ICYMI: Guardian Article: "I work on a rig..."

In case you missed it, here is an article I wrote recently on the Guardian. Yeh, the title is a little click-baity, but have a read anyway...

I work on an oil rig with 150 men. You wouldn't believe the stories.

Being a female in a male-dominated workforce makes for being a subject of endless fascination.

The most common question immediately after the big reveal is an awed, “Oh, but what is it actually like working with all those blokes?”

Sometimes, it’s fun just sharing the war stories.

“Oh mate,” I’ll tell them.

“Working on the rig is like, another world. On land, I am usually the only chick out of 30 or so. Sometimes you would have one other girl on site, but almost never more than one. Offshore, it’s party time! You’re looking at maybe four women out of 150? It’s crazy. It’s awesome. You should hear some of the jokes.”

At this point, I might lean forward, and in whispered tones for effect, share what I call the “crazy rig conversations”.

“There was this one guy, right – he was just straight out about it,” I say. “He was like, ‘I’m a chauvinist, OK? I’m the last of a dying breed. Let me just say what I want to say!’

“I’ll tell ya, some of the rest is unrepeatable in good company! Get a bunch of blokes together and anything goes. I reckon I don’t even hear all the good stuff, although they do eventually get used to you.”

Truth be told, however, that is not the whole picture. In fact, like anything, working as a female in a male-dominated industry is all of the things – challenging, difficult, fun, rewarding, unexpected and above all, completely subjective.

What is fascinating is how the experience of women in industry reflects the broader expectations of and attitude towards women in our society. There is a general acceptance that gender diversity is a “good” thing, but some occasional reluctance about “forcing” a change, particularly when affirmative action is considered.

The broader questions around roles of men and women in society also linger. The traditional norm of men as the breadwinners and women as the homemakers in our society has definitely been challenged, but what does the alternative look like? Are women the homemakers and the breadwinners? Are men the homemakers? What does this say about our construction of masculinity and femininity? There are more questions than there are answers, and being in an industry with mostly men, it is fascinating to see the dynamics play out.

There are generational differences in the ideologies and this also varies based on industry, location (in the field or in the office) and education level (management versus engineers versus operators). Interestingly, it doesn’t play out like you would expect.

A recent conversation with a young engineer who started in the mining industry brought this to the fore.

“I’ve had a great time!” she said, almost in surprise. “I was expecting it to be rough and the men to be mean, but they’ve all taken care of me and shown me around.”

Indeed, quite often there can be advantages to being a woman in a male-dominated industry. People know who you are, you will always be remembered (which is a double edged sword) and the lads, particularly the operators, enjoy talking to a woman, particularly after being around only blokes for weeks on end. The older generations of men in the field (the baby boomers) are often happy to take on the role of “teacher” for a younger female, so a lot can be learnt. The younger men (gen Y) have grown up in a world where they have been told men and women are generally equal, and accept that as the status quo.

The lads on the land rig built a sleigh for Christmas... 

The lads on the land rig built a sleigh for Christmas... 

However, as we see in other industries, those benefits don’t necessarily trickle up, and there are still some structural and societal barriers that make it difficult for women. Scratching beneath the surface allows the unconscious bias to become evident. Taking the case of engineers, for example, it can be argued that female engineers are often highly visible as women, but invisible as engineers. There is an acceptance in equality but not always a true belief in it.

It may be the baby boomer is happy to teach but finds it difficult to accept direction from a younger female until she has proven her worth beyond all doubt. It may be the residual resentment in the young male engineers that a female engineer is more sought after by a company with a diversity policy. Those biases are more difficult to challenge and reflect the broader societal attitudes that are yet to change.

Some of the structural barriers are simply due to the nature of the industry which has been designed around men, due to its history. Whether that is because it’s seen as difficult to hold down a Fifo roster while pregnant or with young children, or that many time-consuming and demanding project management roles are given to engineers at a time when many women are having kids and may not necessarily have the support at home, some male-dominated workplaces are, unsurprisingly, still designed around men.

It is not all doom and gloom however. Times are changing, and are changing more rapidly than ever.

There are more and more examples of “non-traditional” families, where duties are shared and unusual support networks created. There are more women entering the science, technology, engineering and maths spaces, although there should be more. There are more companies with obvious diversity policies and that encourage women and cater to their needs. Things are looking up, it just takes time.

Overall, when it comes to women in male-dominated workplaces, the legislative change has been made. That battle has been won. The question is now about social change. We have to decide what we want our society to look like when we have true social acceptance of equality and access to opportunity, and then each and every one of us has to pitch in and create that reality.

In the meantime, I will continue to revel in sharing the war stories.

SBS Comment: I'm an undercover hijabi too?

Check out this piece I wrote for SBS Online!

When I'm at work on the rigs, it turns out I'm an undercover hijabi.

The experience I have reflects what blogger Leena talks about in her piece 'I took my hijab off for a day'. She describes a complete shift in the way she was perceived by society after she accidentally covered her hijab up with a knit hat and scarf.

The style of hijab I usually wear is flowy, full of tassels and in some ways an occupational health and safety hazard around heavy machinery. While on site I wear a head covering that has been described by coworkers as a 'tea cosy'; a beanie and bandana combination similar to a style favoured by Egyptian ladies. I wore it for a while without realising my coworkers didn't see it as a religious head covering.

I was loving the fact that I wasn't experiencing the racisim in country Australia that I had expected. This fantasy was ubruptly burst when a colleague asked if I ever took the tea cosy off.

'Nah,' I replied easily. 'I'm a Muslim woman, this is what I wear as a hijab on the rig.'

A look of confusion crossed his face and the topic was dropped. It didn't take me too long after that to join the dots.

'Hey, you know I'm Muslim, right?' I asked another fellow that I'd become friends with.

'What? Really? Nah I didn't know...'

'Oh, well why do you think I wear this?' I asked, pointing at my head.

'Oh, I thought it was a fashion thing, or maybe for safety ...'

Like Leena in her piece, this left me feeling confused. The next day, I wore a full hijab (the traditionally wrapped kind) to the crib room for breakfast. You could have been forgiven for thinking people thought I was a completely different person.

It wasn't until I began interacting like the loud, feisty person I always am that people warmed to my presence. The experiments was repeated at a bigger mining style camp and again, the difference in attitudes was startling.

With a beanie, you are just a chick who is cold. With a headscarf, you are the new local tourist attraction and smiles are returned only occasionally and almost fearfully. Suddenly, you're are a foreigner in your own home.

Being a hijabi in the West has its challenges. You're extremely visible as a representative of the religion and people on all sides of the fence see it as their role to police, have an opinion, and a right to comment on your choice. You are constantly asked to justify the actions and mistakes of every extremist that chooses to do something crazy and inhumane in the name of your religion. These are roles that we hijabis have simply become accustomed to filling, part of the deal in a way.

To get a 'get out of jail free card' by wearing something not recognisable gives me mixed feelings. Occasionally, it feels like cheating to be wearing something that people don't associate with Islam for practical reasons while also working to fulfil the conditions of my belief. At the same time, religion and politics are two topics that are avoided like the plague in any blue collar crib room, and so keeping it as personal as possible is a natural default in this environment.

It would be fair to argue everyone should be accepting regardless of what kind of head covering is worn, be it a beanie, a hijab or a ninja-style niqab. Realistically, many are just not ready yet for such changes in their environment and find hijab - for better or for worse - confronting. An effective response is akin to tailoring a message for different audiences: if a group is not at all primed, they'll close their minds off completely to confrontational messaging. The hope is that perhaps as my colleagues now see me as a person first, the common ground found will help reduce ignorance and forge understanding.

When I'm not on the rig, I go back to wearing my classic brightly coloured flowing pieces. They feel like 'me', a part of my identity, something I do for God and an external representation of my faith. It is interesting to consider how many interactions have been missed because people have already made their decision on what I represent based on the type of wrapping I have used on my head.

My way around it at the moment? Grabbing every opportunity to chat to those people, and the more traditionally dressed I am, the better. A slightly inappropriate joke, or a comment about my love of motorsport and knowledge of engines usually shocks them enough for them to forget what I look like for a moment and be drawn into a chat. Then, everyone wants to know what the bikie and the hijabi are laughing uproariously about. Nothing breaks down barriers in Australia like a well timed self deprecating joke.

It may not be perfect, but until all facets of our society become comfortable with seeing displays of faith like the hijab and what they represent, we may have to be more creative about our engagement and representation. After all, to be seen as a foreigner in the only country we know as home is a lonely place indeed. It is a two way street though, and ultimately, it is all about finding the place where we belong in the patchwork fabric of Australia's identity while holding (and displaying) the true values of Islam and faith dear.


Crazy Rig Conversations: Part 10!


One of the most interesting parts about working out on the rigs is the crazy/hilarious/random/unexpected things people say.

Here are a few of the gems…

NB: In the interests of privacy and what-not, I have referred to individuals as Old Mate, or OM for short.


OM1: Hey Yassmin, I saw you walking across the lease just before, was that box you were carrying heavy?

Me: Oh, no, not really... I mean I am pretty strong. (here I go, trying to be one of the boys)

OM1: Oh okay. Well I was going to say, if it was heavy, I wouldn't have come and helped you. You're one of those equality types right?

OM2: Oh are you into the equality thing are you?

OM1: I know right? Equality?

*cue raucous laughter across the room*


One of the rig crew was helping unscrew two large collars (thick pieces of pipe) from each other on the ground using hand tools.  It was quite heavy and he'd asked me to hold one end while he turned and unscrewed the other. 

Me: Mate, are you sure you don't want me to help out?

OM1: Oh Yassmin, no. They'd all laugh and me. They'd be like look, there he is, letting the girl do all the work.

Me: But I can handle it!

OM1: That's not the point... I'd be a laughing stock!

Guess there is some odd sort of chivalry out here? Whether you see it as sexism or chivalry depends on which side of the fence you sit on I guess...


OM1: So Yassmin, why are you leaving? You should stay a little bit longer, learn more tools...

Me: Oh you know old mate, new challenge and well, really, we don't have a life do we? Always working, I will end up with no friends!

OM1: That's easy! You earn lots of money and when you go home you take the money out and hold it in your hands (he lifts his arms up in the air, like he just don' care) and you walk around saying 'look at me everyone, I got money!!', then you will have many friends! 


Me: I want to learn how to surf

OM1: You won't be able to surf with all that gear you got on. I don't know any women only beaches either...

Me: Nah mate all good, I've got a outfit that I wear to the beach.

OM1: You could start a new clothing range - beach and surf wear for Muslim chicks. Youth without board shorts.


I've been riding in the rig crew's bus over the past few days which has elicited some hilarious anecdotes. Most of them are too 'explicit' for me to share on this family friendly blog, but there were a couple of lines I thought may give you an idea.

OM1: Snapchat's like the best app ever ay

OM2: Yeh man, but I don't know how they make any money. It's free and there's no advertising.

OM3: Can you imagine, what would it be like, $1 a boob?


OM1: You're legs are so long bro, they're like sticks

OM2: Mate, yeah, it's cos I'm aerodynamic. I run really fast in the wind.

New beginnings (a.k.a "wtf is happening!?")

A few months ago I wrote a relatively honest and slightly exasperated piece reflecting on uncertainty about the future: whether to take the safe route or do things in a riskier manner. A few weeks later, I made a few decisions that are all coming into fruition, just in time for the new year.  I thought I might share some thoughts around it all...


In a couple of weeks inshallah, I will be finishing up with my current employer and moving to work with a big oil and gas company as an engineer. (Yeh, desk jockey for now).

Inshallah, I will leave behind the FIFO life (for the time being), the lifestyle that has given me so much story fodder over the last 18 months, for something a little more regular.  I'll move across the country to start a life in a new city (and possibly soon after, a new country) and generally leave everything I know to an unknown future.

lovely scenery

All in all, pretty cray! 

Those who know me well know I am pretty terrible at making decisions that affect my future. I think about things for a long time without always coming to the rational conclusion.  I dilly dally for far too long, because I hate the idea of making a choice that might close a door that I might decide I want to go back to ('someday').

It isn't necessarily a flattering aspect, and it is something I am working on...

Any how.  I have loved the role I am currently in: met some amazing people, seen awesome things, learnt a hell of a lot and generally had a ball.

However, for a variety of reasons, I decided to do what scared me, bite the bullet, jump into the deep end, etc etc.  

Make the decision and not look back. 

Funnily enough, making the decision was the hard part.

Once it was made, the weight came off my shoulders.

I think I learnt that sometimes, we just have to make a choice.

Whatever choice we make will be the 'right one' for that moment really, because it leads to experiences that make us who we are.

A'akila wa tawakal, is what we are taught as Muslims. Pretty loosely translated it means: Do your thang, do your best...and the rest is up to Allah.


So that is where 2014 starts. 

New job, new city, new challenges...

You know what though? New is awesome. New is exciting and new is now set in motion, Alhamdulilah, whether I like it or not :)


I'm not really sure what this year holds, but I look forward to sharing it with you all (inshallah), learning loads and hopefully having the blessing of making some sort of a difference.

Let's do it!


PS Also working on a new project that is super exciting! I will update you all soon (not really wanting to count chickens before they're hatched...) but khair inshallah! 

owl cute

Working in 42+ degree heat

Open the door, and you literally walk out into the desert. It is a strange feeling, working in the Cooper Basin.

Right in the heart of Australia, a few clicks out of the Queensland and Northern Territory Border.


The heat is scorching and dry, sapping any moisture that dares to make its presence known.  It enscones you like a heated blanket you can never take off, the sun beating down on your hi-visbility long sleeve shirt, warming up the little buttons and the metal zip on your coveralls, pricking your skin.

Everything warms up; the toilet seat is strangely heated, like one of those smart Japanese loos.  Tools burn your hand when picked up and even the doorknob is touched only tentatively.

It is an environment we are pretending to conquer by being here, drilling away for its hidden treasures.

In reality it is an environment so harsh that without all the aids - the gallons of water drunk, the air conditioning on overdrive and the convenience of vehicles - we would perish like the delicate desert flowers that we are.

It has happened: any person coming to work out here gets told the stories.  The stories of the guys who decided to walk away from a broken down vehicle and were found; death by dehydration.  Of the people sent a little loopy and those who never came back.

'Heat stress' is something that is all too possible and can creep up on you without you noticing, so you check the colour of your pee obsessively, pinch your skin and let it drop, hoping it will snap back and not 'peak', indicating your skin has started to dehydrate.  You keep an eye out on each other, but sometimes things slip through the cracks...

I walk out of my cramped room with the too-many monitors for a stretch.  Climbing the sand dune behind the shack, the sky is huge and the landscape barren.  A gray brush covers most of the ground and in the very distance, a Mad-Max like set of structures can just be seen.

Two minutes and my collar starts to burn.  Back into the ice box I scurry...




Safety: Seriously Super or Silliness?

Anyone who works in an industrial setting is familiar with the concept of Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S, HSE, or one of the multitude of variations on the name).

Working in the field, the battle around OH&S and its acceptance is relentless.  Every company has their version of a set of 'Golden Rules', a specific training course designed to get you up to date and a regime of hazard observation and constant reporting that is allegedly designed to make workplaces safer.

Does it? Well, perhaps the proof is in the pudding...

Incidents are certainly occurring at a lower rate than they were 20 or 30 years ago.  However, there is something to be said for trying to avoid a safety culture that is about stifling productivity.

So where is the line between taking care of people and stifling their ability to work and think?

The answer isn't clear; obviously, since thousands of corporate man-hours have gone into thinking about this.  It does not help that we live in such a litigious society, meaning a portion of the motivation is what I like to call "booty insurance(or better known in the industry as CYA - Cover Your A***).  In the absence of academic knowledge in the area, I have decided to go with my personal-anthropological-observational-learnings and extrapolate wildly from there.

In a couple of interesting conversations recently, starkly different attitudes towards safety have come to light in sharp relief.  Here are a couple of the different characters people (by and large) fall into.

The old bloke who does NOT think any of the safety initiatives make an ounce of a difference.

"Back in my day..."

The standard call of the old-timer is that back in his day things were different and people were fine.

Except they weren't always fine, and when you dig a little deeper they usually admit a lot of people were hurt ("oh yeh, he put his back out, oh yeh, well he only has three fingers now").

They do have a fair point in saying that excessive reporting  does not necessarily mean people are thinking more about the task at hand.

These (mostly) men usually have their hearts in the right place and seemingly the largest frustration is not at the interest in safety, but the tools used to implement them.  Extra paperwork, repetitious reporting and superfluous systems often cause rejection of the concept outright rather than a tenacious engagement the rest of us green hands could use.

The young one who has just accepted it is a numbers game.

A fair few of young lads and ladies coming into the system fit into this category.  We understand it is a requirement - we haven't known the system to be any different really - and follow only because we must.

Write one hazard per person per day? Done.

Think about one hazard per person per day? Hmm, not so much.

True engagement in the system isn't guaranteed, and this is the weakness in the system.  How do you force people to think?  The frameworks in place are supposed to do this, yet...

The safety lad / lady who has never worked on the rig/in the workshop/on the track.

The archetype of the disliked safety official.

An individual who exists more in people's minds than in reality, this the type of individual who enjoys reporting on others without a conversation first, does not necessarily take on feedback from the field operators and generally is a blight on the safety cause.

Perhaps companies are more this character than individuals though.  People can be reasoned with, most of the time. Corporations and institutions are much more behemoth.

The safety person who has seen too many people get (or almost get) hurt and wants to do something about it.

...and this is the person who has the capacity to make the most difference.

Fortunately, the vast majority of the safety personnel on site that I have met are of this variety.  It is just unfortunate that they have to seemingly fight a battle with their institution to be able to communicate the culture and restrictions on site to the rule makers in the office.


The cowboy culture of doing things crazily and dangerously is not as prevalent as people think (or as I thought it would be), particularly in Australia.  So suffocation of field operators with rules and regulations can be self defeating if it is excessive and the monotony or ineffectiveness of the tool removes from the outcome.  For example, operating procedures that are 50 pages long when all that is needed is a simple step-by-step 'this is how you use this piece of equipment' in a way that mitigates the hazards.  By over-complicating the tool, people are dissuaded from using it.

Another example is the banning of products in a reactionary manner due to an involvement in a single incident.  There is a rumour that a mine site banned rags as they were involved in some sort of incident, only to reinstate them a few days later as they realised the workshop couldn't really operate without rags.

Ultimately, however, we all want to go home, and being safe in a workplace is imperative in allowing that to happen.  For that to happen, safety must be a part of the equation.  The trick is to getting the balance right.  Like everything else, that involves communication, respect and a healthy teaspoon of cement.

(I kid).

What do you think?

Crazy Rig Conversations: Part 9!


One of the most interesting parts about working out on the rigs is the crazy/hilarious/random/unexpected things people say.

Here are a few of the gems...

NB: In the interests of privacy and what-not, I have referred to individuals as Old Mate, or OM for short.

Also, by way of announcement: I've joined the instagram bandwagon!

There are loads of rig photos that will be going up, so join me on the adventure...



OM1 (speaking to a group of the rig fellas): Ohhhh we saw Yassmin pissed off last night! You should have seen the scowl on her face! She was talkin' all serious maaaan!

Me: Aw nah man, yeah I haven't gotten annoyed at anyone before, but I just had to say a few things.

OM1: Oh now you gotta be careful pissing you off ay! I wouldn't be messing with someone of your background, you're from all sorts of volatile places! (Turns to the crew).  Oh I tell ya, you know you piss her off, then get in the car and it's like BOOM you're gooone!


OM1: Or it's like a bunch of IED's on the road back to camp or something to take care of ya hay...Nah, I wouldn't be wanting to be messing with Yassmin. Got that Egyptian and all that sorta crazy stuff in ya.

Everyone turns to look at me.

Me (at a little bit of a loss for a smart witty comment...): Ah, indeed. We be crazy...?



One of my colleagues is a very Eastern European man who has lots of bits of wisdom to impart on everyone around him.  This was  a particularly funny piece of wisdom he imparted to a younger colleague on life, love and women...

OM:  Look let me tell you something about marriage aye?

First three years is the fight for the boss, the second three years is the fight for equality (in the household, between the wife and the husband), and after that you just fight for survival!  If any man tells you he wears the pants he is delusional. Women know us too well! They just somehow know.  You know, if my wife comes in the room and says "we have to talk", well!   It's not we who have to talk its she who has to talk!  When women say they are the weaker sex, rubbish! They are winning!  They are winning I tell you!



OM: You know what I don't like? When people say things about life that sound great and hippy but don't actually mean anything. It's like that saying from Forest Gump.  "Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get..." or whatever it is.

Me: Yeah, it's a nice enough saying...?

OM: No! You never know what you're gona get maybe if you're illiterate!  All you have to do is turn the box over and look at the map on the back and figure out which one you want! How does that saying make ANY sense?


OM: I think I was a good dad. I said to my daughter: you do drugs, I kill you.  Simple!

Hmm, I think a few 'CALD' (culturally and linguistically diverse) daughters could probably relate...


'Tripping pipe' is the process of building up the drill string, or sending pipe down a hole that has been drilled (in or out, depending on what is going on).  It's the essence of being a roughneck (one of the rig crew members).  This particular old mate was trying to reinforce the fact that he thought I was a little too young.

OM: I used to trip pipe in Baghdad before you were in your dad's bag!

Very clever, I see what you did there...


Have you heard any interesting bits of conversation lately?

The FIFO Life: Out of a duffel bag


I dumped my oversized waterproof sports bag on the tiles next to the door as I walked in, waving at the taxi.  Off came the steel capped booted, the long socks.  I breathed in deeply; it was good to be home.

Could I really call it home anymore though? I am not too sure.  I don't spend more than a week at a time in this house, and my parents have already appropriated the spaces I used to call my own. The study desk I painstakingly built in high school and lived at during my university days has been taken over by my younger brother.  My room is unrecognisable.  The bed has been moved out, replaced with the spare single.  All signs of life are packed away in cupboards and boxes by a mother who cannot abide clutter.  I don't bother unpacking my work bag anymore as it will only be a matter of days before I head off again and it sits at the foot of my nightstand, disrupting the clean lines...

Working on the oil and gas rigs as a fly-in fly-out worker is an interesting lifestyle, and that of a service hand is slightly more erratic.  Due to the nature of our employment, we don't have regular rosters and are constantly on-call.  Rig crews often gasp in shock (or grunt, because 'men don't gasp!') when we explain how we have no roster: no idea of when we will be needed or how long we will stay in the field for, a life lived by the phone.  It is the nature of the game and we are clearly told so when we start, but it only hits me on moments like this, moments when I realise I don't live at 'home' anymore.  It seems that I have moved out, but it happened without fanfare and anyone really noticing. I didn't move into another home, rather a to a life out of this 18 kilo duffel bag.

You learn what is essential and what you can live without, you learn to take small bottles of shampoo and fewer changes of clothes.  On my first hitch my bag weighed in at 23kg, the maximum QANTAS would take. Now, I am at a comfortable 18kg - and that 5kg makes all the difference when you haul your life around on your shoulder.

You become accustomed to wearing the same two sets of clothes to work for weeks on end, having one set washed for you every night and folded by the morning.  You get used to having your food made for you, because most camps have a 24 hour kitchen to serve the 24 hour rig operations.  Some might consider it a luxury, having your clothes washed and your food cooked, but when after working over 12 hours a day, 7 days a week for weeks on end, you will take any luxury you can get.  It says something about a place when lollipops and stickers are like gold and anyone taking a trip to the nearest town is inundated with requests for packs of red bull, cigarettes or eclipse mints.  It's the simple things that keep you going.




The FIFO Life is a series of moments experienced during the Fly-In, Fly-Out (FIFO) life of working on the oil and gas rigs.  Amorphous, random, and usually written on a whim, these are moments that encapsulate the emotion of a strange sort of a life.

Crazy Rig Conversations: Part 8

00-2 One of my favourite parts about working out on the rigs is the crazy/hilarious/random/unexpected things people say.

Here are a few of the gems of conversations I have been a part of recently!
NB: In the interests of privacy and what-not, I have referred to individuals as Old Mate, or OM for short.

We were having a conversation about various types of dancing. I was horrified (actually, slightly mollified) to find that most of the fellas had absolutely no idea what twerking was.

OM: What is it aye? Twerking, never heard of it!?

OM2: Mate when I first heard the word I thought it was that game you play on ice where you throw that thing… (he was referring to curling). It’s pretty much just hip thrusting man!

OM3: It’s Miley Cyrus aye


They didn’t really understand why I was so upset about that. Actually…I don’t think I understand either…damn you Miley!


OM: Melbourne hay? I see the place as 5 million latte, Frappuccino sipping yuppies really. That’s all.


The nicknames that you hear out on these rigs are pretty great. Sometimes they are just a shortening of the person’s names with a few ‘z’s’ added in for good measure, so Gary becomes Gazza, Barry is Bazza, Yassmin is Yazza, and so on.  Other times though, they are a little more inventive.

“We had this one HSE guy and he was really irritable...so we called him thrush.”

“There was this one electrician right, and whenever there was a problem he'd say “oh yeah I'll look into it for ya...”

So we called him mirrors. The guy was always looking into things!”

“There was another electrician who was always asking for something from ya.  Like if you were using something he'd be like “can I use it after ya?”

So we called him Underpants ‘cos he was always on the bum!”


The fellas were having a conversation about Fiji and mentioned Kava, a drink that is native to the area.  Unfortunately it didn’t seem like the fellas were impressed.

OM: They’re addicted to that Kava stuff man. I don’t know what that’s about, why can’t they have a normal addiction, like to crack?!


OM: You're a Muslim or a Christian?

Me: Muslim...

OM: Okay so I have a question for you? Why don't I ever see any of the bloody people laugh??! I swear they are always so serious, with this serious face. Don't any of them ever laugh or even smile?!

OM: If I had to live like that seriously all the time, I think I would just die.

I responded, quite appropriately I think, with one of my characteristic guffaws. Touche, one might think...




SBS Online: Ramadan on the Rig

This post appeared a little while ago on the SBS Online blog, check it out! :D


I like to think of it as a detox for the soul. Ramadan is the 9th month in the Islamic lunar calendar, and to fast during Ramadan is the fourth pillar of the five pillars of Islam. It's a month that's celebrated and venerated by Muslims worldwide.

Historically, Ramadan is the month where the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the Prophet (Peace and Blessings be Upon him). It is a time of spiritual reflection for all Muslims, it's about self discipline, restraint and empathy. Fasting is merely a physical form of restraint; Muslims are also encouraged to guard their speech, actions and thoughts from engaging in 'despicable acts'.

Fasting also allows us as Muslims to understand the plights of those less fortunate than ourselves and become more appreciative of the blessings we have. It's an opportunity to focus on our actions and spirituality, almost like a 'refresh' for your beliefs.

The month brings people together, across cultural, political and ethnic divides. We are encouraged to forgive and seek forgiveness of others and in doing so build bonds that will continue when the fasting ends. Even the 'Iftar' (breaking of the fast at sunset) provides a platform for sharing and a peaceful tranquillity.

Over the 28 or 29 days, good deeds are rewarded many times over, and the gates of Paradise are open, while the gates of Hell are closed. What better time to reorganise your spiritual affairs?


This Ramadan, I find myself out in the field, working as an oil and gas engineer in regional Australia, with no-one on the rig quite understanding the ritual. It feels strange, not having iftar with the family and heading to the mosque to pray 'Taraweeh', the additional nightly prayers that one can take part in during Ramadan.

It is however, an opportunity to be more mindful about my fast, reflect and pray, away from the distractions of everyday life.

I do small things in my own way to make the month special; buying dates to break my fast with as is tradition, playing Quraan in my room when I'm off-shift, waking up early to lay out the praying mat my mother bought me and pray before the light turns. It isn't the same of course, as being with my family and the community; the shared experience of fasting is absent and the men on the rig generally find it 'crazy'.

"Why would you do that?" they tend to ask, when I explain the reasons I am not having lunch or rehydrating. "It sounds crazy. I'd never do that. Doesn't sound very good for you either."

One or two, will ask for more details. "So what is the point of it?", after which I explain the importance of being grateful, of self-discipline. Some do understand, particularly those who have their own religious identity and it is nice to be able to share the tranquillity that fasting brings.

We are lucky in Australia though, because at the moment the days are short. I imagine it will be quite different on the rigs when Ramadan moves to the summer months.

Perhaps night shift might be the best option!


Triple J kindly did a story on this as well, which you can listen to here (language warning!!)

Daily Life: What it's like to work on an all-male oil rig

This piece originally appeared on Fairfax's Daily Life.


My first posting on the oil and gas rigs happened shortly after graduating from mechanical engineering.  My mother was quite proud; my father on the other hand took a while to come around.  He couldn't understand why his Muslim daughter wouldn't accept a solid, stable job offer in the city.

“What are you doing out here?” my friends would ask, “Is it just for the money?”, “What is it like working with blokes all the time?” or, more often than not: “Are you insane?”

I remember walking into a meeting in the early days as one of the guys was taking a sip of his instant coffee.  "Tastes like date rape", he said.

I froze, looking at my fellow rig worker.  I wasn’t quite sure what to say.  If I overreacted he would badge me as being ‘over sensitive’ and avoid me for the rest of the job, but my inner feminist nonetheless cringed at the idea of letting such language slide. Sensing my unease, he finally said, "I guess we can’t say that sort of thing anymore now that you are here."

Working on oil and gas rigs isn't the first career path that typically comes to mind for many women. By and large, it's seen as a rough, tough, blokey world that is does not welcome female employees.   Notwithstanding this, I was attracted to the adventure, the practical aspect of the operation and the challenge of working in such an unusual environment.  It seemed like the ideal first job for an engineering experience junkie like me.

Given the fact that I have met around six women working in the field in the entire time I have been employed, one can say there is truth in the 'boys club' perception. But working in this masculine, testosterone-drenched environment has also been an interesting exercise in backyard sociology.

Here are some of the things I’ve learnt in the time I spent at the oil rigs:

Firstly, there is a significant generational difference in the male workers' attitudes towards women.

An older colleague once said, "Girly, when I started drinking, women weren't even allowed in bars." Men of his age share an antiquated view of women, but they are products of their time.

Then there are those who feel the need to be protective. “My mother, my father, my grandparents, my aunties...they'd not just roll in their graves, they'd right come out of their graves to give me a de-nozo slap if they heard me using any sort of language in front of a lady!”

Young guys, on the other hand, are often more 'gender blind'. Women being denied access or opportunities simply due to their gender is seen as old-fashioned.  They are also keenly aware of the legislation that protects that equality and will err on the side of caution so as not to put their foot in it.

They tend to test the waters and gauge what they can and can’t say around their female colleagues before they are rebuked.  It does give us a modicum of power, as they follow our cue.

However, 'formal' equality does not necessarily reflect a true change in their social attitudes and underlying expectations.  And the biggest giveaway is in the way the workers speak.

The language used by men on the rig is indescribable - and that is what they choose to say in front of me.  It’s relatively easy to complain about offensive or derogatory language in a modern mix-gender workplace.  However, when operating as the sole female in a male dominated environment, there are some awkward challenges.

Yes, we can go in, guns blazing, demanding things happen on our terms. The legislative framework exists, and is there for anyone to use if they feel discriminated against in any manner.

The protection we have as women in these environments is unprecedented when compared to attitudes two short years ago.  Legal change is the first, extremely important step.  However, forcing change in that manner inevitably fosters dissent and confusion in some cases.

In other words, the rules are changing for these men, but they don't quite know how to deal with it yet.  It is this behavioural change that we must now strive and push for, and it will be an uphill struggle.

In the end these are people I work with, live with, laugh with and rely on to keep me alive around pretty heavy machinery.  Most of them have fallen over themselves to help me and make sure that I am protected and looked after.  Although they can be painted as uneducated chauvinists, many of them are also a product of their society and what is expected of them to be ‘men’.

As my rig manager said, “This is a completely different world to [the one] out there... There is no way I would speak the same way I do on the rig in the street, that wouldn't be right.  It's just a way of keeping yourself a little sane'.”


I enjoy what I do and the company of the people I work with.  I don't envy the difficulty they have though, in dealing with the changes in societal expectations.  We live in unprecedented and interesting times...

What do you think?  

Crazy Rig Conversations: Part 7

BeautifulCaricaturemachoarts5_01One of my favourite parts about working out on the rigs is the crazy/hilarious/random/unexpected things people say.

Here are a few of the gems of conversations I have been a part of recently!
NB: In the interests of privacy and what-not, I have referred to individuals as Old Mate, or OM for short.


Me: Oh mate, I got woken up this morning by a cow! It was right next to my window like MOOOO!

OM: Oh you shoulda just opened the door and been like 'Oh mate, I don't do cattle'.

OM2: Yeh but then he woulda been like 'Oh but I'm built like a horse!'

OM: ...and hung like a donkey!

Laughter ensued...


I learnt a new phrase the other day...(apologies for possible offense!)

OM: Oh yeah we're doing a job up there for so-and-so

Me: oh yeah what kind of operation is it?

OM: Oh it's a bit of a n***a show.

I shook my head and made sure I heard correctly.


OM: You've never heard of the phrase n***a-rigging? It's when it’s real rough-like and you make do with what you've got. N***a rigging man! It's a worldwide thing!

I looked around. All the other guys seems unperturbed.

OM2: It’s true aye.

Me: *shock*


I was chatting to a colleague about things we did as kids...

OM: Oh I once branded my mum with a hot poker on her bottom!

I burst out laughing

OM: Yeah! We were on the farm and they'd been branding the cattle all day so I though that's what I should do too! I put the poker in the fire and then just poked her on the bottom.

She swears she's got the scar till this day...

She won't show us though!


I was chatting to a colleague from the United States' deep south.

OM: I guess I was lucky because I grew up not seeing colour... I mean, we've done that - everyone drinking from their own fountain and you can sit on the back of the bus...

Me: So when did segregation stop?

The Old Mate smiled.

OM: When did it stop?  We're still waiting for that to happen...