This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

2006 Travels September 11

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MONDAY 11 SEPTEMBER     HOWARD SPRINGS

We were at the company office from 8am till 2.30pm, with no breaks.

6.5 hours each, at $35 an hour, meant that we had just earned a total of $455!  It seemed quite unreal.

It was obvious that we were both embarking on a really, really steep learning curve!

R took John through all sorts of safety related stuff – manuals, stuff about chemicals and their handling and storage.

We were both told about some of the site procedures. It was all routine for them, but totally new to us. John was told that, on site, there was a Toolbox Meeting, every morning, before work, where the men would go over what they would do for the day, and any special safety procedures they needed to note.

The secretary tried to show me some of the office and paperwork procedures. She tried very hard to be helpful, and fortunately gave me a lot of material that I could take away and try to digest at a slower pace. I couldn’t admit it to her, but I was quite at sea with the way she zipped around different pages and displays on the computer.

She said she’d had to go out and buy everything – apart from furniture and machines – that would be needed to set up two offices at the sites, and these supplies were being trucked down.

Later in this year, I obtained photos of the area of the first construction  site, before work commenced there. The top photo showed the access road from the Great Northern Highway, that ran east-west and connected with the service road that ran along the length of BHP’s rail line from its mines near Newman, to Port Hedland. The fly camp (temporary accommodation)  could be seen in the distance.

PENTAX Image

The lower photo showed the site of the actual camp that the company would build. It was to look very different a few months later! The photos were taken early in August.

PENTAX Image

R issued us with work shirts – orange, high-vis ones, with the company logo on.

There was so much technical type paperwork and terminology to get my head around.

R seemed fairly vague about conditions and accommodation where we were going. He said something about there being – or would be – a fly camp. That meant nothing to us, then. It obviously was not a holiday venue for blowflies! We were to find out that it was a temporary camp – put up “on the fly”, by the Fortescue team based in Port Hedland – to house workers, as needed. It took me a little time to work out that it was not the responsibility of our company, at all – that company workers were guests there, just like aboriginal heritage advisors from local communities, or environmental survey people, from wherever.

I was very pleased that we would be taking our own accommodation with us, but had no idea if things like power were available, or any bathroom facilities!

I was very hesitant to reveal my total ignorance by asking questions about things like this!

We learned that R was actually to oversee the entire Pilbara project. There would be Site Supervisors – J at Site 1, P at Site 2 (though this changed around soon after we arrived there, because P would be later arriving). In the Alice Springs office I would be dealing mostly with V, who was co-ordinating the FMG projects. M kept track of where buildings were and arranged staff air flights. K did Personnel and paid accounts and salaries.

We were invited to R’s home for a BBQ tea tonight. That was nice of him.

Most importantly, today we were told that we were to drive ourselves down there ASAP. The little training we were getting here would have to suffice – it was all systems go down there, now. The company would pay our fuel and accommodation costs in getting there – nice.

As soon as we finished at the office, raced off, grabbed a Subway late lunch, then went to a specialist work gear shop to buy ourselves the steel capped boots we had been told were mandatory, all the time, on site. They were far more comfortable than I had expected. Also costly – some $120 for each of us.

We must wear long sleeved shirts, long trousers and steel caps, on the work site.

I went and bought books on Excel and other Office programs I thought I needed to quickly try to learn!

John went to the landscaping place and bought more African mahogany – on the strength of the money earned today – $400 worth.

The evening meal at R’s place, at Palmerston, was very pleasant. They have a huge outdoor living area, under cover, surrounded by lush green gardens – as is the norm up here.

R’s daughter, who we’d already met as she was the secretary at the Darwin office, was there, and his wife, who had recently set up in business as a property manager.

Through the course of the evening, a clear message was conveyed to John – they wanted a compliant safety person, rather than a really pedantic one, because they did not want any hold ups to the work! Maybe that explained why they hired someone with no formal qualifications in the field – although as a former school Principal, John had been familiar with some aspects of such matters.

It seemed that R expected to be down there on site, at some stage, managing the work from there rather than totally from Darwin.

We heard on the radio that there were bad bushfires down around Adelaide River. Hoped the highway didn’t get cut.

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