind starts ticking over about work and he starts to dread the daily drive to and from work.
So if you experience black days ... or downer days ... or the fly-in day blues ... it seems you are not alone. The tough part, obviously, is ensuring it doesn't negatively impact your life, your loved ones or your work. And here's where I hand back to Angie - for her simple strategies on dealing with black days, click here!
* These miners are all real people interviewed by Brooke. We've just changed their names to ensure their anonymity.