Halfway through my Honours, I had rewarded myself for completing my undergraduate degree by booking a tropical holiday to stay with family friends in Broome, Western Australia. It was while I was sitting on the back veranda sipping a drink I decided it would be nice to live in the tropics, and I’d be open to getting a job in mining so I could tick off my dream of buying my own house.
By the end of my degree, I was well and truly acquainted with my passion for sustainability but wanted inside knowledge into mining, rather than pointing my finger from the outside. I like to get educated via experience, not theory. The next day I had a call from a friend asking if I’d be interested in a job opportunity in the Oil and Gas Industry based in Darwin.
Within a week of returning from my holiday, my 2 dogs and I had relocated our life to Darwin. As soon as I stepped off the plane and smelt the air I instantly fell in love with my new life. I was 26 at the time.
I scored a job as an Industrial Hygienist (also known as an Occupational Hygienist), or what I like to refer to as a Health Specialist, which sits within the Health, Safety and Environmental sector of mining. It was for a maternity leave contract, in a high level specialist field, and I was completely out of my depth. I had previously done some vacation work with an alumina refinery during a uni break in the Oc Hygiene field, as a Technician, but in my new job I was the ‘go to’ Hygienist.
If there’s one thing that has been a common theme in my life, it’s my dedication, doing things that scare the shit out of me and pushing through my own personal barriers. I’m continually seeking growth and am content to take the fastest route, which definitely doesn’t equate to the easiest.
I ended up staying in my Hygienist role for a little under 3 years. The maternity contract turned into a full time position and slowly but surely my confidence and knowledge for the role grew. Although my office was based in Darwin city, I regularly visited our 2 offshore facilities & our onshore gas liquefaction site. It was a great job. I loved learning, experiencing the oil and gas industry from the inside, meeting incredible people, buying my own house, being financially secure and advancing my professional career.
A key part of my job was to perform risk assessments on different health stressors that can affect workers. This ranged from physical, chemical, biological & psychosocial. I also had to perform an analysis of any chemical anyone wanted to bring onto site within the Australian Business Unit. I assessed countless Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for a whole range of chemicals during this time and developed control strategies for any products that ranked potentially hazardous to health.
I learnt a lot during my time working as an Industrial Hygienist and my awareness grew greatly to piece together what it means, from a health and environmental perspective, to live our western lives of luxury.
One of the greatest take aways from working offshore was the reality of dreaming big. It used to blow me away that it was just a thought once to extract oil from the ground, especially from the middle of the ocean. I mean, can you even imagine how crazy it must have been for the first person to suggest such an idea?… ‘How bout we go into the middle of the ocean, build a steel city on top of the water, and then drill kilometres under the ocean floor to extract oil and gas’. Surely they were laughed out of town. That is, until it became reality. And if that can be ‘just an idea’ once, that means anything we can dream up, can also become reality.
I remember it was during a stint offshore, having the above thought, that I was looking out at the ocean and started questioning what my passion and purpose was in life. I had bought a house in Darwin and was converting my backyard into a permaculture playground. I had more money than I could poke a stick at (at least compared to my uni days). I loved aspects of my job but didn’t feel like it was my passion or completely fulfilled me. And I started to question, what would people say at my funeral should I die young… ‘She paid her mortgage on time every month and turned up to work each day’? I wanted more. I was 29 and having a quarter life crisis. I wanted to LIVE and be known as someone who followed her dreams without regret.
I knew I wanted to travel, but also wanted a common theme driving my adventures, I also knew travelling Australia was my only option as I wasn’t prepared to part from my best friend and companion since I was 18 – my beautiful dog, Rusty. I waited for a sign.
I’d always been an animal lover and had all sorts of furred, wooled, scaled and feathered friends as part of my family over the years. I always had a dream of travelling Australia via horse back, but knew this was not practical due to Australia’s dry desert areas.
I worked closely with the Environmental Scientist at work and he had a similar interest in alternative living. He’d recently quit his job and he and his family were relocating to another part of Australia. Intuitively he brought in the book ‘Tracks’ as a parting gift for me. I read it straight away and was again enamoured by Robyn Davidson’s adventures of travelling Australia with Camels.
It all made so much sense to me! I’d been questioning what I’d do if I was to leave my oil and gas job in pursuit of my sustainability passion. What was a sustainable form of transportation that didn’t rely on oil and gas?
Camels, of course, became my solution.
**Photo: Me working offshore in the middle of the Timor Sea