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.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

…F*ck that. I serious. 

***

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Welcome Back

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

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

Yep, it’s good to be back.

***

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

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

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

We’re Still Three Birds, But Different

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

To be continued. Stay tuned for Part 2.

*Names changed

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

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