2014

The Great Basin Escape

I’m moving house.

Again.

I did some basic calculations and came up with this horrible reality:

Husband and I have been together for just over 10 years.

We have lived in 8 different houses.

We have lived in 3 different towns.

I wish I could convince myself this is normal, but it just isn’t. What’s worse, I don’t care! I actually like it! By the 2 year anniversary of living in one house or another, I get bored and restless. Husband knows it too. He used to think I would work it out and settle back down, but now he just gets ready to go again!

So, how in great googly-moogly did we manage to move so often in this relatively short period of time?

Mining, baby.

World-wide, it is an extremely transient industry. Not only do people move between jobs quickly and often, but they move across sites within the same company. They move between the different towns that service those sites. They shift interstate to work in different mineral operations, then overseas to work for different multi-national companies.

Yet in the the very same industry, employees are known to work for 30 or more years on one site, for one company. The vast chasm between these extremes is astonishing. And now thrown into this mix are workers travelling thousands of kilometres, flying or driving between home and work.

While I’m still not sure if I truly enjoy my kind of transient life, I can say without a shadow of doubt, I would not ever work in one place for 30 years. I’ve personally never held one job for more than 12 months. My only consistent pursuit has been my manuscripts (more than 10 years of constant work) and writing in general – working at actual work is an alien concept to me.

It’s not so much that I don’t like ‘work’, but I don’t like jobs. They are mundane and I get bored quickly. The challenge either becomes too much to cope with, or is vanquished too easily. Writing? Now that is never boring or lacking a challenge!

We’ve also established that our family doesn’t operate well when separated and one of us is travelling for work or study. I did it for 3 years and it remains to greatest struggle our relationship has ever overcome. FIFO sucks balls. It honestly does. Kudos to those who make it work and if you’re young (and even better, single), go for it. You will see some amazing places and meet some fantastic people. That experience cannot be equalled. If you have a family, kids, a dog? Think long and hard. It’s exhausting and emotionally crushing for everyone concerned.

It was very early in our relationship (as in, within days) that we decided we were a ‘mining couple’. We wanted to work on mine sites, live in mining towns and be feral little drunks who never did any laundry or dishes. Our first house was known across town as ‘that house with all the cars’, because we seemed to adopt Husband’s single male friends over the weekends, who subsequently sprawled across our furniture and sometimes wandered around without much on.

We’ve been extremely lucky to leave school and step straight into the biggest mining boom in recent Australian history – we are literally set up for life. We love it – the lifestyle, the middle of no-where, the arid beauty of the land, the sheer scale of the operations we work on, the extraordinary stupidity and lack of regard for personal safety some people are capable of and the amazing, heartwarming capacity of utter strangers to welcome you into their homes and hearts as their adopted family. These are things you don’t see anywhere else in the world, in an other industry.

First Days - 2004
                      First Days – 2004

So when the company we’ve worked for for 7 years handed us a redundancy, we flipped our baskets for a day or so. What were we going to do! How were we going to live! How was I going to afford my extravagant lifestyle and pay TV or service my addiction to signed, first edition novels? Was I going to have to move back in with my parents!?

We did what anyone would in the same situation. We drank. A lot.

Our town’s bottle-shops probably did a year’s worth of trade that week thanks to the stress and anxiety throbbing through the entire district. It wasn’t just one department on one mine. It was 700 roles across 8 sites. This thing had the capacity to go off with the blast radius of a tactical nuke and wipe out anyone in its path.

Somehow our hung over brains managed to wade through the fog of the next morning and discover in a hoarse conversation over tightly clasped coffees, that this impending disaster might be just what the doctor ordered. That, and 56 McMuffins.

Just as a volcanic eruption has the potential to ravage the surrounding land, leaving nothing but rubble and tectonic vomit all over the place, this mass expulsion of employees was certain to flood the industry’s labour market and send families and workers scurrying for the coast. But just like that volcano, it also has the unbelievable ability to fertilise the ground for future growth.

We realised in this moment of employment horror, that the seeds of our future lay hidden in the flotsam and jetsam washed up in the aftermath of the disaster. We were cut loose, free from the confines of all expectation and for the first time in our adult lives, completely at our own will.

Husband has worked since he was 15 years old. In the last 4 years, he’s been on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. He’s been responsible for hundreds of lives, day and night – their wellbeing, their careers, their safety, their mortgages. Before we had a baby, we were woken at all hours by onsite troubles. The job was as much a part of us as we were part of it. We loved it, but we were exhausted. We are exhausted.

Then suddenly, someone cut the chains, and like a work horse released from its yoke of servitude, we were free and we made a plan. It’s a slice of crazy, a smear of stupid and a sprinkle of brave, but it’s ours. We don’t know what the next year will bring, but it’s very rare that we ever really do know for sure.

My greatest concern is for the hundreds of others with us in this leaky boat.

While we’ve drawn our escape route, there are many who haven’t. They might be stranded and strangled by fear or anger, unable to understand how or why this happened to them. I wanted to write this for them. I want them to know from destruction comes chance, opportunity and the freedom to begin again.

What have you always wanted to do with your life? What are your dreams? Where do you want to go?

Now is the time to cut the bonds of what you thought you should be doing and go after the thing you want to do.

Moving again will be irritating, back-breaking and expensive. It always is. At some point we might discover a place we finally feel settled, but here and now is not where we are meant to be.

Until then, when the mountains shudder and threaten to crush what we know, these rolling stones will move on.

We won’t be held down, kept back or deterred. And we invite you along for the ride – it’s bumpy, but my goodness it’s fun.

This post is dedicated to the men and women of the Bowen Basin. Without your blood, sweat and tears, hours of hard work, unwavering bravery and pioneering spirit, this region would be a mere shadow of the brilliance we see today.

You are the salt of the earth and the backbone of a nation.

You will not be forgotten by this family. 

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15 thoughts on “The Great Basin Escape

  1. I luved reading you life story ☺. Im one of the “lucky” ( not sure yet) one that have kept their position ….. so far. Ive been in the mining industry for just over 10yrs and its given me and my kids so much. Its been hard but rewarding, boring but exciting. Good luck to you xxx

  2. Amazing! The story of our lives as well. We’ve been married for 20 years, and our next move in December to Moranbah, will be into our 15th house, in the 6th town and the 2nd country. When you said you get restless staying too long in one spot…. thats me 😀 I don’t know you at all Alicia, but reading your blog I could see that you’re a very positive person. What ever life throws at you, you will make the best of it. Good luck and enjoy the ride!!

  3. Excellent life story of being in the mining industry. Photocopy of mine, only I was the one who stayed in the same job, same mine for 23 years. When the VR was offered in 1998 I felt the same. Took the VR and never looked back. Although it may be hard to see at the time … There is life after the mining industry.!! Good luck to all in the Bowen Basin whatever you decide to do.

  4. Loved your story!
    I also lived in Moranbah, for 5 years!
    I left last year, I miss the town and people very much!
    The mining industry was very good to me also!
    Good luck with your new chapter!

  5. Hi Alicia Not sure if you remember meeting me when you lived in Dysart. Its Rick Jarvis, Kellie Wallis better half. Just read your story,which we can relate to as well. I have been in the industry for 25 years now & worked at 22 mines, 18 of those years have been in the coal industry. I have been with Kellie for 18 of those years as well, raised two kids along the way daughter Alicia 16 & son Cameron 14. We have lived in lots of places & made great friends as well. Currently living in the Hunter Valley as you know. Which we find it is a place that works for us in our current situation. Keep that attitude, stay positive, be willing to move if have too. Search for that better lifestyle as you go. You will both be fine. Say hello to Greg Bourke for me. cheers Rick

  6. Thankyou for this great post, I am one of the annoying phone calls you would have received at all hours(sorry for waking you Alicia). Thankyou to your husband for all his hard work and best of luck in the future. I will be stating in touch.

  7. Wow just wow! What an incredible article (how have I not seen this sooner?) that basically hits the nail on the head for anyone who has been in or around the Mining Industry. It truthfully does take all sorts to be out here amongst it and it sure does have its ups and downs.

    The biggest thing I’ve gained from being in the Bowen Basin is the sense of community. The people that bring these little “nothing” towns to life are truly remarkable.

    The only down side to this is that they are at the mercy of the mines that surround them. Poor Dysart hasn’t faired so well since Norwich Park shut its doors.

    I am going to continue to embrace my opportunities I’ve been given (while they’re still there) and be grateful for what I have received when they finally run out.

    All the best of luck to those who have been steered onto the path of a new adventure outside of Mining and especially all the best of luck to you Alicia (and family) in your future endeavours, I’m sure they won’t be disappointing xo

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