Hot, Damn Hot.
That's how I remember the mine site. Twenty Eight deg before the sun comes up, smoko past forty, lunch forty five/six/seven , still in the low forties after the sun goes down. An egg takes ninety seconds to cook on a black grate, want a cold shower,water comes out the cold water tap at 42 degrees, at least it was easy to dry your washing. My mate rang me, "Do you want to come do a couple of months work in the Territory". It was late October. "No, to bloody hot, " was the reply. "Think about it, it's dry heat, and I need you here by the end of the week.' Dry Heat a NT euphemism for not that humid your brain starts to rot along with your boots and cotton work gear. So I found myself at Tulla, with 30 Kg's of tools, three sets of shorts, a stubbie holder and a pair of thongs. A couple of hours to Alice, time for a beer, then back on the tarmac to Narrajimita Air's finest. Six seats, two fans, a dozen instruments most of them marked unserviceable ,two other idiots, and a pilot. We weigh ourselves, our bags, and climb in. I weigh 96 Kilos.
The flight time is two hours, The flight heads NE over the Macdonald ranges past the spy base and out into the desert. Not much to see from 10,000 feet, the odd survey line, a glimpse of the dirt track that passes for a road out there. Lot's of red dust. I glimpse over the pilots shoulder at the clock, almost three, were just about there. fifteen minutes later I look again, almost three, "of course", the clock is not a flight instrument, it doesn't need an unserviceable tag. Finally my new home appears in the distance. A few large hole's, a few big tanks, a few of pipes , a few dongas, and couple of large lakes chokers full of cyanide tailings. There's a flat bit beside the camp that passes as a runway. The pilot cranks the gear and the flaps down, surprisingly they both work. As we pass one hundred feet I remember thinking it's not that hot, the temperature shoots up 20 degrees in the next 20 seconds. We taxi up to a couple of fuel drums. Home sweet Home.
I'm here to build a mining camp, so there isn't much more here than a pile of blokes living in tin sheds working twelve hours a day, seven days a week. That's the good part because there aint much else to do here. First job build a shed, to build some other stuff. The only problem the shed isn't here, neither is the other stuff. We are at the end of a 3000km supply line, every thing comes from somewhere else, via somewhere else. We pass our time throwing rocks at other rocks, and watching long lines of caterpillars crawl around in circles.. The routine is get up at five thirty in the dark. Off to the mess for breakfast, cereal, bacon and eggs coffee, ect. Make lunch, Limp salad or Peanut butter sandwich, dealers choice. Fill 5 litre water bottle with hard undrinkable water. Add ice to make drinkable, Safety meeting, start throwing rocks, Smoko , Lunch, refill empty water bottle, 6pm ,Knock off, wet mess, beer, dinner, back to the ally, sleep. At night we play basket ball and bocce, talk, and drink. Well mostly drink. Our donga line , named by the cleaners, has gone from Barcon Ally, to Beer Can Ally, to Baygon Ally. Any thing to pass the time, I lend one of the guy's my hair clippers one night, the next morning I walk into the mess to find 30 bald heads. We sneak off one night to Rabbit Flat, 50km down the road. petrol and beer triple the price of Alice Springs. You can get away with that if you are the only bar for 400 KM. Time marches on, What day is it ?, doesn't matter it's groundhog day, every day.
Why build stuff out here at all you ask. We are 680 km up a corrugated dirt road, Any thing that gets here has to be rebuilt because it has fallen to bits on the journey. . We tried getting a pre built site office sent up. Before it had reached the Alice Springs outskirts the room air conditioner had fallen out of the wall and gone under three trailers worth of ten hundred truck tyres. By the time it got to the site both the window and the door had fallen off somewhere along the track, and the ceiling was on the floor. Eventually our work shed and some other stuff turns up. Not what we need but at least we can get started. The boss flies en to give us a rev up. I get yelled at for cutting up studs to make noggins so we can start building walls. I apologize, we spend an hour looking for noggins, Boss apologizes, I cut up more studs. Some how the new camp starts to emerge slowly out of the ground. It rains, it's three weeks till we see another supply truck. One night we have a fantastic view of a passing comet.
While we are baking in the sun the rest of the world goes on with its business. People have children, my brother buys a house. This presents problems because I'm the trustee of my mothers estate, and I need to sign stuff so he and I can get a loan. The mine has one phone line that gets switched over to the public phone box after 6PM. There are 120 blokes in the camp, and a long line for the phone. It's 1995 the internet is yet to arrive. Fortunately I have just invested in a bit of new technology called a Fax. Just about every day some one drive over from the mine office just to hand me a new fax. I can see fifty kilometres but my world has been condensed into a small square. The only time we leave the site is to go to the dump, an old mine pit we chuck all our rubbish in. We take to calling this the therapy run. After 11 weeks I head of to Darwin for a couple of days of sanity. I weigh myself and bag on to the plane and tell the pilot his scales are wrong. He jumps on and says there OK. I drop the bag and hop back on, I weigh 85 Kilos.
My work mates all have names like Dicko, Choko, Rosco, Davo, and Rambo. Dicko is the boss, Choko is the blackest black fella in the camp, Davo's name eventually changes to Crazy Dave, Rambo has been in three plane crashes flying to mine sites, he's as calm a a bag of cats at a greyhound meeting. Every one except the black fella's come's from somewhere else, though most of them call them selves "Territorians", a status that takes about three weeks to acquire. Their all good characters, most of them have spent way to long in the bush, and all have plenty of stories to tell to pass the time. Compared to the miners they are almost sane. The cleaners are pointing at me one night at the bar, so I wander over and find out what their talking about. Seems I'm weird as I have some photos in my donga of stuff that they have all checked out while their cleaning. A waterfall in Mexico, some snow and ice in Antarctica, some friends, you know stuff to remind you there is a real world out there. Normal stuff, I thought. A couple of weeks later we have to go back and fit some AC units to the newly occupied miners quarters. About have a third have one photo of a wife/child/motorbike. A third have a poster Harley Davidson, cylinder heads 1947 to 1965, the classic years. The other third just have a large fruit can full of cigarette butts. Out of boredom I try talking to the miners every now and again. Conversation goes like this. What you doing on your swing (week off). "Go Harley shop , then get inked up". No need to mention they would be pissed and stoned for the whole week. Can't really add much more to that. We've all been drug and alcohol tested before we started, one guy failed after partying for 48 hours straight, he got a warning. Fortunately were never tested again.
Eventually we get into the swing of things, The first building took 2 months to build, by the time we get to 17 they take 2 weeks. My two month stint has turned into five. Strange stuff happens, the mine starts production, most of the construction guys slowly leave. Two weeks before I leave, I borrow a jumper from my mate in Alice, in my last week I turn on the hot water tap in the shower for the first time. On my last night I wear long pants to the bar. We pack up the truck and the last five of us drive the 600 odd kilometres to Alice, just so we can say we did it, I don't weigh myself , time to get out of here, it's to bloody cold.
For those of you interested the Tanami mine site is here, 120 km past the Granites on the Tanami road.
Posted by bondrj
at 3:53 PM NZT