Family Photos

We had some beautiful family photos taken a few weeks ago by TinyFeet Photography so we thought we would share a few for your viewing pleasure. Let us know if you would like us to email a digital copy to you for printing.

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Auntie Heather has been taking lots of photos too so we’ll probably share some of those with you at some point.


What I do in the Pilbara

Hi everyone,

It’s been close to 4 months since we moved to Australia, and I suppose many of you are wondering what it is exactly that I do here.  Why does Rio Tinto send me out into the middle of nowhere anyway?

It may not be as exciting as discovering a gold vein – I constantly get asked if I’ve found gold when people learn that I’m a geologist…. even when I’ve told them I work for Rio Tinto Iron Ore, or the Iron Ore Company of Canada… – but I’m up here helping assess the extent and quality of the company’s big prospects.  I’m on one particular project at the moment, but I’m not sure if I’m supposed to say exactly where or what the name is (it may be fine to disclose, but I’ll keep it very general just in case it isn’t).  Me and a dozen or so other geologists spend most of our days here logging rock chips that the drillers bring up for us.

Typical logging set-up, on the back of the ute (pronounced 'yoot', as in utility vehicle); featuring a fellow Canadian geo!

Back at IOC, we pretty much always did diamond (core) drilling, which consists of removing a tube of rock from the earth, by driving rods with a diamond-studded bit through them and capturing the sample within an inner tube, which the driller retracts to the surface using a cable.  Rods come in 3 metre lengths usually, and by breaking the string of rods at the surface (that is, unthreading it), you can add another one on, and keep doing that until you’ve reached up to several hundred metres depth.  The more powerful the rig, the deeper you can go, but for open pit mining purposes there’s never really any reason to go deeper than a few hundred metres.

An RC rig, set up and drilling

RC (reverse circulation) drilling is similar, but instead of returning core, the bit at the end of the drill string pulverises the rock, then the driller uses compressed air to drive the sample back up through the inside of the rod string (a continuous inner tube).  The hammer (bit) is driven up and down using pistons (also powered by compressed air) to crush the rock, so instead of logging nice, clean core, you get a pile of dirt.  To the untrained eye, each pile pretty much looks the same!

That picture above makes it pretty clear where the actual rods are.  To the left of the driller, there’s a contraption from which dust is pouring forth; this is called the cyclone, and it’s from here that our samples issue.  They’re carried from the top of the drill string, through that long, winding tube that’s draped over a bracket, and then split into 3 parts by the cyclone.  2 parts are caught in bags and one in a bucket.  We log the stuff in the bucket, one of the bags goes to the lab to be assayed, and the other bag is retained as a backup in case things go awry (which, for the record, is pronounced “a rye”, not “aww ree”; trust me, it’s embarrassing when you make that mistake in public).

Here’s a close up of our typical logging set up:

Logging, close up

We like to place the ute (truck) at a point from which the drilling is visible, usually 10 or 15m away, and then we lay out all our tools.  The essentials are as follows:

Hammer and bash plate: to crush the chunks open and see what’s inside – this is the only way to really know what those piles of dirt consist of

Rubber mat: because it would be really annoying and loud to bash a metal plate with a metal hammer on a metal truck bed

Brush: to brush away the already-logged material between samples

Magnetic susceptibility metre (the yellow thing): read this article if you’re actually interested

Sieve: to sieve out the fine material from the coarse – we need to estimate “chip” percent (proportion of coarse material) as this provides an indication of material hardness/type

Water bucket: to help assess the composition of the fines, or to spill all over your pants and make it look like you peed (happened to me yesterday)

The last essential piece of equipment is the logging computer, which is a Panasonic Toughbook.  I’ve gotta say, I’m pretty impressed with these things; they really are tough!  Ours get absolutely filthy, but I just clean it using the same brush I use to clean my bash plate, and the back of the ute for that matter:

Data entry - Panasonic Toughbook!

You may be thinking that even with that hammer and bash plate to crush your chips with, it still seems like it would be awfully difficult to differentiate between material types.  Maybe this picture will change your mind:

A crushed sample - ahh, it's all becoming so clear now!

Yeah, so now you see where the ochreous hematite is, the vitreous goethite, the limonite, and maybe even the secondary silica if you’re sharp.  If you don’t quite see those yet, no worries mate, these skills are rarely needed in the day to day life of normal people (i.e. non-geologists).  But I’m disappointed in you, personally, just so you know.

All the dust, noise, and sun out here makes it necessary to cover up in many ways, so by the time you get all your gear on you generally look like this:

The full get-up

You tend to sweat a lot when it’s in the 40’s!

So this is where I’ll be hanging out and what I’ll be doing most of every day that I’m away from home.  Shifts go from 6am to 6pm, every day of the week, but depending on how the drilling’s going, you typically spend only 5 to 7 of those hours actually out in the sun.  Other time is spent back in the office preparing for the day, backing up data, sitting in the ute interpreting results, scarfing down food and water, drawing pictures (often work-related), and so on.  My favourite pencil crayons are the Crayola Kidz! ones.

When it’s time to kick back and relax, I head to my little room.  It’s actually a very nice camp, so I have nothing to complain about: air con in every room, your own bathroom with shower, a mini fridge, a TV, a phone with free long distance, and internet if you’re close enough to the main office (my room isn’t, but oh well!).

My home away from home

And every morning when I get up, at about 5am, I walk out to see the sun rising in the east.  It seems like every morning is beautiful here, even if it is sometimes already 30+ degrees at 5am.

Camp at sunrise

I hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into my living conditions while on the FIFO roster.  I look forward to hearing your comments, as always 🙂

Menu Plan Monday: February 13 – 20

Another week another menu. I think I’m getting back into my menu planning groove! It’s been wonderful having Tim back although he’s leaving again Wednesday morning (4am) so I have to be prepared. The good thing, or really the GREAT thing about this week is that my little sister Heather, is arriving Tuesday. Woohoo! She’s probably getting ready to leave Canada as I write this.  We’re so excited that she’s coming to help out for a few months with Eden and around the house as the new baby is going to be here soon. It will be great having family here, it’s just too bad her husband Ryan couldn’t join her.  So, I’m not dreading Tim’s departure as much this time, though I’m sure I’ll still miss him terribly. He’s had a great few days with Eden and it’s been nice to have that extra pair of hands around the house.

Our shipped goods are supposed to arrive Tuesday (here’s hoping), along with Heather, so it’s likely going to be a busy day but I’m so looking forward to their arrival. I just hope they’re not delayed again…

Anyway, here’s my meal plan for the week.  I’m not really sure what Heather’s into eating so I chose some pretty basic meals and I figured we can make the meal plan together next week! I always leave some room to be flexible as well as have essential pantry items handy for quick and easy meals if we just don’t feel like what’s planned.  If we end up eating a particularly unbalanced meal one day I try to make a loaded smoothie to go with it (lots of spinach, fruit and yogurt) for a little nutrition, Eden loves them so it’s great!

M: Turkey Chili topped Turkey Chili Burgers with potato salad

T: Leftover Turkey Chili on Brown Rice

W: Slow-cooker Beef Stew

T: Leftovers

F: Leftover Stewed Lentils (frozen from last week – they were a big hit) served with garlic bread

S: Leftovers, or Egg based dish, or eat out:)

S: Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken and Fried Rice (I found this one on Pinterest and it looks simple and delish)

M: Leftovers/grocery shopping day

I also want to make some banana bread this week and freeze some pizza dough to have on hand. I’m hoping to get all this done with Heather here although I have to remember to let her recover from Jet Lag! Hopefully Eden wont exhaust her too much:)

Check out this blog for more menu ideas. Because I’m a number of timezones ahead I can’t link to her actual Menu Plan Monday post until the following day, but if you go to the blog you should be able to find it.



Menu Plan Monday: February 6 – 13 and Whole Food Kitchen Kick-off

This week is the the beginning of a food transformation in our household. I signed up to take an online course with my sister Pamela that’s all about incorporating whole foods into your diet (rather than processed foods). For more information on the course check out Whole Food Kitchen. It’s been just over a 2 years now that we’ve really taken into consideration what we’ve been eating and started incorporating more “health foods” into our diet. We both grew up in pretty traditional households when it comes to food so we’ve been learning a lot and really taking it slowly. When I first started researching this kind of stuff I wanted to go to my cupboards and fridge and just purge everything that was processed in any way, but I knew that wasn’t practical. I’ll probably feel that way again as I get into this course but at least I have a bit more knowledge now and can properly cook dry beans!

Since moving to Australia we’ve been set back in our diet a lot because we were traveling for so long and because we were learning where to shop and what brands to buy all over again. It’s still a learning process but we’re getting there. We have also been without all of our kitchen stuff (mixing bowls, loaf pans…pretty much everything you can imagine) for months now. It’s suppose to arrive Tuesday (delayed again…if we get it before the baby arrives it will be a miracle).  I would really like to have the tools to work with to get back to eating well.

Another setback has been the pregnancy. Really it should be the greatest motivator to eat well but especially lately I’ve been so tired that it’s hard to think about food let alone preparing and cooking food in the heat. Last week went really well in terms of sticking to my meal plan and eating well. I really only had to cook a few meals because we had lots of leftovers with Tim gone. We were invited over for a couple of meals at friends houses so that was a wonderful break for me as well. Eden loved the homemade pizza – she ate everything on it including the zucchini and red pepper! She also loved the Pesto Fish with veggies and rice, she couldn’t get enough of it!

I actually only made the fish Monday night so that’s what we ate Tuesday as well. This week is a bit more complicated because Tim’s coming home tonight (woohoo!) and I’m sure the schedule that Eden and I have created over the past 10 days will be thrown out the window. I’m going to try my best though and also try and incorporate some of the information from the Whole Food Kitchen course. I gotta jump right in eh?

So here’s the plan:

M: Crock-Pot Pesto Fish, Brown Rice, and Frozen Veg

T: Leftovers

W: Spaghetti with loaded veggie tomato sauce

T: Pulled Pork (left over from the freezer) with some kind of veggie side

F: Stewed Lentils with Shallots, Tomato and Bacon (WFK recipe)

S: Leftovers (if there are any, if not probably some kind of egg based dish)

S: Asian Noodle Salad (another WFK recipe)

Happy eating this week, let me know if you try any new and inspiring recipes:)

***Oh a note about my yogurt, it did turn out, actually thicker than when I made it back in Canada which was nice. I now have A LOT of yogurt, we’ve been using it in smoothies (I pretty much always put spinach in my smoothies now…Eden loves them) but there’s still a lot left. If you have any recipes that use a lot of yogurt please pass them on, I would hate for it to go moldy.

***** Tim’s coming home tonight, should be here sometime between 9 and 10pm, so looking to spending some time with him and having some help around the house:) We survived the 10 days with him away. It was rough at first but we got into a groove and the past few days have been really smooth. I hope that next time he goes away we’ll be able to find our groove faster. Thanks for all of your prayers this week!

From the Great Red North

Hello from the Pilbara, just one of Australia’s many great outback areas.  The Hamersley Range, a group of red, rocky hills that occupies most of the Pilbara, is home to some of the world’s largest iron ore deposits.  That’s why I’m here, to help evaluate the extent and quality of these massive deposits.  Although they’re actually bedded.  But they’re also massive.  (Geology joke…kind of, carry on).

Before I get started, I wanted to mention that I’ve responded to a lot of your comments on my Crisis of Trust post, so if you didn’t get notified automatically, feel free to carry on with the discussion there.

Looking out across the Pilbara, with a bit of a haggard-looking tree in the foreground

I’ve been up here, away from Eden and Kathryn and the little-one-to-be, for a week now.  My first swing is 10 days long (including flights up and back), but my usual roster will be 8 days away, 6 days home, with one of those 6 being in the office in Perth (unless I worked a stat holiday while on my swing, in which case I get 6 days totally off).  It’s been pretty tough some days, especially for Kathryn, but overall I think we’re doing pretty well.  My first few days were spent in training and orientation, which was pretty brutal.  There are lots of liability issues when it comes to the mining and exploration industry, so that means the company puts you through WEEKS of training.  So many powerpoint presentations, online modules, and mind-numbing hours, but every now and then you do pick up a useful bit of knowledge or a handy tip.  The rest of the time, your primary challenge is staying awake and maintaining a keen appearance.

Drills started turning on Friday, so I’ve spent most of the last 3 days out on the rig, logging the results.  Most of the drilling Rio does here involves a method called Reverse Circulation (RC), which pulverizes the rock and returns it in chip/powder form (i.e. piles of dirt), and the pace is incredibly fast compared to diamond drilling.  Today we drilled just 4 metres short of 300 in about a 10 hour period.  This has to be logged (described in detail, for you non-geologists) in 2 metre intervals, so it’s a lot of intervals to cover in a day.  Back at IOC we always drilled core, and we’d often get less than 100 metres a day, even when our rigs were running 24 hours.  The pace of the logging here is crazy, often just a minute or two to describe each 2m interval in detail and record your interpretations in a computer – crazy, eh?!

Tim's Gorge... well, that's what I call it.

The Pilbara is a beautiful place.  Daytime highs are often in the high thirties to mid 40s ta this time of year, and when you’re standing out in the sun all day like we geologists do, you need to drink 8 to 10 litres a day to make up for all the sweating.  My first day out, the camp medic came around to do hydration tests and I ended up being “critically dehydrated”, even though I’d had at least 2 litres of water and it had only been a couple of hours.  I was so surprised, because I felt fine, but he made me stop work for a little while and drink heaps of water until I was peeing clear.  I was uncomfortable and felt bloated then, but at least I didn’t die.

When you get a bit of a break from drilling, it’s hard not to get lost staring into the majestic horizon in any direction.  To the north of where I’m working at is a vast, flat plain of salt marshes; to the south is the beginning of the Hamersley Range I referred to above.  The photo below was taken from up on the range, and looks roughly north east.  It provides a glimpse of both the plain and the hills (note the rusty red colour of the rocks beneath my feet, and showing through the flora everywhere):

Looking northeast: Fortescue Plain to the left (north), Hamersley Range to the right (south)

I have seen a few animals since coming up here, which is always fun.  A kangaroo was hanging out by the site access road the other morning, poised to jump, but luckily he didn’t get a chance before we’d passed.  A dingo also hangs out next to the access road and seems to be there just about every day when we’re returning from the rig.  The guy who’s teaching me to log RC chips and I have decided to call him the Littlest Hobo.  He’s a pretty mangy looking beast, with all his ribs poking through his reddish orange coat.

I’ve got to get some sleep now (12 hour day in the field + soccer game before dinner = sleeeepy), but I wanted to point out one last really interesting phenomenon.  The picture below is of a “snappy gum”, one of hundreds of varieties of eucalypti that dominate the australian tree scene.  I’m not sure if other eucalypts can do this, but this particular kind – which survives for hundreds of years in the desolate conditions of the Pilbara –  possesses the ability to actually to grow over dead parts of itself with new wood.  So when the older parts die, new wood kind of wraps around the old stuff like skin, and renews itself.  I find it so amazing!

Snappy Gum 1 - trunk view: dark wood is dead, light wood is live

Snappy Gum 2 - branches: dark wood is dead, light wood is live

Isn’t that so cool?

Being away from home is tough, it really is, but I have many things to be grateful for: the people here have been great to work with, the food in the camp is amazing, I have internet access and a phone to keep in touch with my girls, and the land itself has a truly captivating beauty.  And, to be honest, I’m loving the heat.  I bask in the sunshine (with lots of sunscreen on) and sweat with delight.  The flights buzz around me and literally drink the moisture from the corners of my eyes and my nostrils, but I mostly just tolerate them.  I’m absolutely filthy at the end of my shift, and it feels great.  There is a part of me that loves being a geologist…

I haven’t got access to facebook while I’m up here (blocked on the company network), so leave a comment here if you want me to see it, or email us.  I’m super busy and my priority phone/internet time is with Kathryn, but I like to stay connected and hear from all you, my friends and family around the world.

Until next time, stay warm and think of me when you see rusty metal or get dust in your eyes.  But don’t necessarily associate me with rust and dust, since both are generally unwanted substances… uhh… time to stop.