MONDAY 18 SEPTEMBER NORTH POINT CAMP
I worked from 6am to 6pm, with only 15 minutes off!
As the men started work at 6am, so I must too. I could see that it was going to be early to bed at night – which was ok as there was not much else to do.
So it was up at 5am, into our distinctive work gear, then breakfast. I tended to eat mine in the van, from our own supplies, but John was attracted by the cooked breakfasts on offer at the kitchen. We both had to pack a lunchbox (crib) from supplies set out in the kitchen van – could make ourselves sandwiches or meat and salad packs.
Then we drove ourselves 3kms along the road to the construction site, and my new office. This was a long portable building, divided into three rooms. On one end was the office of the boss and whoever was in charge of the site. At the other end was a kitchenette, with some tables and chairs – the mens’ lunch area, also a general storage area. In the middle was the office space for John and me.
It would do. There was no water hooked up so that – for coffee and tea making – came from big cooler bottles that had been sent down from Darwin with the load of office supplies. Power came from a generator outside.
There was no toilet at all – a situation I had to do some thinking about!
Someone had begun to set the offices up in a basic way. Computers had been set up for me and boss, but as yet there was no fax or internet, or a working printer. But there was a working phone in each. Comms were via a satellite dish – being done by a Port Hedland company.
The phones were very busy today – mostly with calls for BB, or being made by him. But some came in for me, from head office, with various instructions and bits of information. I was asked to remind BB to phone the local Shire to inform them that the company had commenced work on site.
BB clarified John’s job for him – as per the description following – although the letter containing this did not arrive until later, and was dated 19/9! But John now felt he understood much more of what he was expected to do. I wished I could say the same.
John’s job description included:
“As a guide only, your duties will include:
- Safety Assistant
- Store control
- Local purchasing
- Transport to and from Port Hedland
- Documentation of site progress – daily – both photographic and written (the latter soon devolved to me!)
- Travel assistance
You will be expected to work hours as required, with half hour for lunch break…..without payment of overtime penalty rates. Your employment is based on 6 days on, 1 day off.”
Initially I remained quite confused about the specifics of my role. Those instructions or information that BB gave out, seemed to assume that I knew a lot more about the construction industry than I did – which was basically zero! It was a different language….
Eventually, like John, I received a letter formally setting out my role:
“……duties will include:
- Managing all site visitors, including redirecting them to relevant staff members as and when required
- Answering phones, including taking messages and redirecting calls.
- Managing the company’s mail system, collecting, opening, recording and distributing all incoming mail, preparing and posting outgoing mail. (Ummm……I hadn’t noticed any postman out here in the scrub!)
- Providing general office administration support, as and when required including: Records Management – creation of new files, filing documents, storage and retrieval of files, assisting with co-ordination of activities and staff.
- Undertaking costing and purchasing research on behalf of the project staff
- Managing office reporting requirements on behalf of the company
- Keeping Occupation Health and Safety Records
- Co-ordinating and recording all site meetings
- Maintaining payroll records as directed by __
- Other duties as required.”
That last one was interesting – i.e. everything else we haven’t thought of!
What the hell had John gotten me into?
BB sent John off to Port Hedland, driving a company vehicle, a small bus, about a 12 seater, called the Bongo Bus – to pick up the boss of the engineering sub-contracting firm, from the 9.20 am plane. This was to be the first of many plane passenger transports for John.
Through the day, some trucks trundled in – big trucks – carrying some portable buildings, a shipping container and assorted other “stuff”. The pace of activity seemed to have ramped up.
I got through a lot of odds and ends, mostly on instruction from BB or people in head office. Before one could use their own initiative, they had to have some understanding of what they were doing!
I typed up emergency numbers for display in the office, also contact names and numbers for the company staff working on the SA site. Had to phone Port Hedland Police and hospital for their details. I prepared a notice for the men about remembering to hand in their keys before going off the site for breaks, discovering this way that they worked three weeks on and one week off.
I could not print any of that work yet, though.
I also made a mud map of the location of North Point and RV1 (Rail Village 1) to send to sub-contractors and the like, who might be driving themselves here.
I made phone calls to get full contact details for some of the contractors, whose names BB gave me. It seemed a lot of the construction details and suppliers were still being pulled together. Some of these surprised me – a Turf company, swimming pool installer, gymnasium equipment. Clearly, there was a lot more to these sorts of camps than I ever would have thought.
BB and one of the men were having a discussion in the office and studying maps. It seemed to involve camp locations and cyclone ratings. Hmmm – that was something I bet John hadn’t thought of. Caravans and cyclones do not mix well.
An office person at head office was trying to get the internet and fax stuff sorted, and whatever software was needed to get the printer working.
I had to phone a FMG person in Port Hedland to find out the name of FMG’s Purchasing Officer, and also phone some electrical suppliers to find out where they were based.
John was to get a cash float from BB, then from head office for purchases in Port Hedland. If he had to use our credit card, he would be reimbursed, they said. But if a large sum was involved, he was to get the store involved to contact head office for a direct debit. John was to keep a record of money spent.
P – who was supposed to supervise one of the two sites – should be arriving Thursday. With his son, who would also be working here, he was driving across the desert track from Alice Springs – the Gary Junction Track and then through Telfer. Sounded interesting and was certainly the shortest way – if not the easiest.
R would be here from Darwin tomorrow, then BB would leave.
When briefing new arrivals, I was to warn them about the death adders that lived in the spinifex clumps of the site!
I phoned the Royal Flying Doctor Service to find out how we stood, in an emergency. They were happy to consult by phone at any time. They said there were no landing facilities in the area, as the landing strip at the Yandeyarra Community was unserviceable. We needed to find out if there was a functioning airstrip in the area of our second site. This would be easier if I knew where that second site was!
Had started to unpack the boxes of office equipment that had been put together by the Darwin secretary. There seemed to be an awful lot of supplies and much duplication. I worked out that it was all supposed to supply both RV1 and RV2 site offices – when the latter was set up – but there still seemed to be mountains of pens, pencils, post it notes, files, every sort of office oddment one could think of. Boxes and boxes of printer paper – would be good if we had a functioning printer! Memory sticks. You name it. I was to realize later that someone at Alice Springs had assembled boxes of office supplies for the place, as well as the Darwin lady doing so. Crossed wires. Quadruple supplies.
John was already spending his float! He recorded that he bought engine oil for the golf buggies used to get round on the sites, hydraulic fluid for a forklift, alcohol for BB, and a carton of cigarettes for one of the men – OK’d by BB. Looked like John would be doing a lot of shopping!
Back at Fly Camp, after eventually managing to get in for a shower, we joined the small company group, sitting outside the boss’ donga, for happy hour drinks – BYO. Got to know the man who came in this morning, who ran the company that would be doing the earthworks, and that sort of stuff.
Tonight’s camp meal was another good one: garlic bread, mixed salad and pasta salad, lasagna, spag bol, followed by a sultana cake with lemon icing. I guessed the cooks had to go to Port Hedland regularly for supplies.
Also in camp tonight was another female – I felt much better that I was no longer the only woman in the place! She was a sort of house keeper for the camp – cleaning and the like – who had been on her break period when we arrived.
After tea, I wrote an email to son, thinking John could take the laptop to Hedland on his next trip there, and activate it to send my mail.
June 8, 2020 at 10:49 pm
This is going to be a fascinating read.
June 9, 2020 at 12:17 am
Certainly different from any of our previous itinerant jobs.