In Memoriam

There can be no ifs, buts, or maybes. There is no other excuse. No other way to explain this other than I have been very slack! I am officially a year late on my blog updates. Yes, it has been a year (plus a month here and there) since my trip to the Philippines which was my last update. I hope you understand why I have struggled to write about the swings after I came back from my holiday. I will do my best to fill in the blanks and I hope you get a sense as to why it was harder than usual to put into words what happened during those weeks.

When I got back after two swings off it was pretty clear that the crew missed me. No, I am not assuming that they did. I am sure that they did! They would never admit it but I know I am right on this one. Why am I so confident? Well, the first radio call I made to the control room. It took a good few minutes before the control room operator could respond because half the crew jumped in on the radio to tease me about my voice and accent. That was the first indication that they missed my presence while I was away. The second was when Action Man (I have mentioned him previously in my blog posts, he was the crew member I had a run in with very early in my time on-site over a hose and he is the brilliant one who gave me my special tool bag so I did not feel left out) confessed that he had gone looking for me during the night shift swing I was away because the boys were calling him on the radio pretending to be me. Yes, I am aware they are taking the piss but instead of taking offence I prefer to take it as a compliment. No, I am not delusional. I just know they love me deep down. It might be a fair way down but whatever, they love me and they missed me! That’s my story and I am sticking to it!

I will skim through what happened right after I got back as I want to share with you guys the reason writing this entry became really hard. Three swings after I came back from holidays we lost a dear colleague while we were at work. It wasn’t a work related incident. He passed away overnight in his room. The anniversary of his passing is next week, 25 July. We are just a few days off a whole year and I am still struggling to put this together. I cannot pretend it didn’t happen because his death and that swing had a very deep impact on me. For me to pretend it didn’t happen would render this blog I have started irrelevant. I started this to share with my mates who were interested to join me on this journey and to share what I learn through the way, having a colleague pass away is a pretty massive learning curve.

I have mentioned him in previous blog posts and I mentioned him again at the start of this post. I call him Action Man because he was an action sort of guy. He just got on with things, didn’t really beat around the bush, just got whatever needed to be done over and done with. He was very much old school. We started off on the wrong foot but somehow by the time the last few weeks rolled around, we were all good. Although in the three swings I was back I did get in trouble with him one night. He had left a half eaten sausage on a plate in front of me. When he stepped away from the table for a few minutes, I inadvertently inhaled said sausage. He made special mention of not leaving food, half eaten or not, in front of me at the next morning meeting after the incident. The day before he passed away he also said he trusted me to represent the interest of the crew when the new CEO was coming to have a chat with everyone. At the prestart, he unofficially appointed me “crew representative” for the CEO forum. It may not mean much from anyone else, but from him, when we avoided each other and had this uncomfortable air whenever we had to work together in the early days, it meant a whole lot.

I know for a fact that by the time Monday 21 July 2014 rolls along I will be going through the events of last year. I still remember certain points clearly. I don’t know if the rest of the crew will have the same memory but this is what I recall from that week.
I drove to the airport for the flight out not having slept a wink the night before. In the wee hours of the previous Saturday I had bawled my eyes out for the first time over my dad’s passing. The next day I learnt that my favourite Aunty had passed away. I actually told one of the guys at work that I was looking forward to being at work in order to escape the realities of death and to be distracted by hosing while on-site. (Obviously, my plan didn’t really work!) That Monday, the supervisor on for the swing tried to amuse me by sharing a Viagra-fail story. Somehow he thought luck was going to be on his side that night. Unfortunately his partner wasn’t very supportive of his plan, nor was luck by the sounds of things, so he ended up expending the extra Viagra-induced energy by doing some ironing at 2am. Yes, these are the sort of stories that stick in my mind!

On either the Monday or the Tuesday afternoon of that swing, we had to do a quick stop on the side of the road on the way back to camp as one of the boys started feeling a bit nauseous on the bus. Action Man was our designated driver, to and from camp. It was his thing – to the point that when he went on leave, we struggled to figure out who was going to drive. Even now, one year on, who drives is still an issue. But anyway, back to that week. A day or so after the nausea stop; Action Man did a pre-departure spiel before we left camp at 5.30am. He had taken a handful of brown paper bags from the mess, distributed it to every single person on the bus, and did a whole spiel ala flight attendant before he drove us to site. It was probably the most I have laughed at 5.30am, EVER.

A few days after that morning, the laughter was replaced by eerie silence. As I mentioned, Action Man was our driver. He would have the bus ready for us, in the same spot, every morning, well before 5.30am. On Thursday, 25 July 2013, the bus wasn’t there. We waited for a few minutes, headed to work to ensure we could do our handovers and not delay the crew finishing up. Someone then went to check on Action Man in his room as soon as he could. The supervisor on duty was then informed. At this point, the rest of the crew didn’t know anything. At 8.30am that morning a call was made on the radio that the plant was getting shut down and we were to converge around the crib room for further information. That was when my thoughts went through every possible scenario. I had a bad feeling at 5.30am when I didn’t see him. I think the whole crew did. At 8.30am my brain was going on overdrive. Rumours were starting to swirl. After seeing the glum faces on the guy who went to check on him and our supervisor, I knew something very bad had happened to Action Man. I cannot recall exactly what time we got confirmation. The family had to be informed before we were officially told. We had to wait for the CEO or police to have told the family before we had official confirmation of his death. I think it was around midday or early afternoon when we were officially told.

Those few hours will easily go down as the hardest I have ever had to endure on-site. No shovelling, no hosing, no being knee deep in mud, no shift without a break cause everything is going wrong, could be as hard as those hours. I will go through that again this coming swing. It is just how I deal with things I guess. I replay that day several times. I can tell you exactly where I was and what I was doing, when the call came through the radio that the plant was going to be shut down. Everything after that was slow motion and forever etched in my brain. This coming swing at around that same time I will be replaying that day and I will be thinking of my colleagues who checked on him. Of the ERT who tried to resuscitate him and had to basically tell me that night exactly what they did, just for someone to hear how much they tried. I didn’t want to hear it, I didn’t ask what they did, but I am pretty sure he just had to tell someone as a way to be able to deal with what happened. It was a hard day for a lot of people.

On the other side of all the sadness, I do take away another memory of that day. Of the crew supporting each other and sticking together. Those outside of mining have this image of miners as brute imbeciles. I can tell you that on this particular day I had the most caring of people around me – my crew. Yeah, they are the same people that tease me and we all swear and carry on at the best of times, but when we had to be there for each other… well, it was a different story. Counselling was offered by the company but all we needed was each other. I got the biggest of hugs and the most caring of pats from my crew on that day.

A few days after that horrible day, Action Man’s wife and daughters came to site to pack his room. He had a lot of stuff because he was one of those rare FIFO workers who made his room on-site his home away from home. I believe that swing when he flew in, he had a fairly big rug for his room. He also had his own camping chair, as he used to walk around camp looking for where the party was at, who was hosting drinks outside their room. He had the comforts of home on-site. So, his family spent a few hours packing. Somehow, I was volunteered to meet the family on behalf of the crew. One of the guys on the crew came for moral support. He didn’t want me to go on my own as he knew it was going to be emotional.

On the drive to see the family my colleague was a bit nervous and asked me if I knew what to say. All I could tell him was I think I knew what to say. It’s hard to describe that feeling when you meet people for the first time in such tragic circumstances but I only had one thing in mind. I needed them to know how much we loved Action Man and how much he impacted our lives while he was away from his family. I wanted them to know that he was appreciated and that while he was away from them we treated him like family. What I didn’t expect was for his wife to have known everything about the crew. Both my colleague and I were thrown about how much she knew. When we offered her our sympathies, she responded with “I am sorry for your loss too”. She knew who we were. She knew that Action Man and I had that incident with the hose very early on and, as she said, we had a “sticky start”. She knew who on the crew had just come back from leave. She knew everything. This is surprising because a lot of people compartmentalise – myself included. It is fairly easy to compartmentalise work life especially on FIFO because it is a very clear break from your “non-work” life. Even if my boyfriend and I work on the same site, he doesn’t know everything that happens in my days at work. To have Action Man’s family know everything was mind blowing. When she told me that he was very proud of what I had achieved as an operator and how far I have gone, it was very hard to stop the tears then.

Having been able to tell his family first-hand how much he meant to us, helped a lot in dealing with the loss.

I hope I did Action Man justice when he unofficially appointed me crew representative by saying a few words at his funeral. I hope the stories I shared made him even prouder of me. His funeral was nearly two months to the day after I had to deliver my dad’s eulogy; his death was two months to the day after my dad’s. I really do not want to do anymore eulogies. I think I deserve at least a 10 year break at the very least, don’t you think?

There isn’t a good way to end this but to my mates who have been asking about what has happened to the blog, I hope you understand why it has taken this long to continue. This has been very hard to put together. I cannot think of that day, that shift, that swing, without shedding a tear. Never in my musings about what to expect when I go to site and start this new career did I think that delivering a eulogy for a colleague was going to happen. Mind you, this tragic event made me see a side of my colleagues that I truly appreciate – their strength and support helped me greatly through that week.

When the one year anniversary rolls along I will be thinking of my crew, those who will be on-site with me and those who won’t but were there for me last year. Every single time I think of that tragic day I also think of the warm hugs and comforting pats each one of you gave me. I truly appreciate the support, especially since I was a sniffling, sobbing mess at that time, and more than likely slobbered on your sleeves!

But on a lighter note… I did end up in a shouting match with one of the general managers that swing due to heightened emotions but that’s a story for another day!