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

What You Need To Know About Claiming Back Taxes And Super After An Australian Working Holiday Visa

I normally don’t write how-to posts like this, but since struggled in this process I believed it was important for someone on the internet to search for and find.

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You’ll need that money if you get your car stuck in the sand like this.

Foreigners working in Australia on a Working Holiday Maker Visa (subclass 417 and 462) are ‘residents for tax purposes’ and eligible to claim back superannuation and taxes (note that as of 1 January 2017, the first $37,000 earned will be taxed at 15%).

When I filed for my tax return in Australia in June, I got money back within a week. Now, after leaving Australia and filing for my tax return, it’s a completely different story. It’s not the quick turnaround I banked on. If you’re leaving Australia before the end of the fiscal year and you want to claim back taxes, don’t plan on getting it back quickly. Claiming superannuation was another obstacle. Make sure that even though you’ve left you haven’t lost track of any crucial information, such as your tax file number (TFN), Australian bank details, all previous Australian residential addresses and login details for online super and banking.

Below are some tips to making your process less stressful. But first: Here’s the key to getting back a ton of money after your working holiday visa:

DO NOT WORK CASH-IN-HAND.

It might seem tempting and it might seem like the best option at the time, but working cash in hand means that more likely than not your employers are cheating you while cheating the system. They’re not paying taxes which does nothing to help you, because  you don’t have to pay taxes! (at least not prior to 2017) This also means they are not paying into your superannuation, which you are also eligible to claim back.

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This describes the process to getting all that $$$$.

LODGING YOUR TAX RETURN

The most important thing to note here is that this process takes time if you do it before the end of the fiscal year, so don’t expect to get your money back quickly.

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Collect payment summaries from all of your employers. Sometimes they will resist (most frustratingly, Hays Recruitment), so if they do print out every pay slip you received.

2. Read this from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). Make sure you fulfill the requirements to lodge your tax return early, which for those on WHM visas means you’ve left the country, your visa has been cancelled or is expired, and you will no longer receive income from Australia. Note that you have to mail in your paperwork if you lodge it early. It cannot be done electronically.

3.Download and print the tax return for individuals form for the appropriate year. To lodge mine this year, I downloaded the most recent, which was from 2016, and crossed out 2016 and wrote 2017 on every page. Nailed it!

FINALLY: Collect all your payment information paperwork and with your tax return form (#3), mail it to Australia. If you are mailing it from abroad (which you probably will be), address it to:

Australian Taxation Office
GPO Box 9845
Sydney NSW 2001, Australia 

Now,  all you have to do is wait. The ATO says it will take up to five weeks.

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Maybe you worked in a cafe like this one in Alice Springs. 

CLAIMING SUPERANNUATION

Also known as ‘departing Australia superannuation payment’ (DASP). Claiming DASP seems simple, until you realized that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) is giving you a headache. That’s right, they’re a pain in the ass. Even though you may have left Australia four months ago and your visa has expired, you still have to cancel your visa before you’ll get your DASP. In fact, they won’t even let you submit your application for DASP before the DIBP clears you a runaway. (I only found this out after a week of confusion and finally messaging the ATO on Twitter.) So here’s how to do it:

1. Email Super Hobart (super.hobart@border.gov.au) with the following information:

  1. a clear statement that you wish to have your temporary visa cancelled,
  2. your full name and date of birth (and those of all people who hold a visa because they are a member of your family unit, or hold a visa only because you hold your visa.),
  3. passport number when you visited Australia,
  4. subclass of the temporary visa you wish to have cancelled,
  5. current residential address,
  6. the date that you departed Australia.

Note that this process can take up to five weeks. Once this process has been cleared, you can complete your DASP application, or if you’ve already completed it, finally submit it.

2. Read the DASP application instructions on the ATO website.

3. Complete the online DASP application.

Now,all you have to do is….

WAIT.

Have you claimed your taxes and DASP after a Working Holiday Visa? How did it go?


Featured photo: Degraves Espresso, on Degraves Street in Melbourne’s CBD.

 

 

Where To Continue Your Learning In Melbourne

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Sign originally featured in this post.

Long- term traveling makes me loose intellectual capacity and critical thinking skills. That’s a big issue if you consider the fact that I’ve been traveling for more than two years. Going from the demanding readings and essays of university to a different type of learning, I yearn for the “ah-ha” moments of critical analysis and experience of group learning.

I learned a lot at the mine, but it wasn’t the same sort of education I’m referring to. Sadly there was little opportunity in the middle of nowhere in Northern Territory, unlike in Melbourne.

If you’re on a working holiday in Melbourne, just visiting or living, may be looking for some intellectual stimulation. During my four months there on a working holiday visa, it was hard to motivate myself to expand my horizons only by reading and watching documentaries.

Luckily, Melbourne is a city full of innovation and ideas. Anything from art to music to film can be easily accessed throughout the city. I was grateful to find places that hosted the type of learning I missed. Whether you’re like me and love the classroom or are just looking for some extra inspiration, these centers or organizations offer workshops, lectures or weekly classes on a variety of subjects.

Some of the organizations and centers on this list overlap with those mentioned in my post about how get your feminist on in Melbourne

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Electrical box in Melbourne.

The Wheeler Center 

Born out of Melbourne’s declaration as a UNESCO City of Literature in 2008, The Wheeler Center is a center focused on writing and ideas. Aside from publishing videos and original writing they host hundreds of talks a year on subjects ranging from human rights to technology at location in the Melbourne CBD. Their free events fill up fast, so make sure to follow their calendar of events and reserve your spot quickly.

Can’t make it to a talk? Find them on social media, subscribe to their newsletter and subcribe to their podcasts for learning on the go.

Center for Adult Education (CAE)

Melbourne’s CAE offers accredited courses for adults to finish secondary education and certificates and diplomas. It also offers short courses on a number of subjects from the humanities to practical life skills. You can learn anything from Swedish, sewing or floristry for a relatively low cost. Courses can last anywhere from one day to a few months. 

Photoh 

If you’re interested in learning photography in a non-competitive, relaxed setting, Photoh offers individual or group classes and weekly photography workshops in Melbourne from seasoned photographers. I took May’s Photo Challenge of the Month photo on their workshop on storytelling.

Melbourne Free University

Started in 2010, Melbourne Free University provides a space and opportunity for anyone, no matter their income or education level, to learn and discuss from experts and researchers. Topics include anything from social issues around the globe to the international politics of weapons. The free uni offers some six week courses as well as one-off seminars. The best part about it? Unlike most university experiences, participants get to enjoy learning the information without stressing about their grades.

Libraries in the City of Melbourne

The City of Melbourne’s libraries aren’t just beautiful (see the branch in the Docklands) buildings with good coffee nearby and free Wi-Fi. The library also hosts mostly free events, including history outings, recurring book clubs, lectures and art exhibitions. Check out their “What’s On” section for the latest events and don’t forget to reserve your spot online.

The School of Life Melbourne 

The School of Life was first founded in London in 2008 and opened its Melbourne branch in 2014. A bookshop cafe and learning space, it scatters provocative question ideas around for the purpose of facilitating meaningful interactions, The School of Life writes. The space also hosts various lectures on “how-to’s,” such as their upcoming January 2017 lectures “How to Find A Job You Love” and “How to Have Better Conversations.” It’s academically minded, critical and unique approach to various life skills will inspire you to think differently about your life. The only downside to this center is its hefty attendance fees. Ouch, that hurts the budget traveler’s wallet.

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You first met this koala triste in this post.  Now she’s sad because she wants to learn so much!

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Do you live in Melbourne? What other places do you go to learn? Let me know and I’ll add it to the list.

Want to simply learn more about what there is to do in Melbourne? Check out these websites you should be reading.


Featured photo of my friend Erin (author of this post on escaping from the outback) and I in front of a mural on Hosier Lane, one of the most famous graffiti spots in the city. Don’t forget that, of course, the city itself is a great place to learn.

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.

naptimewithyasmine-kitchen3
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:

naptimewithyasmine-kitchen2
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!