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...




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.

The FIFO Life: Part 1


My feet crunch on the gravel as I slowly make my way up the hill from the rig.  It's been a good 12 hour shift, a standard 'tour', as we call it.

It's a Saturday night, the last slivers of sunlight fading away over the horizon.

I left my heart to the sappers round Khe Sanh  // And I sold my soul with my cigarettes to the black market man  // I've had the Vietnam cold turkey  // From the ocean to the Silver City  // And it's only other vets could understand...

The almost-tinny tunes of Cold Chisel rise and fall with my step as I clutch my phone in my hand while I run.  I really need to get running pants with pockets in them...

As I look around, it strikes me that I really truly am, in the middle of nowhere.  As the hum of the diesel generators of the rigs fade away, I put my finger over the speakers on my phone to muffle the tune.  Sounds of wildlife - birds, crickets, cows - emerge from the paddock around me.

The land is far from silent.

It occurs to me that I travel on these dirt roads every day yet fail to notice, isolated as I am behind the wheel of a 4WD...

I'm not an amazing runner - that was always my brother's domain in the family - but I trudge on, eventually switching on my very-fashionable headlamp to illuminate my path.  I look up and the light glints in the eyes of the herd of cows ahead.

They are startled and confused, freezing in the light.  'What is this biped doing in our midst?' I read in their eyes...

The herd runs with me, and there is a moment of random, pure joy.

It's an interesting feeling, running with a group of animals.


I make it back to the camp eventually, breathless but energised.  It isn't until a few hours later that I am told running in the paddock is explicitly forbidden.

The Health and Safety Officer delivering the news is contrite.

'Don't shoot the messenger darl, rules are rules.  Trust me, if it was up to us - well, it's nice having a girl run around here I'll tell you that! It's just the way it is. You might roll your ankle or get bitten by a snake.  Can you imagine the paperwork?'

The rules and regulations of occupational health and safety, and the concerns of liability, compensation and duty of care strike again.


It's Saturday night, and I'm sitting outside my 3 x 4m room on the cement step, making a few calls.

Friends and family answer, and their news is either non existent ('How was your week?' 'Oh, fine, nothing happened'), or awesome ('OMG-I WISH-YOU-WERE-HERE-IT-WAS-AMAZING' delivered in one breath).

Both are bittersweet.

Because you do know things happened that week, but the daily motions of life don't always translate over the phone.

Because you know that whatever it was, it was probably amazing.

But you spend more than 80% of your time living with strangers...


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.