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.