I haven’t publicized much that I spent nearly two months of my time in Australia living and working in the outback. My friend and I were living on Mount Monger Station, located approximately 60kms outside of Kalgoorlie. During those two months, I was working as a cleaner/housekeeper for a nearby gold mine. The work was hard, the weather extreme, and the isolation challenging. Like any moment in life, this one can be chalked down as experience, with both positives and negatives.
1) The Stars
This might seem like a small thing to love about the Outback but it’s something I appreciate. I’m from a country with a low population density, so even in my home ‘city’ of 70,000, the light pollution is minimal, and I’ve grown up stargazing. After the population hubs of Beijing, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and, even Perth, it was lovely to be able to look up at the night sky and see the stars. It’s particularly interesting as the constellations are entirely different than North America, and seeing the iconic Southern Cross for the first time is memorable.
2) The People
In any situation, it’s the people that make it or break it. This cannot be more so than in isolated environments. I had a handful of co-workers who were genuinely awesome people, as well as some of the miners who boarded at the station. There was a limited variety of company, and that makes you appreciate even more when it is of good quality.
3) Going 640m Underground
Nothing I have ever done in my life compares to this experience. We went underground in a working goldmine (compared to many of the tourists mines open to the public in and around Kalgoorlie and the Goldfields). It is honestly terribly unnerving at first. It’s dark and claustrophobia is at an all time high. I had a minor panic attack in the first few minutes until I acclimatized to the situation. It’s almost like sensory deprivation, where without your head lamp, you would have no idea what is up and what is down. It’s a darkness like I have never experienced before. It was fun to see how mines work, and how drillers go about getting the gold out, but it was the sensory experience of the mine that stands out most.
4) The Sunrises
Having the type of job that I did entailed early wakeup calls. It’s fine when you get used to it but it completely sucks for the first few days. But as the days shortened, I found myself waking up to increasingly beautiful sunrises. Dawn is stunning when there is a bright red light, reflecting off the ruddy dirt of the Outback. And occasionally if you’re lucky, you might get a little purple or pink in there as well.
5) The Sunsets
At the other end of the day, there were the sunsets. Many days they were unremarkable, the light went quickly and without much drama. Other days it was a riot of colour. One sunset in particular stands out as the most blood red sky I have ever seen. Unfortunately by the time I ran to get my camera and came back, it was all but gone.
6) The Scenery
Much of the scenery out around Kalgoorlie is as Outback as you get. The trees are low and sparse, much of the vegetation is low shrub brush (like the saltbush and blue bush), and the red dusty flatness of the land stretches further than the eye can see. Even in comparison o my other Australian home of Perth, the Outback is an environment that was entirely different and surreal for me. Growing up in the boreal forests of Canada, there’s nothing quite like the Outback to give a shock about the different sceneries and environments of the world.
7) Some Canine Companions
For me, one of the best things about living on Mt. Monger Station was that between the owners and one of the employees there were three dogs on the property. As someone who has had a dog since a young age, there’s nothing quite like some canine company to lighten up a day. They accompanied us on walks, bit at the rake when we were cleaning up the garden, and generally kept us company during our days.
1) The People
This category falls under both the bests and the worsts for obvious reasons. In the best cases, you discover who real friends are when you have to spend 14 hours a day together for two months. But then there are the times you have to interact with bad people on a continual basis. Some people were just jerks. And a lot of people treated my friend and I as though we were idiots merely because we were the cleaners. For the record, treating people like shit isn’t a good idea.
2) The Work
As I’ve mentioned previously, I was cleaning on mine sites and camps for this job. That work isn’t the greatest on a good day, and is downright nasty on a bad day. I can now confidently say that I’m not squeamish about much of anything. Shitty toilets: all in a day’s work. Killing spiders the size of my hand: no problems. The most memorable moment of the cleaning work was one day, I was cleaning some mats outside, as my friend was cleaning the showers inside. She walks outside and tells me to come look at something. I walk up to one of the shower stalls to find out that one of the miners had taken a meat pie into the shower for some reason. Initially I thought that someone got sick in there. But sure enough sitting right at the bottom of the shower near the drain was the entire pastry part of the pie. The walls were covered in the bits of chicken, peas and carrots. An interesting day of cleaning if you ask me.
3) The Isolation
This was probably one of the hardest parts of the job. My friend and I went from being in Perth with complete control over where and when we went somewhere, to being on Mt. Monger Station and that’s it. In addition to that, we were initially only supposed to be there for a week but they asked us to stay on longer. That was a tough mental hurdle, but one that needed to be overcome for the sake of money. So we left all of our friends back in Perth and went to the station. But we didn’t have a car, so we were at the mercy of others to even get into Kalgoorlie every two weeks to do some food shopping. Most of our time was spent sitting around and talking, or watching TV. I guess we were lucky that we had some internet and cell phone coverage (although it was extremely minimal), but that was about all we were lucky in.
So there you have it. Some of the best and worst things about living and working in Outback. Like I said above, even though there were countless things that went wrong or were bad, I wouldn’t change the experience. I met some fabulous people along the way, and maybe some decent money…well enough to pay for my trip to Guatemala.