Mike's photo adventure weblog

Mike's photo adventure weblog: September 2008

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Cosmos and Prospero

The night before my first day of work, a group of ladies at my hotel waited 45 minutes for taxis which never came, and ended up walking to the club. Taxis in Perth are notoriously bad, so I aimed to be extra early to the airport. My cabby arrived on time (whoa!), and turned out to be a Somalian New Zealander with a fantastic African-Kiwi accent. We discussed foreign policy and politics, and later he 'accidentally' missed our turnoff and ran the bill up an extra $5. I have a knack for getting drivers like this no matter where I am. (see China updates in the archives here)

My buddy Dave Medilek, well known in Canada as 'D-Med' told me a story about his first day at his mine. They asked him if he had a nickname, and he told them "Sure, everyone back home calls me D-Med".
"D-Med? No way that'll ever stick. You're 'Horse' now."
And proceeded to introduce him around the mine as 'Horse'. People ask where his name came from, but I don't think anyone knows.

So I rocked up bright-eyed to my office after the flight 600km into the outback north of Leinster (latitude 27°36'04"S and longitude 120°34'28"E if anyone's really curious) and was introduced to my new coworkers. A few minutes later, 'Tortoise' showed me to the notice board on the wall where I found a full A4 sized portrait of myself (that I had sent to the office weeks earlier to help identify me in the airport.) On the portrait was written 'Seal Pup'.

So now I have a nickname. Why 'Seal Pup'? Yeah, I asked too. Apparently Canadians are famous for being a nation of seal-clubbers.

I had forgotten how much joking and pranking goes on at mines, and Australia tops them all. Australians love to "take the piss" (which means "make fun"). Each mine I've worked at is more isolated than the previous one, which means each one has a tighter knit group of people. When you spend this much time this far away from everything, your coworkers have to become like family. When you work for 13 hours a day, 14 days straight, it can't feel like 'work' or everyone would burn out. After only a few days here I'm loving the camaraderie of this group. Smurf, Turtle, his brother Tortoise, Hatchie, Yarpi.... and plenty more. Slovaks, Brits, Zimbos, Afrikaaners, Canadians, Aussies, there's a real international team and everyone works very well together -- but not with geologists, naturally.

After my upcoming 6 month stint underground running equipment and fixing vent bags (I'll be seconded to the contractor), I'll be joining this eclectic team of laid-back and hilarious engineers for some technical experience, and I can't wait. It's amazing how young the mining work force in Australia is. For instance in my Canadian underground mine the average miner was 45+ years old, whereas here its low 30s. The average engineer in Canada was pushing 40, but here its low 30s.

Yesterday when a wallaby casually hopped in front of me on the path outside my room, I had one of those realization flashes: "My goodness I'm in Australia!". I love those moments.

For more photos check out my website (click the thumbnail above!) and select either the "Around Perth" or "Around the Mine" sets.

Cheers mates,


P.S. The subject refers to the two major orebodies of my mine, each with their own ramp access and engineering team. The ramps are called Ilias and Helene. Can you tell that the original President was Greek?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Quokkas and Kangaroos

G'day mates,

After a grueling 25 hours of first-class flights I have arrived at the antipode. My new home: Perth. I am struggling to find a decent place to live so I'm being patient and hoping that at work I meet some people that know people.

*mental ventilation warning*: The city itself is urban-planning train wreck -- they wanted to keep a 'small-town' feel to a Vancouver-sized city. Even the densest part of the city is scarcely different than Etobicoke. They built a freeway along the beautiful downtown waterfront, stranding it from the city. And there's huge empty grassy spaces like Calgary (but not as useless as Calgary's). Then they built a large unwelcoming and terminal-like convention center on the water (well, separated by a band of highway) which even horrifies the locals. The design of the bunker of a convention center, and its placement off the nearby waterfront, completely ignores the vista of a beautiful shore. Business hours are restricted, so few things are open beyond 5pm. Tonight (Sunday) I walked downtown at 6:30PM and it was unreal: You would have guessed the time to be 3:30AM. People claim they're "trying to model their city after Vancouver". They're not trying very hard. *ventilation complete*

Things sound a bit downer, but its not bad (I just like to really rant once I start). I've met some friendly and interesting people already. The downtown area of Perth has free busses all the time, and plenty of them. There are so many places to run, walk, bicycle, volleyball, swim, surf, kayak, and all that inside the city! Then there's the surrounding areas, virtually untouristed places due only to this being the most isolated city in the world. And the upcoming summer to look forward to. But maybe best of all, Perthians walk incredibly fast. You can't realize how much I appreciate this as a fast-walker. While walking at full tilt today, somebody actually passed me.

Anecdote time: While walking downtown on my first day here I saw a woman carrying a large disc resembling some sort of medical equipment. Asking what it was, I found out it's a component from her metal detector. Why is she carrying it around downtown Perth you ask (and I did)? Why, to exchange it at the local metal detector shop for a much larger and more expensive one, of course! And why would she want to do that?
She opened her camera-phone and showed me a picture taken from up north (near a thriving cosmopolitan town called Tom Price) the previous day -- of a three ounce gold nugget she found in the outback. (That's a $2500 rock). Needless to say she was ready for a larger metal detector. Finding gold nuggets laying around -- this is how big and empty WA is.

Random fact time: Did you know that Perth contains 75% of the entire state's population (1.5 of 2 million)? Consider that the state of Western Australia would be the 10th largest country in the world alone, and is twice the size of Western Europe.

Keep up to date on random photos and iPhone camera captured observations from around the city and the mine, by clicking the thumbnail above!

Your friend,

P.S. I haven't seen any quokkas, or kangaroos yet. So the subject may have been misleading, I admit. I'll keep you posted.