Swing Six: Sleepless

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. That’s how the story goes anyone. The night before Christmas for me was a dusty, noisy one. It was the first of seven nights at work. My first full night shift swing – ever! On the first night I was charged with watching the feed hopper water levels. This meant standing by and watching the feed (dry ore) coming into the hopper and ensuring the water coming in was maintained at an optimal level – no cavitation, no overflow. The wind ensured there was a heck of a lot of dust floating around, to the point that my shirt colour changed even when I was regularly shaking the dust off. Bobcats, haul packs, loaders, everything was happening that night. Definitely not a silent Christmas Eve for Crew Two!

Dust, dust and a bit more dust. Sadly, not pixie dust!
Dust, dust and a bit more dust. Sadly, not pixie dust!

Everyone says that the first couple of nights are the hardest. I had six coffees to keep me awake on the first night. The prospect of a special Christmas breakfast barbecue and drinks kept me going through the first night. Breakfast was brilliant and worth staying up for. Although some of the Kris Kringle presents were not very breakfast appropriate. We had a full barbecue breakfast and drinks. There was also a seafood feast for dinner that night. Thank God I was on night shift or I could have extended dinner for a couple of hours.

Festive!
Festive!
Christmas feast. Yes, I was a happy camper!
Christmas feast. Yes, I was a happy camper!
Christmas lollies. Who knew lollies were an essential part of a Christmas buffet!? This was a first for me!
Christmas lollies. Who knew lollies were an essential part of a Christmas buffet!? This was a first for me!
Pavlova. One of the best things about migrating to Australia. I had eight servings in two weeks. It's all part of the Michelin Man diet!
Pavlova. One of the best things about migrating to Australia. I had eight servings in two weeks. It’s all part of the Michelin Man diet!

The sixth swing was challenging not only because it was my first night shift swing but because certain parts of the plant were being absolutely painful. We had a target to reach and sadly parts of the plant made it impossible to smash the target. We did well in the end and got very close but the amount of effort it took to get there was overwhelming. I was fairly lucky because the area I have been assigned to look after remained business as usual throughout the whole swing (except for one mini stuff up by yours truly but that got sorted – PHEW). Seeing how much the guys had to work and the dramas they went through made me very proud to be part of their crew – even if my usefulness is fairly limited. I can honestly say that never in my working life have I seen a group of people work as much as these guys did over the swing. The conditions they were in would have been enough for people to pull the plug and forget about getting the tonnes. These guys battled through. They were covered in so much muck from head to toe that they had to shower and change mid shift and get new safety boots. Then they got back into it. Very impressive!

Night shift nightscape.
Night shift nightscape.

Sadly though my HR brain got in the way (again). It would be brilliant to have some form of employee engagement in place to keep these guys motivated and not lose them to other companies. There were some testing times last swing and any small gesture from HR/the organisation would be an amazing way to show these guys they are appreciated and their input is valued. It would be sad to lose all these guys because of lack of engagement. The time and money spent on recruitment would also be wasted if the company was to churn through the workforce without putting in place a conscious effort to look after them. Yes, my HR brain is on overdrive again. Being in the frontline is giving me a great insight into work and life in general.

Gorgeous sunset. A nice way to start the shift.
Gorgeous sunset. A nice way to start the shift.

Now back to night shift and what comes with it. No question that being up all night isn’t normal. It is hard yakka for the first couple of nights, but like everyone said by the third night it gets better. And it did! I only needed three to four coffees on the third night and onwards. I survived seven straight nights without hiding out for a nap and without getting too freaked out by the dark. That’s a big achievement for someone who has spent her whole life petrified of the dark and still sleeps with the TV on (even if someone else is at home). Yes, my wussy ways are slowly fading and I am morphing into a tough operator (baby steps though). Although I must admit, there was one night when I did contemplate a nap. A little stink bug sorted that out for me. The little bugger bit me – it was stingy and stinky but the anger at being bitten kept me going until the end of the shift. It also gave me a new mission – to squish every single bug I came across for the rest of the swing. I am now a dedicated stink bug killer. Those things are horrible!

The scars left after my run in with the stink bug
The scars left after my run in with the stink bug

With night shift comes the struggle to get enough hours sleep during the day. I have always prided myself on my ability to fall asleep anytime and anywhere – my housemates can back me up on this. Somehow I struggled to get decent sleep during the day as my initial routine involved getting back to my room, showering and crashing. Then I would wake up at midday absolutely famished. Finally I discovered that the way to do it is to get home, shower, and have breakfast. The one day I slept well was the day I bothered to have breakfast before going to bed. I also discovered that beers taste a whole lot better at 6.30am, especially after a challenging and eventful night shift. Endless life lessons right? My knowledge of the adult film industry has also expanded – the things you learn in the crib room at 4am is mind blowing (pun intended).

Breakfast drinks to soothe the nerves.
Breakfast drinks to soothe the nerves.

Amazing how regardless of how hard the night was, it all seems to melt away once we get on that bus to head to camp. It gets forgotten even more once we sit down to have drinks. I may have been used to an environment where everyone dissects what just happened, especially when it’s bad. You know those types? It used to frustrate me especially after an exam when someone would come out and ask what your answer was to question 30. Why do we have to talk about it? If we didn’t have the same answer neither of us can change it anyway. You end up reliving it for the next few hours or days. With these guys, what’s done is done. No unnecessary discussions about could have, would have and should have.

Yes, its yet another sunset photo. I can't help myself, I'm sorry.
Yes, its yet another sunset photo. I can’t help myself, I’m sorry.

I spent the whole swing in awe of my crew. And sitting at home now thinking about it, I am still in awe of how much they put in and how they pulled together when the going got tough. Being part of a crew is definitely very different to working in a corporate environment. I have learnt so much already in the last couple of months and I look forward to learning a lot more from this amazing group of guys in 2013.

My outdoor entertainment area. It needs a bit of sprucing up. Work in progress.
My outdoor entertainment area. It needs a bit of sprucing up. Work in progress.