Whenever I have spoken to Mr FIFO husband on the phone I have always simply imagined where he may be; what his room must look like, and what it’s like around him. When I am eating dinner with our two crazy boys I have always imagined where and what he might be having for dinner. When he would say he was just walking to do his washing I would picture a Laundromat packed with guys in fluorescent shirts jamming a weeks’ worth of whites and coloureds together with a sporadic amount of laundry detergent to just ‘get the job done’. So when the girls from My FIFO Family emailed me and asked me to attend a health and wellness expo with them on a FIFO camp I jumped at the opportunity to just for a few days at least walk in my husband’s shoes.
The experience began the moment I jumped into my car leaving my children in the capable hands of a grandparent and took the long drive to the airport leaving my family behind. This was the first time I had experienced what my husband goes through each month, the first time I had left my children for more than a night. I can tell you I only literally got out of the driveway before I had to pull over and dry my tears. ‘Mr FIFO husband does this every month’; I had to think to myself as I blasted the radio to drown out the thoughts of ‘can my children cope without me’, that were swirling in my brain.
After an entire day of flying, we finally made it to our bus which took us through remote Australian country roads to a ferry which would take us to the camp site. It was totally an adventure, as we had no idea where we were going or what to expect. I thought of all the FIFO workers who leaving their families behind, sit on this bus heading to camp where they will stay for a month until they can jump back on that bus and head home again.
We reached an entrance to the work site, and as we paused for the gates to open I couldn’t help but notice the large white banner sprawled across the entrance which read ‘Remember safety, your family is at home waiting for you’. As we continued our journey to the site I saw three more of these signs.
Stepping through the turnstiles into the camp we were greeted by pretty much the vision I already had in my head. There definitely was nothing fancy about it. Steel, demountable living quarters also known as ‘dongas’ sprawled row by row, two high as far as the eye could see. It was completely quiet, we were informed it was like this every day as the nightshift staff sleep and dayshift staff work. This made me understand why my husband always tells me he doesn’t like his days off at camp, ‘they suck’, he always says. That quiet, lonely day where you can’t go home, you’re not busy and so all you can do is sit in your little box of a room surrounded by your own thoughts and television reruns.
After a quick check in and safety de-brief I am handed a map with directions to my very own 4m by 4m donga. We walk through the camp, past a couple gyms, basketball court, cricket nets, tennis court, swimming pool and I swear in the distance I can see a hot spa. I quickly send my husband a message to ask him if he has a spa at his camp. ‘NO’ was his reply, and ‘we don’t even have a swimming pool!’ So I’ve realised that not every FIFO camp is the same, later on in the day I would hear that apparently this camp is known as the Marriot of FIFO camps with its very own 4 star rating. Who knew FIFO camps even got star ratings!
Everything looked the same; a few times I thought I was at my building to only realise I was in the completely wrong block. Every worker has his very own chair outside his room, and in the middle of every few blocks of dongas there is a barbecue and a covered seating area where I guess the workers can socialise after long 10-14 hour work days.
Finally finding my room I swing the door open and without even stepping inside I can see the entire thing. I’ve always read on FIFO Facebook and blog sites that you make the most out of what you’ve got when it comes to FIFO. I completely agree with that, but after seeing what these workers have to create into a home for a month at a time; I began to be able to empathise with my own husband and be grateful that they have basketball courts, gyms and a swimming pool. The solidarity that must come out of being stuck in one of these rooms; pretty much only moving from your bed to the bathroom and back again doesn’t quite create the most enjoyable and mind stimulating afternoon.
I am completely guilty of occasionally resenting the fact that my husband gets dinner made for him every day while I have to somewhat throw together something that my children probably won’t even eat. However after now visiting the camp I am grateful that he has someone making a meal for him and that that is one less thing he has to worry about. I’ve read that the food on a FIFO camp can make or break it, I can understand that too. When you don’t have much and everyday you have the same routine, what’s on the dinner menu can be a nice surprise at the end of a very long day. The cafeteria was pretty good, the meal was nice and there were quite a few options, but the funniest thing I saw were the little signs on the drink dispensers which read ‘drink a lot’ on the water and ‘drink occasionally’ on the wide variety of cordials on offer.
We did go to the ‘wet mess’ (also known as the onsite pub) in the evening, and I have to say it was quite an awkward experience, hundreds of men and about four women. However the majority of the men were quite respectful, stuck to their own business and just seemed to be enjoying a good time with each other. I have realised though, that there are pretty much only three things you can do at one of these sites, when you are not at work. That is, drink, go to the gym or sit in your room.
The room had all the essentials, nothing really special to it, a television, air con, internet cable, phone and a fridge. So to me the camp was just a camp, but I’ve realised that for a month this is home to these FIFO workers. It has the basics of what are essential to live, but lacks the essentials of home that they truly need. Family.
As I sat on my little bed, laden in a blue bed spread that looked like it had been washed more times than I’d like to think about. Starring at the walls in front of me, and listening to the way too quiet silence, I felt alone.
For all those times I had told my husband how hard it was back home, for all the times I had told him all I wanted was a few minutes peace and quiet and for all the times I told my husband I wished someone would make me dinner, I couldn’t help but feel a little bad. What I wouldn’t have given in that moment to be able to make a meal for my kids, or listen to there screaming as they fight over something unimportant. I’m sure that’s what my husband and so many other husbands feel, when they are sitting there in that far too quiet silence.
So today as I sit here on this computer in our home, while my husband is working hundreds of kilometres away. That same husband who is about to jump off a bus after a long day at work, enter a camp site and stare at those steel demountables that seem to go as far as the eye can see, I feel grateful. Grateful for his ability to get the job done, for his sacrifice, and his ability to still have empathy for me back here, while he is the one up there alone.
Tonight when I talk to him on the phone, I can picture him in his tiny room sitting on a bed with a bed spread that has been washed more times then he would like to think about, in a place that he calls home for a month at a time and feel empathy for him. He is not away somewhere on holiday, he is not just hanging out with the boys, he is at work, and he is making the most out of what he has. Because I know that if things were different, he would love to be home with us, walking in our shoes.
My FIFO Family : http://www.myfifofamily.com/
LifeLine: 13 11 14 or https://www.lifeline.org.au/