Mine Camp Diaries: Workmates ‘Give Zero F*cks’ And Your Racism Is Showing

It poured for three days straight. Usually starting with a light drizzle, then progressing into a torrential downpour and eventually slowing to a steady pace. Any slight dips in the road filled with murky water and created what felt like hundreds of puddles. The sky lit up purple with lightning strikes in the distance, and just as I was admiring them Rebecca mentioned that two people died in Darwin last year, at the exact moment, during a lightning storm. “People who aren’t from the NT don’t understand how powerful lightening is up here,” she warned me. Noted.

On the mine site, the dirt roads turned to mush, and the tire tracks from the monster dump trucks made them seem like scaly crocodile tails. An ominous sign of what might crawl out of the lake in town or the flooded creeks along the road.

With rain and mud brings muddy shoes, and muddy shoes bring the cleaners a lot of scrubbing. We did so much mopping during those three days that I had constant dreams of mopping the same areas over and over again. My fingers and hands began to tense up. Some people – i.e., Rebecca – use the dirt and mud as an opportunity to undermine the fellow cleaning staff.

Were back in the crib room where we seem to have all of our deep conversations when she said, “Ah, ha!”
“What’s up?” I asked her.
“I always leave a mark or a footprint,” she explained, “So that I know if the day shift crew came and mopped here. And the same mark from yesterday is still here, which tells me they’re not doing anything.”

As I previously mentioned, since I’m just here temporarily, I have tried not to engage with the alliance battles or establishing groups. I listen, of course, usually enjoying the reality show that’s unfolding in front of me. But pledge allegiance or spread false rumors, I do not. As such, I didn’t feel the need to verbalize to Rebecca that us, the night crew, ends up missing or not mopping a lot of places because of time purposes (and on some occasions because we took to long on our breaks). They could be saying the exact same thing about us.

As the week progressed and Rebecca’s last days of her swing were approaching, she became more and more sleep deprived and gave “less and less f*cks” (direct quote). That, however, didn’t stop her blaming and complaining about fellow workers and often getting a sharp tongue with me. It also didn’t stop her from being constantly on Facebook, showing me her old primary school classmate’s ex-wife’s step children or explaining to me, with vivid pictures, the stages of a former coworker’s terminal illness. (For all the times that I hear strangers grumbling about “millennials” and their “social media” I would like for them to have a look at any of the adults I see at any given moment constantly glued to their phones.)

Because Carla got sick at work and hasn’t come back since (and I had to drive her delicious smelling FWD back to her house for her one night), it was just the two of us. Had there been more of us, her bad attitude might not have fallen so heavily on me. But in trying to keep my sanity and keep the mood light I tried to engage with her, asking her questions about Australia and her life. She is, after all, an enormously interesting resource to have.

Even though it rained and even though she was beyond exhaustion, she would see the pink and orange clouds above the mine site as we drove up and say, “See, there’s always a silver lining. Nature is stunning.” She marveled at the big dump trucks, hoping that one day she could be a driver. “It’s my new dream,” she confessed. She even spoke to me about her ability to be a good listener and was honored when one of the minors would unload his woes onto her.

Just like all of us, Rebecca had her weak moments; she was pushed the brink of exhaustion. Unfortunately, because of the circumstances that we live in – working, eating and sleeping with our coworkers- I see all of someone, not just the show they present to their place of work for eight hours a day.

That being said, there are some versions of people that despite my empathy, I struggle to understand. I was at the security office of the mine chatting with two of the guards. I walked past a massive cane toad and we got to talking about invasive species and the cane toads’ history in the NT. (If I felt like a zoo in Ibiza, I had no idea what working on a mine site would be like. I’ve gotten slapped in the face by an abnormally large firefly, startled by green tree frogs and stalked by dingoes trying to eat the leftover food out of our rubbish bags. The other night one dingo actually jumped into the back of the ute while we weren’t looking. I unlocked the admin coffee maker to change the beans and found a deer-in-the-headlights lizard staring back at me, paralyzed in fear.) I asked him about the other wildlife I had come into contact with, such as the scorpion beetles or lizards and whether or not they were also detrimental to the environment.

“No, the only other nuisance around here are the aboriginals,” one said with a huge grin on his face and a chuckle. The other let out a hearty, boisterous laugh.

It’s always in these moments that I freeze, unable to even do anything because I am in shock. It’s the subtle way in which he declared his position that makes confrontation difficult. Hidden underneath a joke, he could have easily said, “Hey, I’m kidding, that was just a joke!” In hindsight, I wish I would have stood up, I wish in those moments I had the courage to do what I encourage others to.

I wish I would have told him “Mate, I would appreciate if you wouldn’t make jokes like that because they can hurt.” Maybe if I was even more assertive, I would have detailed how on this mine, like many other mines in Northern Territory, it is the white Australians who are the nuisance for indigenous and their way of life, and so are their industries, tearing up the land for foreign capital gain. (That is, of course, a huge debate and completely different depending on who you speak to.)

Instead, I just kept my shook my head and kept it low, continuing to mop. “I can’t believe you just said that,” I said, almost in a whisper. And instead of preaching about rights and land, I continue to work here, condemning its presence but reaping the economic benefits of its production.


Featured photo of the book Whitefella Culture by Susanne Hagan taken at The Bookshop Darwin.

Mine Camp Diaries: It’s Round Three And These Chicks Are Crazy, Part 2

This is Part 2 of a two-part entry. Missed the first one? Read it here. I just had so many thoughts and emotions.

“Everyone has a relevance to this world, an importance, they just don’t see it.” – Renato, an inmate at Berrimah Prison, in  Prison Songs.

I saw a petite woman with a diamond stud in her left nostril sitting at the table. She had jet-black hair and wore it up in high bun.
“Allison,” said another workmate, “This is Carla, the one who was just in Europe.”
“Ah!” I exclaimed, “You’re the one who was just in Portugal! Isn’t Portugal just amazing!”
Without emotion, she nodded. “When Portuguese men come to East Timor in ’99 we in love, ooooooh, all the girls we in love. Portuguese man so beautiful!”
She is referring to the unintendended consequences of international peacekeeping troops landing in her country during a political crisis. This would become a pattern with Carla. Instead of discussing the painful details of her birth country’s shaky past, I notice she marks important political timelines with which group of military men from which country came into her life.

Rebecca sat next to us, nodding but visibly tired from lack of sleep. It was my first day back and their first day on night shift. We clocked on and headed out to our vehicle. On the way, a previously somewhat subdued Carla already began to speak, and at a rapid speed- almost as if she was on a game show where whoever spoke the fastest won. Even though she’s been in Australia for more than ten years, she still has a thick accent, so much so that I have to concentrate while she speaks. Even though I often hear grammar mistakes, she seems to have learned the most important phrases of the Australian English dialect.

“Yeeeei, before we four people! Now we only three people, f*ck that!” She shook her head. “I’m not busting my ass for $19.00/hour, f*ck that, I’m serious, I’m not doing that.”
We slammed the car door shut and in the five minutes on the way to pick up milk for the mine site I had already gotten the latest gossip from the events of my week off. Old colleagues unfairly becoming supervisors, old friends betraying her trust, a pay cut (from a lucrative $37.00/hour cleaners are now getting $19.00/hour, a subject of deep resentment) and generous name dropping of all the “big bosses” of the mine coupled with the latest they had done in their personal lives. Yes, this was the gossip queen, and she wasn’t afraid to admit it.

“I know everyone, I bin livin’ here long time,” she explained. “You sleep with a man and next day eeeeeeverybody knows. Yeeeeiii.”
She knows all, and people probably know all about her, too. Glued to her phone as she sat in the backseat, she multitasked liked a crazed teenager, making calls on speakerphone to an auntie in London while and the same time she chatted with Rebecca and I, or texting so-and-so from the mine while divulging all of the details of another so-and-so’s recent split from his wife. As we pulled up to the parking lot of the mess to get our stock of milk, she saw a man walking up to the door.
Rolling down the window, she screamed, “HEY! Where my buffalo!?”
The man walked over and she explained to us, “He always come my house, bring me buffalo.”

***

After the milk we made a quick stop by the BP so Rebecca could buy some cigarettes. Rebecca parked to the side and ran in, and I stayed in the car with Carla. Before long, Carla was already up out of the car, yelling at some aboriginal people. From the front seat I watched her cross the through my vision of the windshield and pat a stumbling aboriginal man on the shoulder.  I heard her say to him, “Heeeeei, why you drink?!”

Rebecca jumped back in the car with her cigarettes and we watched her speaking to the group of men.
“Ah, she is a talker. Come on, Carla!” said Rebecca, knowing that her cries wouldn’t be heard from across the parking lot. “People always ask me, ‘are you getting your ear torn off?’” she laughed.
Carla jumped back in the car said, “That man always drinking! But when I work at BP before he ask me, ‘can I borrow $20?’ I always give him and I say ‘You give me back when you get paid’ and he always give me back $20.”

***

As we sat at the crib room table, I looked at Carla’s ID photo. It was off center. Whoever took the photo wasn’t very skilled – her head is just peeking out from the bottom right-hand corner of the square. She looks distant, even empty like a day-of-the-dead calavera, her gaze somewhere else than at the camera. Looking at that photo, you wouldn’t guess that the same woman who stood in front of the orange sheet for her ID photo was the one sitting in front of me now, speaking her native tongue one second with her cousin in Uganda and occasionally jumping in our conversation, all while eating homemade chicken and rice porridge.

Even though I by the end of the night listening to Carla’s endless chatter exhausted me, I see the invaluable perspective I’m learning. And it’s more than how many times I can hear her say “F*ck that, I’m serious, I tell her straight, I serious, f*ck that.”

I’m hearing about small town life in Northern Territory. The “immigrant experience.” Customs and culture from her native East Timor. Her endless talk of money, wages and purchase, speaking to a greater insecurity stemming from having grown up with little. Her flirtatious spirit – “I have all American Marine on my Facebook, you watch, they come to Darwin, they add me!” She came to Australia with her husband, a man who had picked her up in a bar in East Timor. Not speaking English, she went from learning phrases from The Wiggles to being the unofficial mayor of this microcosm of a town.

…F*ck that. I serious. 

***

Rebecca and I split from Carla to do another section of the mine while she handled the laundry. We were mopping one of the big crib rooms when I saw The Koori Mail sitting on the table. “100% Aboriginal-Owned and 100% Self-Funded” I read across the top. I recognized the word Koori from a book I just read called The Crocodile Hotel by Julie Janson. I should have looked it up before, but instead asked Rebecca.

“Does Koori just mean aboriginal?” I asked her.
“Nah, yeah, Koori is the mob down south, near Sydney and that,” she said.
She stopped her mopping and came over to look at the paper. Commenting how great it was, she lamented the lack of media outlets for “us.”
“Oh, are you aboriginal?” I asked her, surprised I didn’t pick up on it before.
“Yeah, well, I’m half. Dad’s white, mum’s a blackfella,” she told me.
From that moment, it all sort of came together. It’s why she says certain words with a distinct accent, like the smooth and tonal way she pronounces “country” seems distinctly indigenous.

She opened up the conversation and dialog, giving me the chance to finally ask some questions I’d been pondering, especially relating to aboriginal culture and its inherent conflict with the mining industry. (For her it was never an issue. In fact, she grew up in a mining town and her father was a miner.) And, like other aboriginals and other “half-caste” Australians, she explained how difficult it was to encounter racism and at the same time, be treated better than the majority of indigenous solely because of her lighter skin that sometimes allows her to pass for a different ethnic group.
“I used to be embarrassed, but now I’m proud to be aboriginal,” she said.

She told me stories of her grandmother, who was part of the stolen generation and didn’t see her own mother again until she was 70 years old. And Rebecca’s own mother didn’t finally become an Australian citizen until she was 21 years old. Around Alice Springs, Rebecca told me, there are still pubs where aborigines have to go in a back entrance and hang out in a separate area from the whites.
“They let me in the whitefellas’ area, but I go sit with the blackfellas,” she said.

Around our mine, she’s already made a connection with the “mob up here.” A few nights ago at the pub, she was amazed at their generosity and welcoming spirit. She relayed to me that they told her, “Sister, we all look after country because it’s not just my country or your country, but all our country.”

“We are all one,” she explained to me, “and they see it.”


Featured photo originally published in this post about Sydney, Australia.

Didn’t read “It’s Round Three And These Chicks Are Crazy, Part 1”? Well, get on it! Missed the previous Mine Camp Diary? Here it is. Read the rest of the diaries here. Very confused? Read the first Mine Camp Diary entry!

Mine Camp Diaries: It’s Round Three And These Chicks Are Crazy, Part 1

Just to let you know, I felt like pouring my heart out in this post. If you get bored just quit, or alternatively revisit your speed reading skills from GRE prep. It was so much that I split it into two sections.

Welcome Back

It feels like I never left. Especially since I still have helmet hair and I still keep thinking that eating dates is a good idea… déjà vu.  The good news is that since I’m still doing night shift mine site cleaning, almost no one can hear my loud farts. And since by the looks of the “inspirational message” on our snack packs today – “Do me a favor…smile!” it appears the negative attitude that began to surface during my last swing is still in full force. Someone in admin must have tricked the kitchen staff is trying to lighten the mood.

Just like old times, people continue to take their phone out of their pockets and show me any number of things from their personal lives, unsolicited. While I am mostly flattered that they want to show me their seventeen grandchildren or the 35cm fish they caught in the Adelaide River or their fourth cousin that lives in Germany, it’s always somewhat alarming to suddenly have a Samsung phone screen in your face.

Yep, it’s good to be back.

***

After a turbulent-ridden plane ride into the mine (one of my workmates actually barfed), we drove in the shuttle from the airport back to camp, passing two dingoes drinking from the billabong with the orange sun rising over the mountains behind them. Ah, the Northern Territory.

This time around I’ve been placed in room 42, “near the front where the invalids are,” said a very politically correct Croc Dundee this morning. As I was on my way to room 42, I ran into Ryan* one of the sparkies on site (the one that the plumber refers to as “off-center”). When he saw me, he smiled and screamed “WHAAAA WELCOME BACK!” as he leaned over to give me hug that I halfheartedly reciprocated. I was shocked to see him. After he got in an altercation with the security guard at the mess hall last swing, we all thought he’d be fired for sure. Gossip spread that he awkwardly tried to defy the mess’s policy on not taking hot food back to your room.
“Why don’t you go do your job,” he is rumored to have told the security guard.
“This is my job, mate, keeping hot food from leaving the mess,” the disgruntled security guard supposedly responded.

I got in a good snooze before I ran around the lake, taking in the pungent aroma of bat shit that invaded the foliage. I kept finding myself veering off path, running through piles of dried up leaves. Whenever I did, one of the East-Timorese girl’s voice ran through my head: Be careful of dried up leaves! Them snakes love to stay in there because it warm! Without any snake encounter I then went to the mess for my first meal. As I put my cauliflower on my plate, I saw the Thai chef and asked if she did anything fun during her week off.
“No,” she initially told me, “just sleep!”
A few seconds later, I was already near the potato fritters when she threw her head back laughing, saying, “I go to casino!!! HA HA HA!!!”

We’re Still Three Birds, But Different

I’m with a “new mob” as they say. I’m back on the mine site, but with two new girls. We same-same but different. Still three girls, from three different generations from three different countries. Just like last time. But unlike last time, we don’t have Martha’s piercing judgment or Diane’s insight and simultaneous constant complaining. This time, we have the Rebecca,* a half-indigenous with spunk and Carla,* one of the many East-Timorese on site who talks- and gossips- more than anyone I’ve met since this girl Bailey I used to know in high school (who I’m pretty sure won the “most talkative” award senior year). If we were in a movie there would be a montage scene where the three of us were in different locations and Carla kept talking and talking and talking and Rebecca and I were still nodding and nodding and nodding.

***

When we sat together at the crib room table eating lunch, I noticed a difference in how these girls discuss complaints from the miners in comparison to my previous group. “If they ask for something, we just give it to them. We are here to serve them,” Rebecca said tonight. She continued, saying, “It’s really important we are always stocked up and prepared.”

It was a stark contrast to Martha and Diane, who I found to be highly sensitive. It was almost as if those two had a vendetta against anyone who spoke up asking for something slightly different than what they were providing. As a temp, and as someone on a working holiday visa just passing through, I try not to get too emotionally invested. I brush things off and I let people complain about what they want. So last week when Martha and Diane had their various whining sessions, I didn’t think twice about it. That was, until I didn’t hear the same attitude from the new girls.

***

One miner mentioned that his clothes weren’t dry enough. That night, Martha and Diane thought that in retaliation we would just put all of their laundry bags on two cycles of the dryer, in hopes that their clothes would shrink.
“I would love to see them put their clothes on in the morning!” Martha sneered, “They’ll look ridiculous!”

The next night, Martha and Diane were still sour from the comment about the clothes. Not to mention disappointed that none of the clothes had shrunk.
“Well,” Martha huffed, “We can’t wash and dry clothes properly if they’re not put in the bag properly.”
Thus, Martha and Diane spent most of the night unzipping all of the laundry bags and examining its contents. If someone had included a towel, a glove clip or any other object that was deemed out of bounds for the laundry bag, they took pictures of it with the person’s locker number included.
“I went around to all of the changing rooms and there are even signs with specific instructions on what is allowed in the laundry bag,” Diane said defiantly.
She had taken one of the signs out of the bathroom and held it up to show us. Martha shook her head.
“How can they expect us to do our job if they aren’t putting their clothes in the bags properly?” she asked.
They vowed to catch every offender and report it to the mine authorities. While I understand that they are worried about having an innocent mistake fall back on them, I can’t help but feel that they were taking it a bit overboard.

On our last night, a soft spoken man approached us while we were doing laundry.
“Are you coming to the extractor tonight?” he asked with no particular emotion behind his question.
“Yeah, we normally go but our passes don’t work. If you want us to go clean it we can radio up to you and you can come escort us in,” Martha said.
We knew all along that our passes didn’t work. We just decided that since day shift also cleans that area, if we were short on time we didn’t have to do it.
The man shrugged.
“No, it’s alright,” he said.
And just as calmly as he had approached us he walked away.

Martha and Diane looked at each other and gave looks as if to say my god, the nerve of that man. Once we got in the car and started to drive back to camp, they couldn’t stop talking about the encounter.
“Some people just want a whinge!” Martha howled. “I bet his wife wanted to come work for us but she didn’t pass her medical exam!” she unfairly continued.
“These miners, I swear,” Diane added, “They won’t stop whinging!”
I just sat there in silence.
Eventually I just admitted, “I didn’t think he sounded mad at all. He was probably just curious or bored.”
They sat in silence for a few seconds until Martha repeated, “No, he wanted to whinge.” We were almost back to camp when Diane brought it up again.
“Well, it’s not our fault that we our passes don’t work for that area, there’s nothing we can do about it,” she justified.

***

If there’s one overarching trait that both groups have in common, it’s the blame and complaining of the opposite group. People who claim that “I’ll tell ‘em to their face if they piss me off” seem to forget how confrontation works when it comes to work communication. Once we walk into an area, I hear my workmates grumbling about how the day shift didn’t clean this area properly, and now we have to spend more time. It happened with Martha and Diane, and it happened again last night with Rebecca and Carla. No one wants to take responsibility and everyone is ready to point a finger at the other.

That, coupled with constant complaining over the fact that this new management cut the cleaning staff from four to three and cut the hours from 11 to 10, make some moments unbearable. Sometimes it feels like we stand around for more than ten minutes while they complain, saying, “Well how do they expect us to get all of this done if they cut our people and our hours!”
Carla will add in, “F*ck that!”

I understand it can be frustrating to feel shortchanged. It can be annoying to cut resources and expect the same results. But isn’t the coolest thing about humans that we can adapt, grow? Move beyond? Figure out a way to do our best given our limited time and man power?

To be continued. Stay tuned for Part 2.

*Names changed

Featured photo originally published in this post about Sydney, Australia.

Missed the last Mine Camp Diary? Here it is. Read the rest of the diaries here. Very confused? Read the first Mine Camp Diary entry!

Guest Post: Erin Escapes From The Outback Roadhouse

Yasmine’s note: Two days ago, I got a frantic email from Erin after not having heard from her for a while. She wrote: “allison. i only have a second but i want to tell you that this town has no wifi or cell phone service apart from telstra. i stole the office computer but i dont think ill be able to use it again.” Well, this isn’t looking good, I thought. And as you’ll read below, it wasn’t. I was even more shocked to get a text from her later saying “Allison I left! And I didn’t leave a note.”

Erin went to work at a roadhouse in a remote town over 500 kilometers from Perth (Roadhouses are known to be lucrative places of employment for those on working holiday visas in Australia. You can find some job listings on Gumtree or The Job Shop). She discovered the truth about working in the outback: it’s not as glamorous as people make it out to be and it can be sad to witness the realities of social problems. And most importantly, she discovered it wasn’t the right place for her. She had a lot of strength in taking the opportunity to remove herself from the situation. Her story shows us more than a hilarious and simultaneously depressing outback experience; it shows that there is no “right way” to spend a year on a working holiday experience. If you appreciate a space of your own with a functioning light bulb, than never let anyone try to convince you that you don’t need it.


map_of_australia
Taken from Lonely Planet. Try to guess where Mount Magnet is!

Mount Magnet

6 hours Northeast of Perth

Population: 532

Stores remaining open post-gold rush: Insanely priced local grocer (capsicum was $15/kg). Coffee shop open only on Tuesdays & Saturdays. Post office (which I was glad to see as I almost had to resort to snail mail just to tell my parents I was alive….with the 2 week delay, of course, they would have already called the number of the other roadhouse in town which I mistakenly gave them before I arrived…been told no “Erin Morris” works there…and have had a major anxiety attack, at which point they may have recruited the help of the police or the US embassy in Canberra). Fitness center (that was a surprise). Pool open only in the summer. Minimalist library. Hardware store. Barber. Aforementioned roadhouse. Then of course where I worked: A restaurant (only serving dinner)/bar/hotel (above which I stayed) and a pub/hotel across the road. This pub’s main attraction was the TAB machine, which allowed for betting on horse and greyhound races. These were mostly frequented by local aborigines, who spent all day in front of the TVs asking me to issue them vouchers with whatever change they could find in their pockets. Winnings were mostly spent on alcohol.

There was no wifi. No cell service apart from one Australian network which I coincidentally didn’t have (it actually took me 5 hours to get service again on the drive home). As the hotel owners wouldn’t grant me use of the office computer (except the first day when I pleaded to send a 5-min email to my parents), I had to go to either the Visitor Centre or the library and pay $2/15 min of internet access.

My Coworkers

  • An ex-meth head (26 y/o) from Melbourne who’d been there for 14 months as cities brought too much temptation. She kindly gave me a tour of the town with her almost broken-down car. We couldn’t turn off the car at either site in case it didn’t turn back on. One of the two sites she showed me was the garbage dump. All she seemed to talk to me about in the 3 days I was there was her new diet and workout regimen (which included walking 1 mile 3 mornings a week). She showed me her refrigerator shelf about 3 times just to emphasize how many vegetables she was eating. She also warned me that one of the truckers was off limits even if he tried to hit on me…. And then she felt bad, so she told me if I could do it if I really wanted. I didn’t know how to tell her that we may not have the same taste in men.
  • Large Irish lady (30 y/o) who was finishing off a two year visa in December. She’d been there 3 weeks and upon news of my quitting, was intent on telling me how glad she was that she pushed through the initial two because the place had really grown on her. She also had a fondness for truckers and alcohol so I can see why.

My accommodation

We were forced to stay in the old, decrepit area of the hotel which the owners didn’t have the funds or interest to fix. I had to scour multiple rooms before obtaining a functional lightbulb for my room. The kitchen’s cleanliness was equivalent to that of a low-budget hostel (thanks to my amazing coworkers) and the only available cooking appliance was a microwave. As someone who enjoys cooking, it was difficult to accept the thought that I’d have to cook all my meals in a microwave for the next 2 months (eggs, chickpeas, potatoes, rice etc). I’ll admit this was a major factor instilling such hatred for Mt. Magnet.

The recruitment agency had promised 3 meals/day but this was a blatant lie as the owner only gave me one (at dinner), not of my choosing (most items on the menu were too expensive and therefore off limits). Usually, the dish consisted of mashed potatoes, steamed cauliflower and a slab of roast beef or a single chicken wing.

My Escape

On my third night at the pub, God sent me a guardian angel. I served two youngish, normal, decently educated guys – one of whom had just finished a one-day job as a diesel mechanic and was heading back to Perth in the morning…the other of whom had the following day off – who were drinking pretty heavily. As they were the most relatable people I’d encountered in my time there, I ended up having a few beers with them after work, at which point the mechanic called me out on hating the job. I tried to stay positive, telling him I thought it’d get better and how I came there in hopes of having the “authentic outback experience”, even if it meant pushing my comfort zone (that being the availability of wifi and any sort of entertainment or friends). He divulged that he didn’t think it’d get any better…that this was it….that he could tell I didn’t relate to my coworkers whose only thoughts were (in his words) “he has a cock, he has a cock…. Oh he has a cock”… that my bosses were assholes (truth) …. that this wasn’t my only option: that I could work in a mining town which had more than 4 stores. I was still resistant at this point, but he drunkenly gave me his number and told me he was leaving at 6am the next morning for Perth if I wanted to get out of there. I took the crumpled receipt back to my room and considered it for all of 5 minutes before I started packing. I asked the Irish girl if I could use her phone (as mine was inoperable) but he had already passed out (unsurprisingly) so I had a sleepless night praying to god that he would answer in the morning. Once that seed had been planted, I couldn’t bear the thought of another day in that fucking town. Luckily, he answered my calls at about a quarter to 6, and by 6am we were cruising down the highway towards Perth. I didn’t leave a note. Funnily enough, the ex meth-head actually thinks they’re going to pay me. She’s an optimist.

I’ve never encountered such a strange warp of time… my 2 ½ days felt like 2 ½ weeks, and I’m not exaggerating in the least. I think I got more than enough exposure to outback life and now have a thorough understanding of what I’m (not) missing. I’m so thankful to the kindness of strangers…even if they may be a bit racist (he actually told me Africa was better off when the whitefolk were governing the “blackfellas”). Now I return to Melbourne with a renewed appreciation for kitchens, grocery stores and the ability to communicate with the outside world.

***

About the author:

ALY_0315

Erin is a 25-year-old currently in Australia on a working holiday visa. Besides traveling, she loves cooking, reading, and photography.

Want to know even more about Erin? She was previously interviewed by Yasmine about her favorite hiking trails in Ibiza and how to make Melbourne your workout playground. If you read through archived posts, you can also find a lot of incriminating pictures of her. (Cough, Outback)


Featured photo taken at Barrow Creek Pub in Northern Territory. Originally appeared in this Character Tuesday post

Mine Camp Diaries: Three Birds On A Mission

I have one workmate who is a lesbian, which made me (incorrectly) judge her as someone who might be slightly more conscious of gender/sexuality/power imbalances. That was until she told me about how she first got together with current girlfriend: “I took her into my room and I raped her.”

Excuse me? Since when it okay to refer to a hook up as a rape?

I’m sure she felt my complete discomfort with that statement based on my face that showed a mix of surprise and horror. Then later on during the same conversation she made sure that it was clear how much she hated working with women. “Blokes are just so much better,” she said, coincidentally the day the two of us were assigned to work 12 hour side by side, “they just have better senses of humor.”

Well, as people like to say around here, “We all bleed the same blood, I reckon.” So no one should be valued as “better to work with” or “funnier” based on gender. Little does my workmate know, I am a self-proclaimed girl’s girl, one who loves to be surrounded by other women and is a proponent of female friendships.

And double little did my workmate know, the last week I spent at the mine doing the nightshift cleaning with Martha* and Diane* (you met them both in this post. Martha is the slightly judgmental but funny one and Diane is the one who sometimes rubs people the wrong way, but is kindhearted) was one of the funniest and most enjoyable weeks I’ve spent at the mine so far.

Three girls in three different generations from three different countries coming together to get the job done. We spent a total of 67 hours together that week. “More time than we spend with our own families,” Martha noted. We shared childhood stories in between loads of stinky laundry from the miners. We snuck coffee from the fancy machines in admin – a huge no-no- and at the slightest creak of a door down the hall the three of us  shot up, removing all evidence of our consumption within ten seconds.

As the three of us divided a massive donga into three sections to mop, Diane told me history of the Northern Territory. It may be her adoptive country but she is more passionate about preserving the history and culture of the region than anyone else I’ve met.

We bonded over sneaking a peak at documents and reports of agreements with aboriginals on the desks in admin and our mutual confusion over why the lady who rehabilitates the wallabies also sells chocolates for $2/bar in the same room. We empty the trash bins and hypothesize about who put the miniature garden gnomes in the fake potted plants around the building.

I learned about each of their quirks as they learned about mine. Like the Aussies they are (one by birth and the other by marriage) they teased me about my bathroom habits and how much food I like to eat, especially my sweet tooth. Martha says that when I get my food from the fridge during break time I’m like a “proud child with a show bag.”

And the laughing bits, the morning teas in the crib room where I was almost choking on my food, those were the most memorable.

One afternoon, Martha was speaking to a young miner – a very attractive miner at that- and heard that he had trouble getting into admin one morning before it opened. Trying to be helpful, she suggested that he take her number in case he ever got into trouble again, because she was one of the few with keys.

That evening, the miners talked about it on the bus and one suggested that Martha was a “cougar” and was trying to crack on him. Unbeknownst to them, the man who was driving the bus happened to be Martha’s husband, who later reported to us about what he overhead.

The whole rest of the week we devised hypothetical revenge plans that for safety reasons we would never be able to follow through with. We thought about referring to ourselves as the two cougars and the gold digger, as in “Brine concentrator, do you copy? We have two cougars and a gold digger coming up to clean, is that okay? Copy.” We thought of an ingenious plan for the mess at dinner, where Martha would pretend flirt with a new man every night, offering her number in case he needed to get into the admin building.

And I ended one shift, roaring in laughter as we told Martha’s husband the story about the wallabies. We complained about how they went to the bathroom all over the floor, and somehow, maybe it was the fatigue, the 3:30am hour or the language barrier, he thought I was explaining the wallabies were using the peoples’ toilets. “That’s wrong!” he affirmed, “You can’t let wallabies use the public toilets, that’s just wrong!”

The last night as we rode the 10k back into camp on a pitch-black bush road, we saw dingos scattering away from the headlights. We saw cane towards leaping out of the line of fire and stared at the same crocodile warning signs as we did every night. We sat in silence, too exhausted to continue the jokes of the night. It was over, and our experience together would never be repeated. We were three women, women who had a rip-roaring time together. No blokes required.

Featured photo: Sydney, Australia.

Read other updates from life on the Mine Camp here.

Mine Camp Diaries: Dingoes Are Buggers And Old Mate Is Bored

Like I already mentioned, I’m very confused as to how these people get paid so much to do what appears to be nothing. It’s kind of like how the dental hygienist does all the work and then the dentist who never knows your name comes in all high and mighty, pokes the inside of  your cheek, says “great job” and walks away with his $150,000 salary. Even so, this means that as I’m discreetly mopping their mud-stained floors I get to overhear some of their conversations. *Sinister smile*

In one of the control rooms last night I got to be a third party observer with absolutely no personal interest in the matter (Name that movie! You win a virtual high-five if you guess correctly!) and overheard one guy discussing his upcoming trip to Melbourne. He can’t wait to go party at the Crown Casino and on Kings Street, the footy is waiting for him and mate, you wouldn’t believe the great deal he got on an Airbnb in the city.

When people keep to themselves and I overhear it, it’s cool. But when they interact with you and tell you all gossip, it’s even cooler. When boredom sets in I’ve noticed people love to chat. During one of my trainings at the water treatment plant, the guys told me stories of how sometimes people accidentally sit on their radios, allowing the entire mine to overhear. On one such occasion, a maintenance guy with a long mullet told his entire workplace about something he and his wife recently did that involves sticking things up his bumhole.

Now let me vent to you here

Distraction takes over. Sometimes when I get tired I get a bit loopy. It’s kind of like being hungover or intoxicated where the concept of time is completely off your register. Sometimes when I go to the bathroom, which is always, I realize I do everything twice as long as it takes. I fumble and I stare at the piles of fast-moving ants carrying dead beetles up the wall. More than a few times a night I suddenly “wake up” and am staring at myself in the mirror intensely analyzing one aspect of my facial structure. It could be three seconds or it could be five minutes. And each time I stare at myself, I don’t look any different. I’m still the sweaty, hat headed mess that I was the last time I checked. Shocking.

What’s the color of your urine? And newest obsession takes up a lot more time than necessary. I end up catching myself staring at the color wondering if I’m hydrated enough. I stand up and button my pants at sloth-speed, my head moving back and forth from the toilet bowl to the laminated dehydration chart on the back of the stall door.  Is that a beige yellow or a clear with hints of lime juice? Is that a white cotton shirt that got stuck in the wash with a yellow scarf? And the biggest question of them all is, is it still possible for me to be dehydrated when I drink minimum one liter of water an hour? 

Why didn’t you turn in your homework? A DINGO ATE IT! I’m so good at jokes. If you leave a bag of trash in the laundry room, dingoes will still walk in and rip it apart and throw it all around the floor until they find the leftover food they’ve been smelling. We left our trash there for a quick “morning tea” break and by the time we got back one of my workmates was cursing those “bloody turds!”

English language segment: bugger
If it has buggered up its broken. If you tell someone Oh, bugger you!” it’s a nice way of saying f*ck off. When my workmates are buggered they’re tired and if someone shouts oh, bugger! they mean “shoot!” If something is a bugger it’s annoying you.
Overheard:
“This vacuum buggered up, we can’t use it”
“Yeah, bugger that, we’re not going!”
“Ah, yes, Dalia* was so buggered last night after housekeeping she barely stayed awake at dinner.”

Weather considerations. Here in the Territory it’s still technically the “dry,” but based on the frequent torrential rainstorms and sauna-like humid clouds floating around me I’d say the “wet” has already arrived. Yet, when I say things like that out loud, people still are all “smh” about it and just tell me to wait up, mate, and stop your whinging because it’s “nuthin’ yet.” I keep waking up to the pounding rain and soon as I think maybe there’s a hurricane I just remember its the wet coming to pay us a visit.

Mayhem. Like I’ve already mentioned, night shift is twisting my insides all up and around and out. Yesterday it was 3:55, just a mere twenty minutes before I needed to sprint down to the mess to eat dinner before night shift starts and I still don’t have a uniform to wear. I had just recently realized, in a frantic lapse of memory and suggestion that maybe someone broke in and stole my uniform, that I forgot to put my clothes in the dryer. So I had two options in case they didn’t get done on time: go naked or wear wet clothes. Which do you think was going to help me keep my job? Better question: Which did I choose? ANSWER AT BOTTOM OF THE PAGE.

*Again, not their real names. For fear that one day they’ll realize I’ve been talking about them on my blog for all this time.

Featured photo: No relation to this post. Barbies just wanna have fun. 

Answer to uniform question:

NaptimeWithYasmine.Mine2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read other updates from life on the Mine Camp here.

Mine Camp Diaries: Night Shift is Making Me Crazy And We’re Too Close For Comfort

I’m pretty sure switching from working days to nights makes me weirder than normal. It’s not only adjusting to the sleep patterns but experiencing the secondary effects, such as lack of awareness. I just ate breakfast in the empty rec room, and after I finished my granola and tea I let out between four and six belches of different lengths and tones. I looked over both my shoulders and smiled as a reflex just in case there was an invisible person who might appear and say, “Oh, Allison! Be polite!” And last night when I got back from the mine at 3:30am my first thought was, why does my room smell faintly of soiled linen?  I was somewhat disturbed by didn’t care to investigate further. I even know the slimy feeling of ear plugs when you put them through the washer (who forgot to empty her pockets last night?).

Cleaning the mine site at night is quieter, cooler and most obviously, darker. The smoke stacks, giant crushing machines and vats twinkle with yellow and orange lights. As we roar up the corridor in our ute, I always feel for a second that I’m passing by the industrial zone of Gary, Indiana on the I90 highway and Chicago is just a few kilometers away.

There’s something majestic about the glittering lights cradled by the cliffs in the background and the impressive tanks under the stars. Sometimes I think that if some Hollywood producers had some sort of imagination it could be a great setting for a romantic comedy. Then I get out of the ute. I hear the crunching of pebbles below me and just when I think I’m alone with my bucket and mop some older man in an orange high- visibility jumper and hard hat comes out of nowhere from a bay of ammonia tanks. Then I remember that a more accurate film interpretation of this setting might be a murder-crime mystery. This is further confirmed when you clean up a chemical lab wearing blue vinyl gloves.

Despite the eerie undertones of working at night, the “crew” of boys on night shift are few but hilarious. There are older men with long beards and ponytails, the sort that you can tell were lady killers back in their day. The guys on the radio still love to joke around – pressing down on the radio when the chorus of “Highway to Hell” is playing, laughing and making crude comments that I can’t understand but my work mates chuckle at. All I hear is a lot of “righto” and “thanks, mate” and “copy, mate” and mate this and mate that.

At night, they haven’t lost their Aussie sass, either. There has been some budget cuts recently, so now instead of providing cutlery we’re only providing coffee and tea spoons, the miniature kind that might come in a toy set with a doll. We walked into one crib room and an older man was attempting to eat his soup with it – it was the sort of absurdity that’s found in slap stick comedies or clown shows. “Did you have to bring down the budget so much that you took away some of the plastic from the spoons to make them smaller?” he joked.

(Look below – I forgot to tell you about a new friend I made at the toilet!)

Meanwhile in our pentagon-shaped trailer park….

“I saw Joe* around 6:00am when I was going for breakfast,” I explained to my workmate Martha* when we were leaving camp on our way to the mine. “He was shirtless and pacing back and forth on a phone conversation,” I furthered. Joe has also been cleaning the mine, but night shift. He gets home at 3:00am and starts again the same day at 5:00pm.

“Ugh,” Martha sighed when I told her about his pacing, “There are some weird f*ckers around here, aren’t there?” Joe is rumored (=confirmed) to have been fighting with his girlfriend on the phone in front of the two other cleaners and telling them things they’re really rather not know. Like how she hasn’t gone to church more than two times since she’s been here and they might even consider sleeping in separate beds.

This is just a few hours after our conversation about how the new health and lifestyle coordinator scares the sh*t out of her. “Those eyes!” she said shaking her head. She also mentioned the heavy breathing when he uses the exercise ball in the gym and his venting when she ran into him the other day: “He’ll say something, then say, ‘don’t repeat that.’ Okay, fine! I won’t!”

It’s like we’ve all gotten just a tad bit too comfortable with each other. The two grounds men are getting sick of each other (“He waves to literally everyone, and it wasn’t until noon that one person waved back,” one said of the other). No one seems to be able to stomach any more of the cleaning supervisor (“She’s lazy as and only talks about getting on the piss after work”). The admin girl has been arriving red with furry every night to dinner. One of the housekeepers has already sustained a shoulder injury. The plumber calls the new sparky (electrician) “off-center.”There’s one European girl, Diane*, that no one can stand – “she’s so bossy!” they say. She threw away a box of electrolyte packets that one of the housekeepers accidentally left in her room. The housekeeper saw me yesterday and threw her hands up saying, “Diane threw a way an ENTIRE box of Squinchers. That cost me $50. Why on earth would she do that? An entire box! Ugh!”

When you work 9+ hours a day together, eat three meals a day together, do you laundry together, go to the same gym, walk around the same 5k radius town and sleep in the same camp, I suppose tensions are bound to run high.

English lesson. There are two phrases said on the mine that I hear after almost every sentence. If I believed everything all of my coworkers told me, the only things anybody is doing out here is either “whinging” or “covering their asses.” When people at the mine call to say they’re out of cups, they’re “whinging.” When I have to fill out a safety assessment before I mop a floor, I’m “covering my ass.” When today my coworker and I had to create a Safety Operating Procedure, or SOP for filling up our chemical caddy, we were helping the company “cover its ass.” And trust me, was it ever covering its ass. Because prior to touching a caddy of chemical bottles (harmless kitchen cleaner), one must be wearing gloves, safety glasses, long sleeves and fully buttoned up shirt and a hat. Just in case you try to sue their ass.

*names changed to protect their identities

Featured photo: some of the beautiful things you see around Northern Territory. 

Read other updates from life on the Mine Camp here.