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Saturday, 28 June 2014

Fee For Fi Fo Fun

‘Okay, that’s pre-start finished, now everyone outside to do our warm-up stretches.’
I’m sorry, our what?!? I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore Toto…..
Definitely not Kansas. Karratha to be more correct, at the Karratha Gas Plant (KGP) on my first day as a utility for ESS, the company that does the cleaning and catering on this site, and many many others. It’s a whole new world for me, one that we’ve had to explore in order to stay doing what we love at Gabyon.
Gap Ridge Camp
Back in December I started looking for FIFO work. A casual tweet saying I was joining the Hi-Vis crowd led to attending an information and signup session for ESS in Perth, where they basically spent half an hour telling the crowd of forty or so how shit FIFO life is. I guess they get sick of people thinking they can work in these remote sites and then realising it’s not for them. The presenter lady was saying its hot, dry, dusty, there’s flies, snakes, big lizards, there’s no phone service sometimes, the internet’s shit, the work’s repetitive, it’s long days and little breaks. All I could think was that it sounded just like home. Only with a pay cheque at the end of it.
A week later I was sent off for a medical. Which essentially was a two-hour drive to Geraldton to pee in a cup, though not before I signed the consent form saying they could take a sample. First time I’ve ever given written permission to have the piss taken. Little did I know it was the first of many, many, many forms to sign. The sample was given, but if I could make any request, they should make that observation mirror in the ceiling corner a magnifying one.

Fast forward to mid April and I’m sitting on a plane full of blokes bound for Karratha. Every other plane I’ve been on has been full of families heading on holiday, so this felt a little weird. Least there were no screaming babies or kiddies kicking seats. We land and I buddy up with the other new starter, Deb, who was easily recognisable as she had the same bewildered look I was no doubt sporting. Eventually we found our ride and were shown about the campsite by a lovely young couple Melissa and Chris. Gap Ridge Camp is huge. Or so I thought.
Next morning began the death by induction. We were here as temps to help with the shutdown about to begin at the plant. I found the whole day quite interesting, but for guys who do this all the time I can see why many had the glazed stunned mullet look on their face for most the day. We finished up and at dinner that night Pete told us we’d be leaving for the plant at 5.15am next morning. Every morning. For the next two weeks. Don’t believe everything you hear about farmers getting up before dawn. I’m not one of them and the idea of 4.30am alarms had me wondering if this was a good idea or not.

Part of KGP

Next morning, bleary eyed and after ‘forcing’ a plateful of every conceivable breakfast option you can imagine down, five of us are in the van heading to work. It’s still dark for Christ sake! One thing about the dark is when you come over the rise the gas plant is lit up like Sydney harbour. The sheer size of the thing is astounding. We have to clean all that??
Not the first week I didn’t. After the safety stretches (in which I damn near pulled a quad and almost fell over) and after the ESS site induction I was placed in the kitchen. Here they do a canteen service for smoko and lunch, plus deliver food to the Control Room, the much smaller Pluto Gas Plant down the road, and other places all connected to Woodside.
Not everyone likes kitchen. It’s very busy, and you’re in the same place. I didn’t mind it. The ladies in there were lovely, and I likened it to working in a shearing team, where everyone works in together to keep the process rolling along. If one slows up it buggers it up for the rest. The chefs are the shearers and the kitchen hands the roustabouts, keeping everything tidy and out the chefs way. Plus a busy day is a quick day. I went from pot wash to dish wash to slice and dice to cleaning. When Ana, the supervisor was showing myself and Deb how to skin melons, she commented I was quite good with the knife. All I said was I’ve done quite a bit of knife work, just not on fruit, forgetting that Deb was a vegetarian. Lucky she has a good sense of humour.
A week later I was back home for a week of R & R. Rest and relaxation. Or in my case Repairs and Rounding up. First day back we mustered, and by the time I left again for work we had managed to actually sell some, and the flat tyre pile was back to a respectable level. So that was well worth it. However the first morning old Dash, our stockman and the last of the true bushies, took one look at my new shiny Woodside issued gloves clipped to my belt by my new shiny Woodside issued glove clip. 
'F*#k me, one week on a mine and comes back a f%@kin' softcock.'
Second swing starts and this time I was on the cleaning crew. Shutdown meant a huge influx of contractors and fourteen something crib rooms to clean, along with the admin buildings, toilet blocks, warehouses, training rooms, permit offices, the Control Room and everything else in between. It’s a huge job and the people doing it are amazing. On this site most people are quite nice to you as you work around them. Everyone apologises as they walk over your freshly mopped floor, but that’s the nature of site cleaning. It isn’t after hours, when the place is empty. A few times I was tempted to stand in front of the hallway, mop and broom held high and roar ‘YOU SHALL NOT PASS!’ but I’m not sure the riggers and diesel fitters would get the Gandalf reference.

Cribs were the worst though. Smoko rooms where everyone sits while they wait for permits to be signed off on. A team of four have to do four ablution blocks, a full clean on the cribs, second clean on the ablutions, then a half clean on the cribs in the arvo. They have the technique down pat, which I called the Blitzcrib. Rush in, a flurry of chairs, chucks, mops and brooms, restock the tea and coffee bits, and then rush out before the occupants arrive or return. Sometimes we wondered how some of these guys lived at home, such was the state a few cribs were regularly left in.
The best job was the toilet run. In amongst the actual workings of the plant were ablutions, and we had to clean them. This meant I got to drive around with Adrianne, gawking at all the masses of pipes, vents, pumps, compressors and God knows what else. In the end she took me to clean the training room, where they had big displays of all the parts, just so I’d stop asking questions like a bored five year old.
A few times I was asked how I was handling the toilets and the odd ‘surprise’ we would get. Trying not to sound too cocky (in which I no doubt failed) I explained best I could the odd crocodile is nothing compared to things I’ve done and seen at home. The few crew who wanted more of an elaboration probably now wished they hadn’t asked. Sorry Terry, but least you know how we get faecal samples from rams now. And guys. Please. Stand closer to the urinals, chances are it’s shorter than you think.
The hardest thing I found was getting used to all the safety protocols. I knew it would be a world apart from home, and many times I had to catch myself. So often a minor maintenance issue which meant a job couldn't be done I could've fived with a screwdriver, or just a bloody butter knife, but protocols are there and must be followed. One R & R break while dangling from a windmill it occured to me maybe some of them are a good idea. However I've said before if farms followed the safety OH&S procedures mines do you'd all starve. But when in Rome, do as the Romans do.
While all this was going on, hanging over everybody’s head was ‘The Contract.’ ESS’s contract was up for renewal, and they’d made a big play to take over the Gap Ridge Camp as well, which was run by their opposition. ESS had been at KGP for a very long time, and by all accounts were confident of retaining it. It dominated smoko and hallway chats, and had done so for some time.
During my last week there, I had the displeasure of sitting in a room of new friends as their big bosses informed them ESS was unsuccessful. It was a huge shock, one nobody except the usual pessimists saw coming. After working so closely with these people, realising they are the hardest working on site and also the lowest paid, it was a hard thing to watch, and something I won’t forget. So by mid July everyone either moves sites, or changes shirts. Worst part is most are locals, with only a handful of FIFO’s to top up the numbers, so it’s not like they can just change a few flights about. Part of me would’ve liked to stay on to help with the de-mob, but part of me is glad I’m not. Some people have worked there for over twenty years.
I did five weeks in total at KGP, or two and a half swings. I learnt so much from so many, all who were more than willing to take a complete noob under their wing and show them the ropes. And also make them carry the radio, but hey, that’s what yellow hats are for, right? Now I’m at Wheatstone, near Onslow, in a massive camp working in a massive dining room washing a massive amount of dishes from a massive amount of people. When I got the info pack for the Wheatstone camp I got a little excited. We get a laundry service, serviced rooms and...... wait, thats going to be my bloody job! From here who knows where I’ll be, but I doubt anywhere will be like KPG.
So to Mary, Pete, Peter, Julie, Ana, Samia, Eric, Sharif, Lang, Sherrie, Vanessa, Yasmin, Yudo, Sue, Deb, Adrainne, Bianca, Mata, Kimberly, Moanna, Kelly and Kelly, Jaydee, Nathan, Chris and Melissa, Linda, Terry, Bobby, Steve, Jacob, Louis, Tina, Katlyn, Juliet, Caitlyn, Kart, Denise, Correena, Peta, Supanee, even bloody Jason and anyone else I’ve missed, thankyou for making my first job in a very long time a good one. Everyone taught me something, from cleaning to learning to not be the boss. 
And last of all and most importantly Mike, Helen and Gemma, who are holding the fort while I’m away, and doing a bloody good job of it. I've got the easy part of the deal. But as good as camp life is and as good as the money might be, it doesn’t hold a candle to Gabyon.

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Jacana said...

You brought back many memories with your post. I did a two week stint at the same place over a shutdown.

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