“YOU feel like an intruder in your own home. It’s horrible.”
That’s how Jason Sammon feels when he returns home after his four-day stint at a Blackwater mine site.
“I’m a visitor in my own home. She’s raising the kids by herself, and you intrude on their life,” he said, referring to his wife of almost 14 years raising their four children aged between 18 months and 16 years.
Jason’s story tells an all-too-familiar tale of mining families feeling the constant pressure of distance and absence while working away.
It is a reality that Mining Family Matters co-founder Alicia Ranford also faced when rearing her two children virtually alone while her husband joined the growing FIFO workforce in mines around the nation.
Her plight is the inspiration behind the launch of a new booklet, The Survival Guide for Mining Families, which offers intimate relationship advice and parenting tips, among other common information, for households who frequently deal with FIFO workers.
“I’ve moved six times in the past 12 years, raised two young children while their dad has worked a FIFO roster and seen many marriages crumble under the strain of living apart,” Ms Ranford said.
“Our daughter was struggling to cope with Dad being away and when I went looking for information about how to cope with it, I realised there wasn’t much.
“There was no support networks for those families, and that’s the platform from which Mining Family Matters was launched.”
With more than 32,000 website hits and countless forum submissions, the site has been a resounding success and proved that Ms Ranford’s situation was not unique.
“The response has been overwhelming, and I knew that if I had problems, I wasn’t the only one,” she said.
The book offers an alternative to massive life changes, such as uprooting the family unit from an established community and “starting over” in another town.
“Mining communities are great, and it is great to be a part of the community,” Ms Ranford said.
“But I think there are pros and cons of both being a FIFO family and living in the town.
“My husband has worked in remote communities and I’ve lived there, and loved it, but equally, I had no family support unit and I found it hard to build up that network.
“In the end, we chose to do a FIFO so I and the kids could be near my family and he could still work in his job.”
A pertinent tip for partners remaining at home, Ms Ranford said, was taking the plunge and joining social groups you normally wouldn’t give a second thought to.
She recalled joining a sewing and quilting club to meet people while living in Charters Towers some years ago, and although she remains a terrible quilter, Ms Ranford became confident that mining communities weren’t isolation chambers for mine worker wives and partners.
Getting out there and becoming involved helped, but nothing could replace close-knit family support.
“I totally appreciate small towns wanting the community resources to come with the workers, and there are the positives of that, but the reality is that FIFO workers are a way forward for mine employment,” she said.
“All relationships have their ups and downs, but the stresses are heightened when one partner works away or you’re a long distance from your closest family and friends – this guide offers really practical ideas for relieving those pressures.”
TIPS FOR SURVING FIFO
House rules for a happy home: Write down a realistic list of jobs that need doing that you agree on – this will reduce arguments and nagging.
Sharing time and avoiding conflict: Talk about The Problem as a symptom of the lifestyle, rather than the relationship.
Are you making excuses about sex?: ‘I’m too tired’ can be code for ‘I don’t want to be close to you, only to lose that feeling again’ – find ways to feel connected when apart.
Does mum always know best?: Talk about parenting styles and agree on basic issues such as expectations and discipline.
FIFO dads and discipline: Create a list of family rules and involve the kids, write them up and pin them on the fridge. Remember the golden rule – they apply all the time, whether home or not.
Mining mums working away: FIFO mothers also face the judgments of other people so remain clear about why you chose mining as a career and a FIFO/DIDO as a lifestyle – choose to see the positives.
Relocating tips for happy travels: Have family discussions, explain where and why you are moving, and show them pictures and maps of your new town – give them as much information about the new area as possible.