How To Live (While Currently Trying Not To Dissolve From Self Pity).
The other day a science magazine writing position was advertised, for three thousand dollars a year. A year? Not my style or pay level even though I enjoy popularised science. We all should.
This made me think.
My first dollars made were mowing lawns with my dad in my mid teens, then he would drop me off around town nearly every other weekend for two years, pushing a large self propelling lawn mower around the streets of the posher parts of town for five or six dollars per house, and for as little as three bucks for little old ladies. At high school I liked a few subjects, one was art where I could paint deserted islands, desert cliffs and rock formations. My dad had a photography darkroom, so I was into that too. For some reason I also like the idea of panning for gold in the mountains with my dad. The idea of making dams and bridges appealed to me too.
Returning from the a long lakeside summer vacation sailing and water skiing after the end of high school, a letter was opened that caused my parents to nearly faint- I was accepted as a geology student at a rural tertiary education institution to do an Applied Geology degree. Out of the blue! Acceptance date was in three days. After a three hour road trip I was enrolled with my dad finding me a place to board in that faraway town, where I was ensconced for two years for twenty five dollars a week! Until some friends, Marshall and Kent, got me to move out to a horrible cheap place of our own, closer to the college, which was two years of fun and hard work, a black and white portable television, with an out door toilet that was on a slant with long weeds growing out through the cracks and a low pressure shower that would not work unless you sat in the bath tub.
As a student, living involved receiving some monthly cash from the folks, a government handout of about twenty bucks a month, and vacation jobs. Rent was only ten buck each a week, food also ten bucks a week. those were the days with a government paid course too! Between first and second year I worked at my little brother’s restaurant for three bucks an hour. During second year there was plain old labouring at an arboretum for a geology lecturer for, again, three bucks an hour, mostly on weekends for the rest of the three years left to do. There was one summer of vacation work for a mate’s dad as a petrel station attendant and for a few months as a YHA weekend night admissions guy, that one was sad.
Another summer vacation job working for a better hourly rate was at a local country meatworks thirty minutes from my parents new country home, first skinning sheep kidneys and packing those into small plastic trays and then onto sheep brains and packing them, lasting but a week. Someone took pity on me and the following week they put me on the wrapping and then stacking of twenty kilogram boxes of meat onto large freezer tray pallets, the first week a tiring exercise. After six weeks before going back to just old geology lectures, I could throw those boxes quite a way across the factory floor to another packer- so much fun, not. And there was weekends loading sheep carcasses into the huge freezer trailers too.
I managed to get a two week vacation job with a minor size gold mining that was doing experimental work nearby in the countryside. As a geologist’s offside, it was collecting, bagging and labelling samples from a drill hole. The plan was to drill two holes into a mapped sinuous sandy river aquifer that had enough but hopefully more than enough alluvial gold dust in the sandy sediment. Next step was pumping a gold leaching solution into the upstream hole and trying to extract that solution from the downstream hole and processing the leachate to extract the dissolved gold. The project overall was not a spectacular success as far as I know.
During my last year of the Applied Geology degree, a large gold mining company was exploring in the district, doing deep continuous coring of the local deep gold leads. It was bloody grating to all us students that someone else from another old gold mining town tertiary institution, had managed to keep their position in a core examining role after the company had moved into our town. I said to her there was a spare room at my share house that she took up which my girl friend was okay with. I think.
Old gold mining town teaching institution degrees were apparently not quite good enough for the big companies, and I certainly was not dux. Trying to get work in geology upon graduating was excruciating as the degree was from a rural college, not a city one, some mean sort of discrimination I reckon. Applied geology was not an automatic entrance to just anything after all, surprise. So many knock backs. Once again my dad got me a job though, and made me buy a motorbike. The job was cleaning back at the previously mentioned meatworks. A full days pay at great rates for maybe four to five hours work. Steam hoses, scrubbers, buckets, brooms, not too bad. Meanwhile a search was kept up for a job in any geology position.
A break in another direction after a few months- left the meatworks to working as a laboratory technician at a local country high school. I was the manager; inventory, setting up chemistry and physics experiments, some tutoring including mathematics, equipment purchase and of course cleaning the labs after school. Winter travel in the highlands on a motorbike is an extreme sport dressing against the cold!
A very small advertisement in the weekend paper drew my attention- oilfield work? I scrounged some time off for an interview from the kind hearted principal- he knew I was a short term employee. The interview was in the state capital at a not shoddy but still cheap hotel, in the guy’s hotel room, not an office, as the company was based elsewhere. Howard was about ten years older than me with a slight lispy English accent, and a lazy eye. I had no idea what the job really entailed, all I wanted was a job! The salary was only as much as the lab tech one, so after the interview, which went well I thought, I went to see someone at the local branch of the AusIMM, the institute of mining and metallurgy, and the fellow said, “whatever the salary, there is not much around, so why don’t you take it?”. Hmm.
A few weeks later I accepted the offer from the the oilfield service company Gearhart and went off to Adelaide on a motorbike road trip with my little brother, calling in on wineries along the way, one bottle I kept and opened twenty years later- it was crap. It was also the weekend that Australia II won the America’s Cup. A year later we were in Perth for about twelve months, working with the pommy mob, and then relocated back to Adelaide, where upon the fly in fly out of the desert worked well for me and my nearly wife, and having now bought a little hatchback, getting into windsurfing- two weeks in the desert, two weeks on the beach.
This oilfield or oilpatch career kicked on for nearly seventeen years, with my girlfriend along for the ride, she leaving a teaching course in the dust. There was lots of travelling and meeting all sorts of people, Australia wide, the North Sea, The Philippines, New Zealand, and offshore Hong Kong. Halfway through the service company career, I even met up again with the gold mining student in SE Queensland one trip- her hubby was the pusher, she was a campy, and their kids were not ready for kinder yet. Unusual meet up, my wife was surprised but delighted too. Tarnia and were engaged before going on the year long Scottish trip, and we managed a few touristy things while living in Aberdeen. In 1990, Italian touristy things are shut on Sundays to our dismay. Ireland is very like western Victoria! From geologist to technical engineer, to directional tool operator, training twice at Fort Worth USA.
Just after buying the love of my life a house two years previously, a forced break from the patch on a industry down turn for a year.
Took some formal forklift driving lessons. Nil job outcome. Became Windsurfing Instructor for a few summer months, turning an outdoor water sports passion into a job, nearly went the whole hog to build a business- the insurances and governmental red tape turned me right off.. Then did a supermarket shelf stacking and vegetable and fruit stacking stint to try to cover between possible oil patch jobs which recovered soon enough.
Back to the oilpatch as an MWD engineer, and immediately lost my wife in a car accident, ended up doing two years in the field including a six week course in England with in-laws living in doing the child minding for me. After my mother-in-law passed on, I left the patch and minded the two boys, nine and six and the two year old twin girls for the next ten years. I got some work as a vineyard labourer and winemaking assistant. Three years of delivery driving part time with a second hand Mercedes van.
Out of the blue again, I was notified of a week long job up the Latrobe Valley as a wellsite geologist for a out of state firm, grabbed it with both hands, the no work in the field did not matter to John Watts- just get into it! Utilised the delivery van as a field office, getting a new smart phone and a laptop. Bench table as a desk and an office chair. Sweet
Following that some other local firm needed someone on a short term coring project, just up the valley, which in the end extended longer, and on a better day rate than the delivery service too!
Things were looking up, another old contact said I could join him as the night wellsite geologist up in my the old stomping grounds of the Moomba gas and oil fields- learnt a harsh lesson on stratigraphy there.
My wife’s sister said she would mind the girls for me, she is worth her weight in gold, both her sister and mother would be very proud of her. Another cold call shortly afterwards got me two more consulting jobs, at a better day rate. Karma. The two South Australia and Queensland outback jobs paid well.
Then a four month campaign over winter took me to the Northern Territory which was good training too- caught up a lot after missing ten years in the field.
The last career move was to work for a large company out west, fly in fly out again for up to three weeks, taking me offshore Western Australia and a short stint offshore Myanmar (Burma). And again I met up and worked with the student gold mining geologist- now Amanda was a wellsite geologist too, and a seven continent marathon runner. Life is weird.
The last five years were good, got on top of things, sorted the kids out, then another down turn in the patch. At the moment, looking for anything. For a year. Something has to give soon.
YHA hostel night attendant
Meatworks packer and cleaner
Pore pressure analyst
Directional drilling tools engineer