On Australian Values And Working On The Mine

My series ‘Mine Camp Diaries‘ is over, but there’s still a lot to be said. (Very confused? Read the first Mine Camp Diary entry!) Here’s a non-academic, amateur assessment of Australian values. 

I was on a plane from Las Vegas to Houston when I first read about the quintessential Australian values. I flipped through the pages a book my mom picked up at Half Price Books. I can’t remember the exact title or author, but it was an informational and practical guide targeted at American audiences considering relocating to Australia. It covered the logistics and basics about health care and work culture. Reading briefly about the colonial history and favorite Aussie past times (drinking and footy, to name a few), I was especially interested in the section describing some of Australia’s core values.

In my experience, a nation’s core values often seem like gross exaggerations or stereotypes. At first they appear impossible, but with a closer look are unmistakably present in life in the country. It’s not always as in your face as a Wikipedia description might seem, but it’s there.

What I first dismissed as stereotypical characteristics that probably wouldn’t show up in daily life, I began to see demonstrated. It could very well have been a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or, it could be that analyses of Australian mainstream culture are accurate.

Disclaimer: This is a non-academic approach to describe a very complex topic. I oversimplify and perhaps am too dismissive of subtle yet important distinctions in the following national values. I aimed to provide a first-person experience as a foreigner interacting with these values.                                                                           

Fair Go

Fair go is a term that used as is in vernacular is still hard for me to understand. But the ideas behind it aren’t, and rather evident in the everyday. It means giving everyone an equal chance, no matter where they came from or who they are. Many immigrants to Australia were either convicts or destitute, crossing great distances to make a living. It’s of upmost importance to give everyone a shot to prove themselves.

On my first day on the job, I walked into the rec room at 7:28am. I was supposed to start at 7:30. Thinking that 7:28 was an appropriate time to arrive at work, I was surprised when everyone was already sitting in a circle, silent, waiting for the morning meeting to start. They had already signed in, signed the pre-start meeting form and done their breath-os.

“Ah, the Yank, coming in a bit late but it’s her first day,” my boss announced as I walked in. “But it’s 7:28!” I said, wondering what all the fuss was about. I was not late. I looked around and everyone was silent. My boss didn’t respond. She stared at me. “Oh, shit, I’m sorry I didn’t realize how sassy that sounded,” I said, embarrassed.

Everyone laughed at me and I sat down. I was wondering when I was going to learn to think before I speak. I made a fool out of myself on the first day, but no one held it against me. They gave me a “fair go,” an opportunity to redeem myself despite my wrongdoings. Even so, that didn’t mean that it wasn’t a favorite way for them to take the piss out of me for the next three months. I heard that story repeated many times to all the new people who came in. If someone was late, someone in the audience would shout “Don’t worry, the yank’s always late, too!”

Mateship

Usually describing the strong bonds between males and said to describe loyalty, equality and friendship, mateship has been criticized by some for helping to create the strong homophobic culture in Australia. Having roots in the early colonial period, newcomers were forced to give each other a hand to survive. This tradition has carried on, and you can see strangers helping each other out in every sense.

A very obvious example of mateship is the way Australians refer to each other as “mate” no matter how close or far their social distance. Putting everyone on the same level socially, the convicts are said to have referred to their jailers as “mate.”  There are also more subtle ways of showing equality and solidarity. I witnessed several acts of kindness in Australia that created a sense of togetherness. On one occasion, I was especially touched (figuratively, of course) by a man on a Melbourne tram who helped a drugged-up man come to when he was being kicked off.

On the mine, when people sensed my confusion or inability to do something, they would immediately jump in explain or show me how it should be done. They did, of course, make fun of me for it relentlessly, but nevertheless they wanted me to know that I wasn’t going at it alone.

Love of the underdog

Love of the underdog is something that I relate to wholeheartedly. I find myself naturally supporting the odd one out.

Coincidentally, this is one of the fundamental values Australians hold is to cheer on the underdog. Be it a sports team, the last runner in the race or the one who failed the test, someone always wants to root for the least likely to succeed. Related to the previous point about mateship, Australians at the mine enjoyed that I was clueless at my job. While, as I’ve already emphasized, they loved to point out my flaws, they also expressed their desire for me to succeed. They didn’t want to see me fail. They did what they could to root me on, to watch me improve and to show their support, verbally and with actions.

Tall poppy syndrome

My first day cleaning the mine site, it was just Martha and I, figuring things out on our own. Even though the mine site and its employees are considered this company’s “client,” the people there didn’t shy away from helping us out. In a subtle informality, one of the superintendents of a department caught us and said, “Look, if you’re not doing what you’re supposed to I won’t tell on you. But just watch out for some of these other blokes.” By these “other blokes” he referred to people who were tattle-tales. Narcs. The ones who defied mateship and sought approval from authority. In other words, people to be shamed.

A few weeks later, I was back at the mine, this time just Rebecca and I. Martha is a very good worker. Yeah, she might get her panties all bunched up sometimes, but she works hard and does things with integrity which was something I really respected about her. On the other hand, Rebecca, although well meaning, lets her personal life interfere with her performance on the job. I would much rather work with Martha than Rebecca. During one of Rebecca’s sessions where she complained about the day shift workers – i.e., Martha, not doing their job right, I corrected her. “No, Rebecca, I worked with Martha and I promise, she always does an excellent job and it’s really important for her to take pride in her work,” I said. “Yes, I know,” she said, distrustful, “Sometimes too much…”

Too much, so that she stood out as a good worker. Too much that she cozied up to management and became their friends. Just too much.

Throughout my weeks at the mine, I got the overwhelming sense that the real enemy is out there, and its authority. Anyone who sticks their head over the masses and cozies up to authority is not to be trusted. In doing too good of a job, Martha stuck out amongst the rest and threatened their equality and loyalty.


Featured photo: Lipton tea, taken at the jumping crocodile cruise at Adelaide River

Things You Find At The Mine

What do you find at the mine?

You find rocks. And resources. And buildings and trucks and bulldozers and utes and bogans and water fountains and wacky tattoos and wrinkly faces.

And you also find….

Toilets that look like they belong in Ballantine Hall

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Live toads and dead toads

Cane toads are an invasive species that have destroyed and threaten many native flora and fauna in the country. Many are so angered by their presence that there are said to be pubs that offer free beers in exchange for caught toads. Some of my coworkers’ favorite pastimes was trying to run them over on the way home from the  mine.

Cockroaches

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This is nothing compared to some of them that I saw. Fast moving, wiggling and pitter-pattering around laundry and cleaning supplies, I never got used to their disgusting presence. There was one that lived in the men’s changing room that, I kid you not, was as big as my hand. “MARTHA CHECK OUT THE SIZE OF THIS THING!” I yelled every time.

Moldy Food

Hey, that’s nasty! Yes, yes it is. Technically as cleaners we were prohibited from removing items from the fridges. One night, Martha had enough. We had a rubbish dumping free-for-all, filling up two 182L black bin liners full of moldy food. Miners need to throw old stuff out!

Ants

Ants in my room, ants in my pants, ants biting my back, ants all of a cleaned plate, ants in my coffee. Ants are everywhere, unavoidable, and still baffle me on how they seem to figure out where something delicious is. And how do they call all their friends to come join them?

SPIDERS. And spiderwebs

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You know how everyone you told that you were going to Australia told you to be careful about spiders? They were right. There are some giant, squirm-inducing arachnids that not only crawl all over your life but build their homes on top of it, too.

HOTTIES TAKING SELFIES

Just kidding! That’s against company policy. But really, hotties still do. I am not ashamed of my temp agency uniform, I’m proud to be an almost-tradie. I feel like I finally fit in in Darwin. High vis for life. High vis way is the only way. High vis is my biz. High vis is deliz..ious .


Confused about what this “mine” is and why am I finding things there? Read the first Mine Camp Diary and while you’re at it, read all of them!

Mine Camp Diaries: The Infamous Incident

Saturday night in the bush

It was mid-October, and while in most countries people start to open the windows to let in a refreshing breeze, be it the pinch of a cool wind in fall or the balmy aroma of spring, we kept our doors shut. Why? Flies. Annoying flies landing on your lips and eyes and inseminating maggots in all of your food. In the Top End, we are forced to remain in the confines of unnatural air conditioning, for health reasons.

Except on one Saturday night, we forgot to shut the back door. We must have left it open accidentally between runs to and from the freezers and cool rooms around the back of the building. We also forgot to lock the back gate, which is to keep dingoes away from the rubbish and avoid break-ins from locals, which no one will say out loud but it’s what they mean.

So on that sticky, mid-October Saturday night in the build-up it was 8:30pm, 30 minutes after we had finished serving dinner. Natalie was at the dishwashing station, Lionel was cleaning up the bain-maries and I was spraying the food prep station clean. We had Red Hot Chili Peppers “Californication” at full volume, making normal speech impossible.

All of a sudden, over the music, we heard a deep, forceful “HEEEEEEEEEEEEEY!” Natalie and I looked up at each other, a confused look on both of our faces. The noise came again. “I don’t think that’s Lionel!” she screamed me. Then we heard it again. This time it was more drawn out. “HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEY!”

I walked closer to the back door and through the hallway saw the plumber, resting his right forearm on the top of the door and propping himself up.

“Hey, Mark, what are you doing here?” I laughed. He is a character. A character that belongs on Character Tuesday. He’s young, in his late 20s. The kind of person that sits at a barbecue and talk about the time he got the clap in high school. The one who always seems a bit disinterested but will then ask you questions. And, like many Aussies I’ve encountered, “loves his grog.” He’ll often sit at the rec room and smash four or five beers after work before he asks if someone with a car could drive him home.

“I’m so hungry!” he said. He did look hungry. And a bit tipsy. I could tell he had been at the local pub. Well, let’s get this man some food, I thought.

“Hey, Lionel!” I called out to the chef. I pointed to Mark. “Can he come in and eat?” I asked. “Sure,” Lionel said, “Just make sure he wears a hairnet.” And after Lionel brought him a hairnet he walked through the back of the kitchen towards the dining room in his flip flops and shorts. “What time do you guys get off?” he asked. I told him 10pm. He sat down at the table nearest to the kitchen doors and watched the news on the T.V. “So what time do you guys get off?” he asked again. “10:00,” I told him.

I brought him a plate of frittata and Mexican minced meat, the easiest thing I could grab from what was left over from dinner. I kept an eye on him while I finished cleaning up the dining room, wiping the food crumbs off the display cases and taking the soup warmers to the dishwashing station to be washed. “What time is it now?” he asked me. I pointed to the clock.

Natalie looked over at me and shook her head. “Now I have more dishes to do!” she sneered. I told her not to worry about it, that I would do his dishes because I let him in. After about ten minutes, he left to walk home and Natalie came up to me. “He is so weird,” she said.

Caught

We finished our shift as normal, and when 10:00pm came around, the security guard showed up to drive us from the kitchen back to camp. As soon as we were leaving, he came up to me.

“Allison,” he asked, “Did someone come up here after 8:00pm?”
“Yeah, I let him in and gave him some food,” I explained. I looked at Natalie. She must have told the security guard. How else would he have known?
“Well, that’s a huge breach of company policy and a huge liability. That’s a big no-no,” he said. Oh, shit. I had no idea. He went on to explain that letting someone in after 8:00pm gives us no protection. He could slip, he could fall, and he could have sexually assaulted us and could have stolen something. The security guard leaves at 8:00pm, so it would have just been us against the perpetrator.
“I have to write it in my end of the night report, but I won’t report it to the mining company…that way you won’t get in too big of trouble,” he said. Because something like that is grounds for immediate dismissal. It’s more complicated than it seems. The mining company contracts the service company (who I was hired by) to manage all the utilities (housekeeping, kitchen, grounds, maintenance and cleaning) of its properties. And there is always the looming fear of making a big mistake and losing the contract with the mining company.

He dropped us off back at camp and told me not to worry. Really, I shouldn’t have. I considered it my boss’s fault that I was completely unaware of a policy, especially if it was that serious. Even still, I felt sick to my stomach. I should have known. Now, thinking back to the situation, it was a no brainer.

The cover-up

The next morning, we all got to work and started as normal, as if nothing had happened. Lionel gave us a pep talk. “Just keep it between us that we let someone in,” he said, “Don’t talk about it. We’re a team and we’re going to get past this.”

Natalie looked me. “That’s the first time he’s ever said ‘we’re a team,’” she shook her head.

A few hours later as I was refilling the fruit refrigerator one of the refrigeration mechanics came in to take a look at something. He spoke for a second with Lionel on his way out.

As soon as he left Lionel called us together, a bit nervous.

“Everyone knows,” he said.
“How is that possible?”
“The fridgy just came up to me and said he heard Mark was here last night. Everyone knows. John [head boss of camp] sent out a mass email to all of maintenance.”
“Are we going to get fired?” I asked. I was starting to get nervous. I mean, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Yeah, I feel kind of stupid, but I’m a working holiday visa. This isn’t my career. I can easily find another job. And to make matters easier, I’m not even with this service company. I’m contracted through a temp agency.
“Well, I’m a bit nervous because I already have disciplinary actions against me,” he shook his head, “so my job is already on the line.” And actually, it is his fault. He is the one who knew about the “don’t let anyone in after 8:00pm policy.” He should have known. But something tug at me.
“I’ll take the blame, really, Lionel, this job isn’t anything for me and I would hate for you to get fired over this,” I said. Meanwhile, Natalie was there, slightly nervous but calm. She didn’t have much to worry about. Her uncle is the head chef, which gives her immunity. And after all, she is the one who told on us. If she hadn’t said something to the security guard, we wouldn’t be in this position.
“Okay, here’s what we’re going to do,” Lionel said, “We’re going to say that you, Allison, let him in, and I was in the office doing paperwork and I didn’t realize he was here. You’re alright that way, Allison, because you didn’t know the policy. That way we’re all in the clear. And you, Natalie, you were just at the dishwashing station and you didn’t know either.”

And like that we made a pact to lie about what happened and “save our own asses” like I had been encouraged to do since the day I arrived.

Repercussions

Monday morning, we all had to meet before our shift began to have a meeting with the head chef of the camp. He raked us over the coals again for doing something that would cause so much liability. Looking straight at me, he said, “No one comes in after 8:00pm. It doesn’t matter who they are. And especially not after having drunk alcohol. That is a huge problem.”

My fear of confrontation and fear of not being the outstanding, number one most responsible student were kicking in. I felt like I was back in high school, scared of facing a mistake I had made. It wasn’t a big deal to me, but given the stakes, a small thing like letting someone into the mess could jeopardize my safety and a multi-million dollar contract. I was replaying the event over and over again in my head, thinking of how it should have gone differently. I wanted to tell people, to talk about it with anyone I could until they confirmed that I had nothing to worry about, but I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t tell anyone. It was our “team’s” dark secret.

Make up some lies, will you

The day after that, I walked out of my donga before heading to work and ran into Mark and another plumber. The other plumber who was with him is a fan of “taking the piss out of me,” and as soon as I saw him I sighed and said “I don’t want to hear it.”

“No, don’t worry,” the other plumber said, “I’m not here to give you a hard time. We’re coming by later to apologize to the kitchen team. Mark doesn’t even remember going to the mess, he was that drunk. We came and woke him at his house Sunday morning because he wasn’t answer his phone.”
“Yeah, I started laughing—“
“And we told him to stop, that this wasn’t funny and it was serious. He’s lucky that the mining company didn’t find out because he would have lost his job,” he said, cutting Mark off.
“Well, I promise, I’m never letting you or anyone into the mess after 8:00pm again, I’ve learned my lesson.”
“I saw the head chef today and he shrugged and said, ‘apparently Allison let in another drunk person after 8:00pm again last night’”
“What?! Of course I didn’t let another person in, I’m not an idiot!”
“That’s all clearly coming from Natalie, she must be telling him things.”

Now, three days after the incident occurred, we’re still talking about it, replaying the incident and discussing what a big problem it was.  I covered for Lionel, who clearly knew the rules, and everyone thinks I’m the dumb yank who lets people in. And the head chef’s niece is feeding him lies about me. Somehow humans figure out how to make everything dramatic.

The apology

That afternoon, I was refilling the meat pie refrigerator (yes, we have an entire fridge dedicated to feeding the miner’s love of meat pies) when the two plumbers walked in. The head chef called me, Lionel and Natalie to come sit down, and we sat there as Mark said he was sorry for causing trouble on Saturday night and that it wouldn’t happen again.

“I don’t remember coming here, actually,” Mark admitted out loud.
“Yeah, I was in the office doing paperwork,” Lionel added just for show, knowing the head chef was next to him.
“Well, I hope it was a good feed!” Natalie said with a big smile. Everyone laughed.

“That was,” I later told the head chef, “The only person I let in. That only happened once. I don’t know what you think but that was a onetime thing.” He stared at me for a second then changed the subject.

It comes to an end

Finally, after three days of endless talk about the incident, it was over. Things went back to normal and the closest we got to letting people in after 8:00pm was in jokes. I confronted Natalie, forcing her to admit to me that she had been the one to tell on us. I later went into the boss’s office to apologize to him. He didn’t even really seem to care that much.

But for Lionel, things went differently. After I came back from my week off, he was gone. The boss addressed us as a group.

“Lionel has been terminated. He didn’t fit in with our values,” he said. So really, it probably wouldn’t have made a difference if I covered for him or not.


Featured photo: A restaurant in Melbourne. Description of how I felt during those three days.

Didn’t catch the previous post? Or did you miss the Mine Camp Diary before that? Here it is. Read the rest of the diaries here. Very confused? Read the first Mine Camp Diary entry!

 

Mine Camp Diaries: Is This A Reality T.V. Show?

“You can see the rain,” Gina said from the front seat of our Toyota Hilux. I looked out the window. The sky, with an orange glow, was cloudy but the sun was still shining.
“Oh, is it raining?” I asked, thinking that it might be in the distance, but not where we were.
“NO, I JUST SAID THAT FOR NO REASON,” Gina snapped back. This is just one of the many outbursts that Gina has had over the last few days while working with Martha (yep, I’m back with Martha), Ryan and I mine site cleaning.

Other abrupt and forceful replies have included “NO, THEY’RE NOT CHOCOLATE” when I asked if her lollies melted in the car and “IT WAS THE BOTTOM LENT DOOR, NOT THE TOP DRYER DOOR” to when I asked her why the dryer screen says “door.” Gina springs from normal conversation to being hot and bothered – that’s in her own words – within seconds. Anything of little importance could turn into a life or death situation based on her tone of voice. It has left Martha and I speechless and confused as we sit in the wake of her fervor. After careful consideration, Martha and I have determined that, considering she holds little grudges against our seeming “idiocrasy,” she doesn’t behave this way to be hurtful.

This, however, hasn’t stopped Martha from imitating Gina at any given moment. It’s started to get under her skin so much so that anytime she gives me a suggestion or a correction, she first says it as if she was Gina, then mumbles how she would normally say it.

A couple of nights ago, Gina, Martha and I were sitting at the crib room table together. I was on my third serving of cake (#guilty). When Martha made her normal comments about how much I eat, Gina looked at me and contributed to the conversation. “Yeah, you do eat a lot,” she said. Then she added, “I don’t eat sweets. Otherwise, I’ll just blow up.” The thing is, Gina isn’t a small woman. She’s not obese, but it would be a huge stretch to call her fit or in shape. We sat in silence for the next ten minutes of break as I took bites out of my cheesecake.

Later, when Gina came in eating her lollies (the ones I mistook for melted chocolate), she left the bag in the room. Martha suggested that I eat half of it and then say to Gina, “Just looking after your weight.”

Martha, the naughty girl, doesn’t just fantasize about messing with Gina. She has even decided to do things on purpose that irk Gina. “I’m being a bitch,” she explained to me tonight.

“You know I always open up the laundry room door with my keys?” Martha asked me, “Well I always do it first to the wrong side, because Gina’s always watching me and every night says, ‘I ALREADY TOLD YOU MARTHA, YOU TURN IT TO THE LEFT!’” And tonight, after a heated discussion with the four of us over who would do what laundry from what departments of the mine site, Martha decided to do one of Ryan’s and Gina’s areas just to stir them up, because as Ryan accused her today, “YOU’RE THE BOSS MARTHA, YOU JUST MAKE YOUR OWN RULES UP, HUH?”

Gina may be unpredictable and harsh, but Ryan is exhausting. A 22-year-old Kiwi (I told you people think they’re crazy) who has failed to get into the army four times (his last interview he showed up in thongs and shorts, claiming it was ‘their fault’ because he had just gotten off of night shift).  He even tried to make alliances and get me on his side. When he realized that I wasn’t an easy target to lull over to his hatred of Martha, something changed between us. He stopped trusting me and has stopped complaining about Martha to me. Or, at least, he hasn’t done it as much. He still shakes his head at me when she walks out of the room.

And like a love-struck teenager, Gina just adores him. She stares at him much in the same way that my grandma’s eyes sparkle when she’s the center of attention. She agrees with almost everything Ryan says and laughs at all of his jokes. I almost throw up.

Ryan and Gina, a volatile pair, have split off from the group. They ride around in the mine site van while we cruise around in the ute. We’re now in two warring bands, barely ever encountering each other, save the tension-filled ride to and from the mine site.

Martha and I, because we’ve already had a lot of fun working together before, still have a great time. And now because there are four of us one site, more staff than normal, we often find ourselves struggling to find things to do. Martha has taken to making laps around all of the buildings, sitting at 19 kilometers per hour, repeating, “You just can’t rush these things.”

We linger an extra-long time at the different areas, finding guys to talk to. We make small talk about what people cooked on their weeks off, how they’re coming in the Barramundi fishing competition and if applicable, I ask lots of questions about their grandchildren. That seems to be a crowd favorite and people are never short of adorable stories to tell me.

Despite the drama amongst our team, Martha and I found ways to laugh and forget the elephant on the site. But the moments when the four of us do reconvene, it’s as if those had the power to grab my peaceful nature and rip it off of me like a housekeeper stripping a bed.

When we were still eating dinner all together – silent, but in the same room- Martha walked out because she couldn’t handle hearing Ryan’s voice anymore. After she left, Gina and Ryan started an endless and animated chatter about all of Martha’s “hypocrisies” and mistakes. I asked if they could please stop, because it was actually making me dizzy. They didn’t. They continued.

I didn’t automatically take their side, which annoyed them (they told me I’m a “suck up”). I realized that a lot of what Gina was saying and agreeing with was the exact opposite of what she had said the previous night, behind Ryan’s back. When Gina got up from the table to go to the toilet, I turned to Ryan. “She is not to be trusted,” I said, “She is two-faced! Everything you’re saying now, she complained about last night!”

“Man, it’s like we’re on survivor or something!” he laughed. And I realized, with all of this back and forth and talking behind each other’s backs, whispering, petty mind games and blaming, we very well could have been. If only they had a camera to record it all.


Featured photo: A sleeping dog I saw at a petrol station in Northern Territory. Its emotional state is how I feel when my coworkers continue to fight like this.

Didn’t catch the previous post, “Don’t Talk To Me In The Morning“? Or did you miss the Mine Camp Diary before that? Here it is. Read the rest of the diaries here. Very confused? Read the first Mine Camp Diary entry!

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.

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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:

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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.

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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.”

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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!