FIFO seen as way to keep best staff
Peter Kerr,The West AustralianOctober 19, 2012
When I was a kid growing up in the south-west of Western Australia there was a mining town just up the road. Even though it was already in decline and most of the fifteen hotels in the main street were long gone, it still frightened my mother.
She would say: “I don’t like all those men drinking in the hotels when they should be home looking after their families.”
That town has had more than one resurgence over the past twenty years but most of the workers have never lived there ─ they drive in and drive out. As a consequence, the town remains near death.
My family and I saw plenty of mining towns in the 50s and 60s. We had cousins all over Western Australia and often visited them. In the late 1950s I took a trip to the Goldfields with an uncle and auntie and the difference between my small, rural hamlet and the bustling aggression of Kalgoorlie and Norseman was palpable. In those days there was no FIFO but the towns were dominated by men and no visit to Kalgoorlie was ever complete without a drive through Hay Street’s famous line of brothels.
A recent Four Corners program (May 2, 2012) concentrated on one small town in Queensland’s Bowen Basin, Moranbah, population 53,000. The town suffers from a population explosion, with services designed for its original expected population of 23,000. Now it is burgeoning with an excess of single men, or married men on their own.
Over the last two years the Mackay-Moranbah regional crime statistics make startling reading: common assault up 7%, domestic violence order breaches up 26%, sexual offences up 16%, and rape and attempted rape up 96%.
Developers in Mooranbah are tearing down family homes and putting up units. Shops are closing. A town is dying, yet its population is exploding.
Mining towns have been dominated by men since the Roman Empire and before— and, like our ancestors, we continue to get it wrong.
When I was twelve my parents packed me off to boarding school in Perth. It was a family tradition ─ my father had gone, as had his father before him. My older brother was into his third year when I arrived for my first. Those five years were the first in almost a decade living with men, in shared accommodation, in boarding houses and single men’s quarters.
One thing remains clear to me about men ─ all too often they are not good at living on their own or in large single-sex groups. We know from many reports on the education sector in recent years that boys generally study better with girls in the classroom, yet we fail to plan our mining towns while understanding that men are better off with women in their homes and communities.
I lived in all-male shared-houses throughout rural Western Australia and worked for a year as a bank clerk in Papua New Guinea. Our lives in the men-only boarding houses were full of misogynistic banter, random sex with local women and the occasional brawl. After more than a decade living an all-male lifestyle, it took me three long-term relationships to recover from the damage done and to settle down and learn a number of necessary truths about the other gender.
In my first novel, Boy on a Wire, I have explored the impact an all-male community can have on pubescent boys. My second novel, To the Highlands, explores a male dominated expatriate community in all the horror of its misogynism, racism, and brutality. It is not surprising then that my early experiences would fill me with dread of a FIFO lifestyle.