By Elizabeth Davies
Australia has long been thought of as the promised land, where jobs are plentiful and pay packets fat. For a number of young Kiwis the Australian mines are seen as an express pass to a brighter future, where hard work is met with high pay. However while the rewards may be large, so are the sacrifices.
Earlier in August I read of the death of a 26-year-old Kiwi electrician named Kurt Williams who was killed whilst working on machinery in a Western Australian mine. The story hit incredibly close to home.
A number of years ago my partner Mike moved to Australia and began working in the WA mines. Our relationship has been characterised by long absences as he spends his summers thousands of miles away.
Kurt Williams, was around the same age as Mike, he came from the same background and profession and was in the same place doing the same thing. They even shared some mutual friends.
Like thousands of young Kiwi men before him Kurt was drawn to the huge earning potential that is the Australian mining experience, hoping to earn some money and set himself up for the future.
Kiwis can earn over $100,000 working in the mines. They’re highly paid because the job has a number of draw backs. You’re stuck working long hours in the middle of a desert in 40 degree heat. You’re separated from your family, friends and partners and as Kurt William’s death tragically demonstrates, the work can be dangerous.
While Mike doesn’t regret his experiences in the mines for a second he says it’s hardly a healthy environment. During his time in WA he watched people go stir crazy, suffer from depression and substance abuse. He witnessed marriages fall apart, and men fall apart. Suicides were not openly discussed but certainly occurred.
Workers are often told to perform tasks they consider dangerous and it takes both time and confidence to be able to say no to your superiors. Concerns have previously been raised about the safety practices of Kurt William’s employer, perhaps he was not experienced enough to say no to a task he should not have been asked to do.
When people tell me they are running off to the mines, my first instinct is to ask if they are sure. I understand the logic, the temptation, the opportunity, it all makes perfect sense.
I know how much they will be paid, but have they thought about what it will cost?
It’s not the hard work that’s the issue. It’s the environment of total isolation that puts strain on people in unexpected ways. It is a life characterised by danger, boredom and solitude where a man can get rich, or pay the ultimate price, his life.
*Elizabeth Davies is a 23 year old post graduate journalism student at Auckland University of Technology. She lives with her partner in Epsom and spends her free time refurbishing vintage furniture and attempting to bake while fighting a daily battle against her bank balance. She writes a weekly article for interest.co.nz on money matters and financial struggles from a young person's perspective.