In Memoriam – Year 2

My sentiments remain largely the same, hence a straight-up repost of last year’s entry a few paragraphs down.

Some relationships have changed significantly over the last 12 months. Colleagues who once appeared to be strong allies are now nothing but adversaries. Certain managers who I had unfortunate run-ins with are now great mates. Yes, the shouting match mentioned in last years entry was resolved amicably (after a few months).

As much as the emotion remains the same, just as the day it all happened, I am hoping to get through the day better this year. Last year I snapped at someone for throwing away my cold tea which I had left in the crib room for a couple of hours while I had to unblock a sump pump. Emotions were high all morning. A few hours after the tea incident, emotions were amped up even more. We were given an additional reason to mourn and shed a few more tears that day.

Last year, while we mourned Action Man’s passing, my partner’s dad passed away. He was nearly double Action Man’s age and was lucky enough to see his children marry, enjoy his grand children’s company and tease them relentlessly about their missing teeth on a regular basis.

July 25 is an ominous date on our calendar now.

The emotions of that day remain raw. So raw in fact that whenever someone doesn’t turn up to work on time I panic. The anxiety levels go up and I am instantly transported to that morning.

For me it serves as a reminder to appreciate what I have and what I continue to enjoy, including the really bad days even if these days aren’t all that enjoyable. May we all remember those who have passed; the fun times, the not-so-fun times, and the lessons they taught us. Let’s take the time to tell those still with us how much they mean to us.

The calendar says it has been two years. My heart and mind don’t seem to agree, it feels like only yesterday we lost a good one. Cheers to you old mate! May you still be rocking the once agains… (inside joke there, sorry to those who don’t get the reference). I imagine you are laughing at us and shaking your head from where you are on those once again days we have at work.

Just a random pretty photo to break up all the wordy, words in this entry.
Just a random moody photo to break up all the wordy, words in this entry.

2014 Entry

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 offense 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 shoveling, 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. Counseling 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!


Of Silver Linings and Opportunistic Learnings

I have managed to weasel myself into a few little adventures outside of the processing plant the last couple of months. The wrist injury may have sidelined me from being out and about in the plant but it has also opened up opportunities to explore other aspects of the organisation. Aside from rekindling my romance with word processing, Excel formulas and resurrecting my grammar and spelling OCD; I have had the chance to see how “the others” go about their business.

My first adventure was a mini road trip to check out a tower. It was an hour or so out of site and I stood there and watched this tower and the power lines for several minutes while the more technical folks (can also possibly be referred to as geeks but I hear there is a certain risk associated with that) I was with discussed the nitty gritty. It was a lovely little adventure and I learned a bit more about communication relay aspects and towers that day.

My next adventure involved a pit tour. Sadly none of my tour guides was Brad Pitt but one resembles Doug Pitt, after a few beverages. Corny, pathetic jokes aside; this was definitely an exciting one for me. The first time I visited site over three years ago was to interview for a pit technician role. I was taken through the paces of what they had to do. I have never been back to the pit since. This particular pit we visited was a hill at that time of my first trip; mining hadn’t started yet in this pit.
Suffice to say the pit looked a bit different three years on. Unfortunately, I was too busy getting my head around how the whole drill and blast side of things work to get photos of the actual pit we were in. My guides were kind enough to explain things to me – who has zero exposure to this side of things.

Not the pit I am talking about in this post but a touristy visit to a pit in the South of WA - Greenbushes. I am still to visit the Super Pit which everyone talks about. Maybe next year!
Not the pit I am talking about in this post but a touristy visit to a pit in the South of WA – Greenbushes. I am still to visit the Super Pit which everyone talks about. Maybe next year!

Having worked in the crushing circuit for close to a year and battled with some of the giant boulders which created headaches for us and increased our rock breaking hours, it was great to get a picture of what happens before we get the material to the plant. To get an understanding of how blast patterns and amount of explosives used have a flow on effect on plant performance was very good.

To gain an insight into what’s involved in drill and blast was very valuable for me. Back in my former life as a recruiter, I was involved in recruiting various sorts of geologist so I have an understanding of how they are involved in the overall mining picture. When I visited site to recruit for the pit technician role, my tour guide took it upon himself to run me through the paces of what they do. I am fairly certain he took one look at me in my brand new high vis shirt and work boots and thought “let’s see what you’re made off office girl”. At this point, my fear of heights was pretty bad. Although I never admitted this to him, but my knees were shaking when we were going up and down the piles of blasted rock. I am not one to easily admit defeat or any form of weakness, so I carried on like I wasn’t scared – sweating profusely, knees wobbling, with a forced smile plastered on my face the whole time. I survived. That’s all that matters, sweaty but I survived. In terms of what happens in the pit, I have a very limited understanding. How to make the thing go BANG, I had no previous exposure at all.

Basically this is what I learned that day. (To those who have read my previous entries, prepare to be enthralled by my technical nous.) They drill a hole in the ground. Of course this is after it has been identified that there ore body down there. The hole needs to be pretty deep too by the sounds of things. On the day we had a look at the pit there were two types of drills – they made markedly different noises too. (You have been warned about my technical aptitude, so please don’t judge.)Prior to this pit excursion, my only involvement with anything drill related was getting drill bits off the conveyor after it trips the metal detector.

Anyway, back to this drill and blast business. So, once the hole has been drilled to the required depth, the blasting side of things is then set up. The necessary bits and pieces to make it all go BANG! are put in place. There’s the booster which they put in the hole and acts as the detonator. Then there’s the emulsion, which was explained to me in the technical terms of the “gooey, snotty stuff”. Once the required amount of goo is in the hole, it is filled up and then some stemming material is added to aide in fragmentation.

BANG! This is what we call a very safe distance. Not sure if I would want to be any closer...
BANG! This is what we call a very safe distance. Not sure if I would want to be any closer…

Prior to this little trip, the only thing I knew about the blast side of things was that we had to be out of certain areas when there was a blast on. When working in the crushing circuit especially, we have to ensure no one is in the area when there is a blast scheduled. We squirrel away down the hill outside the blast zone. Feel the vibrations as the blast goes off, sometimes we stand and watch it go off and take photos, then wait for the all clear to resume normal duties in the circuit.

I know I am not selling this very well and my drill and blast knowledge is sparse at best, but trust me, I definitely know more now!

This little outing wasn’t just a knowledge expanding exercise; it was my first opportunity to get dirty after months of being safely tucked away in the confines of the office. I, of course didn’t realise what was going to happen until it was too late and I had already committed to the task at hand. I was instructed to hold the cup as they needed to measure the emulsion as it was coming out of the truck hose. I noticed that the two guys around me were slowly backing away as they were signalling the truck operator. At this point I started getting a bit suspect, but it was too late.

Once I got sprayed, I was then told that if I didn’t clean-up it was going to start burning through my clothing and burn my skin. As that didn’t have me rushing to clean myself up, they resorted to telling me that the washing machine and dryer would blow up once I put my clothes in. Happy to report that there were no machines harmed in the making of this blog entry and my skin and clothes are still all good.

Yes, it was a set up!
Yes,  I  was a set up!

My third little adventure involved a long drive, a lovely coffee and an Oreo brownie. Oh, and there was some pretty decent company involved too.

Lovely views all the way.
Lovely views all the way.

I basically had to accompany one of the electricians on a longish drive to check pump settings. My role was to keep him awake through the four hour drive there and back, in other words fatigue management. I took this to mean talk and yap the whole drive to make sure he is entertained. Possibly one of the easiest tasks I have had to do my whole working life. Mind you, we very nearly swerved off the road 20 minutes into the drive. No need to worry folks! Nothing bad was happening, I was just a bit too excited to see a kangaroo. Although I have lived in Australia for 15 years now, I still get very excited every single time I see native fauna around the place. As I spotted two kangaroos on the side of the road, I excitedly screamed and pointed them out. Unfortunately, this took my companion by surprise. After this initial excitement, I behaved myself for the rest of the drive; the fact that there were no more kangaroo sightings for the rest of the trip made behaving a lot easier.
As much as this injury has dragged on and provided some extremely challenging days. It has also given me opportunities to explore and interact with other people at work. These little adventures I have had probably wouldn’t have happened had I not been sidelined. Although not a great thing to hold true, I am really trying to aim for the silver lining thing here.

Can't complain...
Can’t complain…