Swing One: I survived! Woohooo!!

It has been a HUGE couple of weeks since my last post! I got a pretty impressive graduation and birthday present in the form of my dear brother. He was flown over as a surprise and we had a chance to spend a bit of time together before I headed off to my FIFO adventure. Although it was mostly fun spending time with him, it was also a bit stressful. He who knows me pretty well and kept telling me that if I wasn’t careful around the equipment on site, then I would DIE! Yes, just the sort of brotherly love and encouragement I needed before I headed off. As if I wasn’t nervous enough without his very positive words of encouragement!

I am happy to report that I survived my first swing and that I loved every minute of it. Well, maybe there was a total of about a few hours in the whole eight days that I didn’t love too much. About a third of which involved dealing with flies or midges and the rest dealing with Negative Nancy’s who just moan about everything. Yes, there’s a few of those in every workplace. Luckily though, none on my crew! I couldn’t even begin to tell you how great my crew has been. Having walked into their world without any prior experience and possibly having taken the spot their mate with several years of experience could have had, I was undoubtedly nervous, or to be more precise – I was shitting myself!

On the way to the airport for my flight out, at about 5am, I had my first moment of “what the heck am I doing”. A bit of panic set in and I was full of nerves for a good few hours. Luckily I knew a number of guys at the airport enabling me to release my nerves by teasing them. Anyway, the nerves were very much a distant memory by the end of the day. The number of people who were excited to have “the HR girl” on the crew, who said “good on ya”, and who told me to relax and just ease myself in rather than stressing about what I know and don’t know was mind blowing. Only one person gave me a good natured ribbing about my “stupid decision” to leave the comforts of an air-conditioned office to go and get dirty in the plant. What was overwhelming was the number of guys who offered me their time and knowledge whenever I needed a hand or needed to know anything – from the operators, to the fitters and the engineers, they were all happy to help. A lot also shared stories of when they started, back in the day when they had no idea what they were doing. The best advice they were ever given and the best methods they used to learn. The abundance of positivity and support was brilliant!

Sunset on day one. Pretty nice way to wind down… until the flies and midges attack that is!

I haven’t even started on the camp! I nearly dropped my plate when the Camp Manager referred to me by name on the second day. How did she know? She knew everyone’s name and was extremely friendly. Can’t complain about the food too and the rooms, small but cosy, with a touch of snoring neighbours. There isn’t any mobile reception or reliable Wi-Fi, but it’s nice to be disconnected and to just chill during the night – this coming from someone who has a very strong attachment to my phone and email!

I had to get used to early to bed and early to rise. I did well for the first five days then struggled on the sixth day. Sparrows fart starts got a bit hard on that sixth day. Not entirely sure why, but I am telling you I most definitely struggled that day. Luckily there was a barbecue that night which kept my motivation levels up. Everyone had been talking it up all swing so I was looking forward to the feed. The guys did not disappoint! There was the usual fare of steaks and snags, but also the highly hyped especially marinated pepper steaks. The guys had been raving about it all week, naturally I was excited and salivating. It didn’t disappoint. If anyone got between me and that steak at the next barbecue, they will suffer because I will smack anyone down for another one of those yummy pepper steaks.

The view during our daily one hour plus commute to and from site. Yes, theres lots of roos and emus – in live form and in roadkill too! Hmmmmm Did someone say barbecue?

Oh, and on laundry night I discovered that I unfortunately have inherited my mother’s slight OCD. Whilst waiting for my laundry to finish I hang around the laundry for a while. It was a good spot to get to know people as they came and went. However, I also had a very strong urge to check the lint filters in the dryers as people left with their finishing washing. Yes, I was checking on each machine as it was vacated. Sad but true. That night, I also discovered that no good deed goes unrewarded! Whilst being super cool and hanging around the laundry, I offered to transfer one of the guys washing into the next available dryer. He had to head back to his room and I was hanging around anyway so I figured I’d offer. The minute the next dryer became available I moved his stuff. When he realised what I had done he bought me a beer. Good system right?

Overall, I had a fantastic first swing. It was scary at first but as I got to know the crew, I felt more comfortable. The amount of support and encouragement I received from the people I came across in the eight days was unbelievable. I have a feeling this move isn’t only positive for my career but also for my personal development. The downside though is that I now automatically wake up at 4.30am and start fading at about 8.30pm – yes, 8.30 is now my official bedtime. To think I used to complain when my mom demanded a 10pm curfew back in the day. I would be lucky to stay up past 10pm at this point!

From high heels to steel caps – my FIFO adventure

When the Mayans talked about 2012 being the end of the world as we know it and the transition into a new age, I am convinced they were talking about my world! Well, they got the dates wrong but that’s not really the point of this story. No, this isn’t another one of those doomsday blockbuster movies starring an overpaid, overhyped Hollywood hunk-o-man. This story is better – it’s about my awesome self’s transition from white collar recruiter to a fly in fly out (FIFO) process plant operator. Exciting, right?

First FIFO experience – overnight site visit Feb 2012

Just a bit of background information to give you a full picture of how radical this career change is…

I have never dreamed of working in a mine site. As a kid my master plan was to become a house maid, then that got upgraded to a flight attendant. Somehow the plan evolved to becoming a psychologist. Something about understanding what motivates people and how the human brain ticks intrigued me. So off I went to University studying a Bachelor of Psychology. After a couple of semesters, I realised to become a practising psychologist I had to do a heck of a lot of post-graduate study. No thanks! Four years of hard toil was long enough, I didn’t need anymore. So I tacked on a Bachelor of Business in Human Resources Management to my degree so I could work in human resources straight after graduation. Human resources still had that human element which intrigued me, so it made perfect sense to go down that path.

After the grand tradition of a Euro trip, I settled into the 9-5 and worked through the ranks to finally land a Recruitment Advisor role – thanks to certain colleagues who showered me with tidbits of wisdom and to a brilliant guardian angel who believed in me! It must be noted though, that a couple of years after graduation I started missing learning and all that comes with formal study. Yes, further study was not part of the grand plan but the itch was strong. In 2008, I enrolled in a Masters of Human Resources Management. I sat my last exam for this course in June 2012. Through all those years I juggled full time work, pub visits, several holidays and jaunts across the country to visit friends, and study – lots and lots of study. I can’t deny there were numerous “what the hell am I doing this for???!!?!!” moments. These moments usually came about when I was stuck at home doing assignments whilst my mates were out having fun.

Old office. Yes, we got up to no good sometimes. Will most definitely miss the fuffy cat.

After years of toil, I finally reached the end – the last exam! Any sane person would revel in the moment. I, however, started stressing about what was next. By the time I got the results for that exam I was already racking my brain as to what to do next. Mineral Economics? Psychoanalytic Studies? Accounting? Some sort of finance course? A PhD in Awesomeness?  As I racked my brain for what my next challenge would be, the opportunity to become a process plant operator was put on the table. An operator? Me? I have never even been in a processing plant and at this point I had only spent a day and a half in a mine site. Plus, what about all the study I have done? I can’t just walk away from human resources after all the long hours of study. The operator role was not an option.

Definitely not the case though. After a few sleepless nights spent mulling over the possibility of going down the operator path it was clear that it was the way to go. There was a reason the opportunity came about during the time it did. I was looking for the next challenge and this was it. How much further out of my comfort zone could I possibly go? What other opportunity would push me like this one would? And, what other opportunity would broaden my skill set and knowledge base like becoming an operator would? None. With this realisation, I was on board.

Being overly excited about this new venture I proceeded to tell everyone about my new career. Telling colleagues and friends about the career change became quite amusing.  As with any decision, some people were very supportive whilst others were not so supportive. There’s even a bet going around that I will only last two months or possibly less.

Watching people’s reaction to the news was very entertaining. However, with every entertaining reaction also came a few hurtful, annoying questions and comments. Let me address a few of these…

  • Are you doing it for the money?
    Definitely not. As my boyfriend highlighted, my relationship with money looks like this <– –>. Money has never been my main motivator. I like learning and being challenged. A healthy remuneration package is great. Of course it is, but for me, it’s not the main thing that gets me out of bed in the morning.
  • Is it because your boyfriend is currently FIFO and in the same site?
    Heck no. Those who know me will know how cranky I can get after a hard eight hour day. Imagine how much worse I would be after a full on, physically challenging 12 hour day. Unquestionably, not a pretty picture and certainly not conducive to fostering a relationship. Also, we will actually see less of each other once I start onsite. So, to those who insist on this angle, you are wrong.
  • Oh, so you gave yourself a job!?
    Recruitment 101 people, there is a reason why the title has “Advisor” in it. We advise. We work alongside the hiring manager and advise. The ultimate decision sits with the hiring manager and higher ups. Therefore, no, I did not give myself the job. If I had the option to give myself a job, I would give myself a supervisor role don’t you think?
  • Why? WHY? W-H-Y? Why are you doing this?
    WHY NOT! What other chance will I get to do something completely out of my comfort zone which will enhance and broaden my whole world?

I start my new role in a couple of weeks. I am under no illusion that the next few months will be easy. I expect to be completely knackered by the end of my first day and absolutely shattered by the end of the swing. I expect it to be absolute hard work. The hardest I may have had to do so far. Supposedly, operators cover about 17kms in a day. I cannot tell you when the last time I went to the gym was. The longest walk I do on a daily basis is the walk from the car park to the train station. I also suffer from vertigo and in the processing plant, there’s a lot of stairs – the scary sort, the sort you can see the drop. The scariest kind if you ask me. Also, there’s no roof. What happens when it rains you say? Well, as I was told by an experienced operator, you get wet!

My new “office”. Check out the stairs. Scary stairs!

Over the last month, the human resources textbooks I used to be buried in have been replaced by conveyor, cyclone, mill, pump and valves manuals. While I prepare myself for this new venture into the world of FIFO mining, I am also getting ready for my Masters graduation. Don’t worry; the irony isn’t lost on me. A week after I receive my testamur for the Masters, I fly out to do my first swing as an operator.

As Michael Lewis highlighted in the commencement speech he delivered during this year’s Princeton graduation, “life’s outcomes, while not entirely random, have a huge amount of luck baked into them.” I have had a lot of luck to date and will need a whole lot more in the coming weeks and months.

This blog is going to document the highs and lows of my new career as a FIFO process plant operator.  Bring it!