Mine Camp Diaries: Don’t Talk To Me In The Morning and Bus Drivers Are Playing Up

I’m infamous for being moody in the morning. So when I jolt up, throw on my shorts and sandals and walk out the door to go to the rec room to eat cereal, I don’t normally, nor do I want to, see anyone. Because my schedule is quite unique to camp (12:00pm-10:00pm) most people are already working when I go to have breakfast around 9:00-10:00am.

Until Thursday morning.

I started sweating on my walk down the pathway to the rec room, braless, groggy-eyed and bad breathed, when the chef, who Karen (my previous workmate in the kitchen) calls “Lucky Lionel” (because he seems to have a way to pawn off all of his tasks to his inferiors), came up beside me and started walking to the rec room, too. Then on my other side, I was joined by a grounds man. Further up near the rec room, I spotted the plumber, the electrician and the bus driver. I looked behind me and saw the mine site cleaning crew. I was surrounded.

“What is everyone doing here?” I asked Lucky Lionel suddenly panicking, “Where are you all going?”
“A safety meeting,” he answered me, “the same one they have every Thursday at this time.”

Ah, yes. A “safety meeting.” When I was on the right schedule (you only have to go if your work hours coincide with the meeting time), I usually savored the safety meetings. Air con, a chance to drink tea and sit down. They were normally a bit boring, but I could handle that.

What I especially liked about them, was that instead of talking about real safety concerns, they were usually just an excuse for management to passively aggressively point out their “pet hates” about each other. In one meeting, a British manager from the head office said, “Oh and don’t worry, I know I do this too,” [probably not. You probably just hate when Joe, the other manager does it] he explained, “But, it’s really important that if you are checking your email or sending a message that you don’t walk with your head down, looking at your phone. Just stop and finish what you’re writing, then walk again.”

I said goodbye to Lucky Lionel and went inside the rec room. I was suddenly greeted by 20 people sitting inside in their work uniforms. While everyone got up to get their tea, coffee and Milo, I’m sure they were plotting how they would bring up their biggest irritations. I was pouring milk into my tea when one of the mine executives came up beside me and said, “Ah, thank you! Did you make that for me?”
“No,” I told him. And with a very fake laugh and smile that hid my annoyance, I grabbed my tea and got the f*ck out of there.

New Week, New Crew

Luckily I had another few minutes to calm myself down and come back to a rational state of being before I headed to the mess, for my first day of my third week of working.

This week I’m with a new crew. Lucky Lionel, Natalie (Jon’s niece) and myself. Tensions are high, as normally Natalie and Lionel don’t get along very well. His off sense of humor (“I’m going to kill your pet snakes. Just kidding!”) doesn’t mesh well with her idea of a good time. He must either have a weird crush on me or is giving me a grace period before he really starts to act like himself, because he’s let me play my music on my his speakers.

Lionel also has a reputation for going out for smoke breaks every 10 minutes while he forces the kitchen hands to do his work, but since I’ve been there he hasn’t done so. Natalie seems to think it’s because he got a written warning, but I’m more convinced that it’s because he doesn’t have his own cigarettes. Neither Natalie nor I smoke. Karen told me that he usually gets his cigarettes from coworkers because he’s too “lazy to buy his own.”

New Ways To Smile

Because it’s my third week, I’m exhausted. But I’m trying to continue to make my work fun. Like, for instance, when I have to label food for takeaway in the fridge, there were 10 boxes of chocolate cake. I took the liberty of writing a different version of “cake” on each one. For example, on some of the labels I wrote “cake cake cake cake cake” and on other “cake, so yummy!” and even on one I got instagramy and wrote “C A K E.”

I do hope someone enjoyed that.

I’ve also taken to reading the comment booklet. Some people seem to get very emotional about their lack of options.Below is a photo that I took of one I really enjoyed. This person must have just had a terrible day, and the lack of meat pies was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

A disgruntled employee tells us his honest opinion. AGAIN.

Later, the plumber (the one who makes inappropriate comments) came in and tried to get hot chocolate from the coffee machine.
“We’re out of chocolate powder,” Natalie told him.
“What?!” he said, exasperated.
“Go write a comment about it,” I told him.

Later, when I looked through the booklet, I found he had written this:

I get the sense that he is half serious. Good on him for naming himself, “Choc guy.”

If it’s not the comment booklet bringing entertainment to my day, it’s the two bus drivers. In attempts to curb fatigue, the company has recently rearranged the bus drivers’ schedules. Instead of working 3:30am-9:30am and again at 3:30pm-9:30am, they work full 12-hour shifts all in one block of time. In order to do this, they had to diversify their tasks, so that now after, or before, their bus runs they have been giving cleaning tasks. This is something that is a great disappointment to some of the veteran drivers. “Yep, don’t like the cleaning bit much,” a 65-year-old bus driver from Brisbane recently told me over dinner.

I was stocking up the fruit fridge when I saw that same 65-year-old bus driver slowly saunter over to me, mop in hand. “Hey, Allison, looks like you’re doing a great job,” he said. I noticed he was walking slowly, talking slowly and inventing things to talk about. He had his hands behind his back and seemed to linger near me.

Then, his workmate, an aboriginal bus driver from Cairns walked over to us, a cheeky grin on his face. They both laughed and looked like naughty children.

“So what have you guys been doing?” I asked.
“Well, we’ve cleaned two toilets in town,” the indigenous bus driver said, grinning. “We’ve been doing a lot.” They both nodded, agreeing with what the other said.
“What time did you guys start?” I questioned.
“Ah, around 10:00am,” the man from Brisbane said.

I looked at the clock. It was already past 2:00pm. That’s what Australians call doing “f*ck all.” F*ck all, as in, nothing. I laughed and told them to have fun and be good boys.


The amazing thing about this camp, and about life, is just when you think a task is mundane, there’s always something to spice it up a bit. A little mystery, a little intrigue. Like, for instance yesterday I was bringing back all of the rubbish bins from where night shift sets them out to for collection. When I put them back near the door, I have to put new bin liners in all of them.

I noticed the black bin liners- the bigger, easier ones to use- were all gone, and we were left with the more annoying, smaller green ones. The ones that don’t tie around the edges well, making it so that it rips or falls down into the bin when you put something heavy in it. “Hey, Jon?” I asked the head chef, “Where are the black bin liners? Why are we using these green ones?”

“Well, that’s because you can’t hide a body in a green bag,” he said.
“What? Is that a joke?” I asked.
“No,” he said, “That’s for kitchens across Australia. You can hide a body in a black bag but not in a green bag.”

Featured photo: my morning commute to work.

Read the last post from the kitchen, “I never want to do dishes again.” Didn’t read the other posts from this round at the mine camp, “It’s Round Three And These Chicks Are Crazy, Part 1” or “Part 2”? Well, get on it! Missed the Mine Camp Diary before those? Here it is. Read the rest of the diaries here. Very confused? Read the first Mine Camp Diary entry!

Mine Camp Diaries: I Never Want To Do Dishes Again

Jill of All Trades…Sort of

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my few days as a kitchen hand, it’s that you should never underestimate the power of steel wool.

My best friend.Photo taken from this website.

That was, of course, until the Filipino chef, Jon, saw it and said, “You know that’s illegal here, right? Where did you get that?” I shrugged and pointed to a tub below the sink. “It was there when I got here,” I said, and when he walked out I continued to use it on a giant cauldron used to make mushroom soup for 200 people.

The next day I when I came in. Just as I was tackling a very sticky situation –literally- of dried up chocolate cake on a steel pan, I went to reach for it. And it was G O N E.

Sadness aside, I carried on just like the previous days. Because the other kitchen hand does most of the food prep, I spend the first half of my shift organizing and restocking the dining room and then spending the last five hours getting soaking wet and peeling off my fingers trying to clean pots, pans and dishes. No gloves nor waterproof apron seem to do the trick.

My days of being called “grasshopper” are gone. That’s been replaced by a new, more appropriate nickname, “dish b*tch.” Thanks, workmates!

The Team

The four people in the kitchen- the head chef, Eric, another chef, Jon, the kitchen hand, Karen, and myself- float between the freezers and cool rooms, prepping and dishwashing stations and the dining room. Even though I am mostly in the back, I run new food out and still get to greet and chat up some of the miners I met while working as a mine site cleaner.

The head chef, Eric, is calm even when he’s stressed. He speaks smoothly and without tones of angst, even though his concerned eyes and sighs say a lot more than his words. He gets through the day by finding dad joke-like memes and sneakily including them in the menu PowerPoint that the miners see on their way in. I am usually in the middle of a pulling out my wrists on a heavy pot when he says “come here.”

Example of what one of his memes is like. Taken from this site. 

Dropping the pot, I follow and we stand in front of the flat screen, waiting for the PowerPoint slide to change. When the meme appears he gets really excited and points to it, saying, “Look!” Yesterday it was of minions and it read “My Saturday was going really great until I realized it was Sunday.” I started to laugh and he nodded and squinted his eyes in delight.

Karen, the other kitchen hand, is a “machine” as the head chef likes to call her. She and one of the chefs worked an entire previous swing with just two of them (instead of three or four) where she successfully worked two roles at once. Her diligence shows: just as soon as I finish scrubbing one pot she’s already made ten salads and put up all the chairs and mopped. She often encourages me saying, “It easy! When you know job it easy. No worry, when I start they say ‘you no know nothing’ but I learn!”

Hailing from Thailand, she’s one of the many Thai wives found in the small town. Even though there’s many, she told me she keeps her distance from the others. “Maybe she come ask me something, I give her, but not talk too much, too much trouble,” she explained to me. She also later told me “too much friends too much talking too much trouble,” but has emphasized that she is friends with Sam, the cleaning supervisor that almost no one likes. They “have dance party” in her house.

When she’s not online gambling on her phone, she’s joking around with the Filipino chef. He often screams at her in Thai. And Every time he does something wrong she’ll scream “baaaaaaaad LUCK!” She often throws up the middle finger at him and when she does something savvy she’ll yell, “See, Jon, I not f*cking smart!” with a lot of sarcasm.

Another one of her favorite past times is singing and dancing, and when she’s not singing along to Thai pop ballads, she’s dancing to her English music from her husband that accidently automatically downloaded on her new IPhone 7. The playlist includes Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night,” Christina Aguilera’s “Dirty,” and a number of Pink songs.

Jon and Karen have a special bond. It’s partly because they worked long hours, two weeks straight together. It’s also because they’re both smokers and spend a lot of time at the designated picnic bench for smokers. I often go sit with them, you know, for team bonding purposes but I usually sit in silence as they tell each other to ‘f*ck off’ or play gambling games together. On occasion Jon will tell a story from his past experiences as a chef all over the world, such as the kitchen hand in Maine who took MDMA before each shift. “His food came out f*cking spot on each time,” Jon said.

While Jon speaks almost flawless English, I’ve began to notice that whenever he speaks to Karen he loses all grammar and English pronunciation. Today I heard him say “Dis R&R me go Darwin, me pick up car in shop.” And I turned around slowly wondering if a recently arrived Thai man had just showed up in the kitchen to take his place.

The Patrons

During dinner, while I’m in between cleaning industrial cooking equipment and running out food, I stand in the cut out of the dishwashing station where the miners come to drop off their dishes. Thanking them, sometimes I can get in a quick conversation.  I try to always be a good listener, to greet everyone with a smile and ask creative questions (Thanks, Kimberly!). It’s for their benefit as much as it is mine – there is little inspiration in putting away 150 plates.

Their news usually has to do with the fact that they thought dinner was “just okay” and “not horrible like it was the other day.” Either that or that their day was “boring” or that they’re “just surviving” or that it’s “another day, another dollar.” I’m starting to see why everyone says miners are whingers.

But while some might be sick of me, others have warmed up and started to ask me how my day was, how am I liking the kitchen and when am I coming back to the mine site (*AWWW*). There is one scaffolder who is always witty, kind and willing to chat. He’s around 50-years-old and rides his bike leisurely to and from the mess. Last night he said, “It’s nice to see you happy. There are a lot of grumpy in this world. And, – old guy here who has been around for a while- you’re going to spend a lot of time at work, most of your life even. It’s much better if you enjoy yourself while you’re working.”

“Great advice,” I said.

In other news

Today in Aussie lingo: Flat out is really busy, as in, “Ah, last night we were flat out, we didn’t even clean all the areas we were supposed to.” Shocking is used to as an adjective to describe a situation that was serious in a bad way, as in, “The plane up from Melbourne was shocking” or “I’ve got a shocking burn on my back.” Saturated is used instead of soaking wet, as in, “Uh, I don’t want to go outside until the storm calms down, I’m going to get saturated.”

Today in small town realizations: I went to the post office to send some postcards. While I was addressing them, I ran into the woman at the mine who rehabilitates wallabies, the camp boss, the cleaning supervisor, Sam, and another miner. As Carla warned me, you really can’t do anything here without everyone knowing.

Featured photo taken at a local aboriginal festival. No, you can’t know the name because that would give everything away!

Didn’t read “It’s Round Three And These Chicks Are Crazy, Part 1” or “Part 2”? Well, get on it! Missed the Mine Camp Diary before those? Here it is. Read the rest of the diaries here. Very confused? Read the first Mine Camp Diary entry!

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.

Didn’t read “It’s Round Three And These Chicks Are Crazy, Part 1” or “Part 2”? 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 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.

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

Mount Magnet: An Introduction

Mt. Magnet, named so for its surrounding hills’ high iron content which skew the readings of any compass in their vicinity, is the longest surviving gold mining town in Western Australia. Gold was first discovered here in 1891 and soon enough, it became quite a bustling town. As the madness faded, however, and large mining corporations gradually took over, introducing their “fly-in, fly-out” schemes (where city workers are recruited to spend two weeks on-site in all-inclusive mining camps before flying home for a one-week break), the town has slid further and further into obscurity. As of the 2011 census, its population counted 532 and a conversation with a young schoolteacher revealed that there are only five students enrolled in this year’s kindergarten class. There is a degree of resentment among locals towards the mining companies for their continued failure to reinvest into the community. Walking down Main Street, half of the buildings can be found boarded up (one of those, to my disappointment, was the “internet café”). Employment opportunities are few and far between and entertainment is more or less nonexistent apart from gambling and drinking. I spent a whopping 2 ½ days here—just 57 ½ days short of what I promised my employer.

Here is a humorous recap of my experience.

The Town

Stores at my disposal remaining open post-Gold-Rush-era:

  • Insanely priced local grocer (capsicum was $15/kg compared with the $2.50/kg found in select grocers along the east coast).
  • 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 Mt. Magnet’s other roadhouse which I had mistakenly given them, been told no “Erin Morris” works there, and immediately called the authorities).
  • Fitness center blasting Ariana Grande’s latest hits (this came as a surprise).
  • Pool open only in the summer.
  • Minimalist library where books were checked out on the honor system (rather admirable, really).
  • Hardware store.
  • Aforementioned roadhouse.
  • Then of course where I worked: A combination restaurant (only serving dinner)/bar/hotel (above which I stayed) and a pub/hotel across the road. The latter 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. Apart from the gamblers, the drinking crowd at both facilities was comprised of the same few people. The regulars seemed to find great entertainment in crossing the road every now and then just to see what was playing on the other TV….or which barmaid was working at the other bar.

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

Going those few days without internet and without being in the presence of at least one good travel-mate made me reflect on all of my “travelling” up to that point. I’m told I’m brave for being away from home, but with technology the way it is today, my friends and family are never more than a call or text away… so in reality, have I left them at all?

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 two months (eggs, chickpeas, vegetables, rice – you name it). I’ll admit this was a major factor nurturing my hatred for Mt. Magnet.

The recruitment agency had promised three 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, overcooked cauliflower and a slab of roast beef or chicken wing.

My Coworkers

  • An ex-meth-head (26 y/o) from Melbourne who’d been there for 14 months because 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. This, she told me, was standard precautionary behavior in the Outback. She showed me two sites, one of which was the garbage dump. All she seemed to talk to me about in the three days I was there was her new diet and workout regimen (which included walking one mile three mornings per week). She showed me her refrigerator shelf about four 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 guilty, 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 three weeks and upon news of my quitting, was intent on telling me how glad she was that she had pushed through the initial two because of how the place had grown on her. She was also raised behind a bar and had a deep fondness for truckers and alcohol so it made sense. When I had the nerve to complain about cleaning the maggots out of our kitchen trash can or the significant amount of mold in the shower stall, she pointed to this as a sure sign of privilege. While I will certainly admit to a fair amount of this, I would be more apt to call the willingness to clean one’s apartment a sign of maturity rather than privilege.

The 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, so they 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 halfheartedly that I thought it’d get better and that I came there in hopes of having the “authentic outback experience”, even if it meant pushing my comfort zone (that being the availability of Wi-Fi, a working kitchen and any sort of entertainment or friends). He divulged that he didn’t think it would 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….  he has a cock”… that my bosses were assholes (truth) …. And that this wasn’t my only option for an “authentic outback experience”: I could work in a mining town with more than 4 stores (such as the magical Kalgoorlie).

I was still resistant at this point, especially since my boss was hovering within earshot on the other side of the bar, but the mechanic drunkenly gave me his number and told me he was leaving at 6AM the next morning if I changed my mind. I took the crumpled receipt back to my room and considered it for all of five minutes before I started packing. I asked the Irish girl if I could use her phone (as mine was inoperable) and desperately dialed the number only to find that he had already passed out. I then spent a sleepless night praying 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 picked up the phone at about a quarter to six, and by 6AM we were cruising down the highway towards Perth. I didn’t leave a note.


I’ve never experienced such a strange distortion of time in my life… my 2 ½ days felt like 2 ½ weeks, and I’m not exaggerating in the least. It was actually confusing and albeit a bit disappointing to realize I had, in fact, only lasted 60 hours in that town (and worked only 15 of them….not enough to even pay the placement fee I owed the recruitment agency). I think I got more than enough exposure to outback life, however, and have a thorough understanding of what I’m (not) missing. I’m thankful to the kindness of strangers, even if those strangers may be a bit racist (the mechanic actually told me Africa was better off when the white folk were governing the “blackfellas”), and grateful to myself for having the confidence to trust my instincts. I now return to Melbourne with a renewed appreciation for all of life’s comforts, which, in a way, is exactly what I wanted to gain this year.


About the author:


Erin is an avid traveler and reader who enjoys learning about different cultural perspectives and approaches to life. She is Yasmine’s #1 supporter.

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.