Thought I'd give a bit of my experience on here to those of you considering FIFO work in Australia.
A bit of background on myself:
I'm 23 years old, single with no debts or burdens back in Ireland. I graduated from a degree in BSc. Geomatics in 2011. Secured sponsorship with a seismic surveying contracting company on a FIFO 4 week on 2 week off roster. Moved over to Australia and started working on the 26th of October. I have completed two stints now on the job.
Having not flown outside of Europe before I thought the journey over would be tough, but it went by so fast. I guess thats the case for everyone's first long distance flight. I arrived just as summer was arriving, which meant the temperatures were going to soar.
The 4WD course was very easy and very boring. It doesn't prepare you in the slightest for desert driving. I flew out to Birdsville and then drove approximately 440km south into Southern Australia, into Strzelecki Desert. It really was the middle of nowhere. All the reading about what its like in the desert didn't prepare me for it at all. It's nothing like back home in Ireland. I was staying in a camp, with approximately 19 other people (all men). This was a few surveyors and then the rest were bulldozer operators. The other camp which was 40km away had approx. 35 people. So we weren't completely alone, but after the two camps (same company) there was nothing for about 250km radius.
The night I arrived we were hit by a bad storm, I found out quickly enough that any sort of rain means roads are impassible. This meant that I was camp bound for 5 days. Which was not enjoyable. Once it cleared up I went out to the field for the first time. The field, really wasnt a field. It was flat land, dune, flat land dune country with plenty of lakes dotted around. It was a challenge at first driving in these conditions. Some dunes had deep sand, others had large sidecuts which if driven wrong would roll the vehicle down the side of the dune. Others had a combination of both (fun!). After a few days I adapted to the driving.
The heat was tough, luckily my job involves me spending most of the day in the air conditioned vehicle so I wasnt subjected to the conditions that often. 10s without air con and I was sweating like crazy, just to give you an example. It soared to around 50 degrees at one stage.
The room I slept in was small but manageable. The food was good to begin with but with rain coming and going it meant the only road to the camp was impassible alot of the time, meaning getting water and food supplies to the camp was difficult. At one stage we could only shower every 3rd day and were down to approx. 1.5 days drinking water. Scary stuff. With only one chef the food began to taste the same and was not so enjoyable towards the end of the stint. Quite often I would forget what day it was, as everyday felt the same. Getting up at ridiculous o'clock and finishing at ridiculous o'clock. It was a very tough 4.5 weeks. Yes I was asked to stay longer! At the end of the stint I was asked to drive one of the landcruisers back to the office, a 1700km drive. It was a great drive! Got to see alot of QLD. I then spent a week in the office before going on a 2 week break. Worked everyday from 26th of October to 21st December. So was a bit tired towards the end!
I spent the two weeks off in Sydney, very enjoyable.
On my second stint I was flown to Alice Springs on the 3rd of January. Then drove to a place called Old Andado just at the edge of the Simpson Desert. Which was an about 400km drive. This place is slightly less isolated than my first hitch. We spent a few days staying in a Cattle Station. There was two irish there on WHV doing regional work. We were doing Seismic all around that station. When the crew arrived we moved camp to stay with them. I spent the next 4 weeks with the main camp, did not rain once. Three chef's on this job so the food was great, showers every night. Barbecue every Saturday, some women to talk to! The conditions were 10 fold better than the first stint. An enjoyable experience. On the first two lines there was much less dunes and more gibber (flat land with small rocks everywhere) which made it alot easier to begin with. However as we moved further west we hit more dune country. The lines were around 76-90km long. At certain points we would have to drive 2 hours in the morning to just get to the line which was tough going. It's amazing how the landscape varies. At the end of one of the lines was a large mountain, it ended at the foot of it. Amazing to look at! Again at times I would forget what day it was but the second stint went much better than the first and was mostly enjoyable.
I was there for 4.5 weeks again, they asked me to stay longer a second time! But I didnt mind. I flew to Brisbane, half way through my break now. Moved into a house with my cousin which I'll use as my base.
I'm due to head out on Saturday for the next hitch but havent been informed yet. I worked in a mine in Ireland for work experience a few years ago, company here is expanding into underground operations, and because I'm the only one with experience in the company they asked me to work in the first contract. So I'll be doing 2 more weeks seismic then flying to Rockhampton to get training for the Anglo Coal underground work. Which is a 4 day on 3 day off one month contract beginning right around St. Patricks day! I'll update with my experiences of the next 4-8 weeks when I'm on break again.
Opinion of the roster and locations? It's going great so far, was informed the first stint was not meant to happen and was unfortunate. I wouldnt be subjected to that again. Which was upheld with a very enjoyable second stint. The two deserts I've been in have been fine, very different from each other but an amazing experience.
Edit: I forgot to mention that I did find it tough going to re-adapt to city life/built up areas. 4 weeks is a long time to be completely away from civilization. Particularly in a small camp where alot of the dozer operators would be on long hitches I found tempers to flare a small bit in the first hitch.
This wasn't noticeable in the second. Pretty much everyone was sound as a pound. It was mostly Aussies with some kiwis an english guy and a couple of Irish. I've heard people say that the Aussies treat us like we treated the vast majority of polish on construction sites years ago. I completely disagree so far. The Australians were brilliant craic, all of them seem similar to Irish.
Australia day was very interesting. The evening prior the Client made the camp a "dry camp" which meant nobody was allowed to drink. The day before Oz day?! As you can imagine the morning of Oz day, during Toolbox (Camp meeting) people were not happy. By 3pm the client backed down and allowed us to drink for Australia Day and the dry camp to happen from the 27th. There was a breath test the next morning, and as you can imagine people blew numbers (not allowed blow any to operate a vehicle) so was a good laugh!