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.



10 thoughts on “From the Great Red North

  1. Tim, your geology jokes are just as awful and corny as I remember. I haven’t had time to sit and read one of your posts in a while so I forgot how enjoyable they are! Update on myself: As you are gearing up to re-start a career with Rio Tinto I just resigned from mine (and so did Court!). Not sure what the next step is yet but will surely keep you posted! Hope Kathryn and Eden are adjusting well to the new place and the heat and the FIFO!

    • Wow, that’s crazy! I hope you have something exciting in mind. And something warm perhaps… it takes a long time to thaw the Labrador out of you, but Australia seems to be doing the job for me.

      I’m sure IOC’s sad to lose you, but wherever you’ll go, if they have any good judgement, they’ll be happy to receive you and “Court”, who I’m assuming is your girlfriend. Let me know if you end up in Perth, because Kathryn and I would love to see you!

  2. Hey Tim, Great to hear from you…awesome pictures and very interesting dialogue…from the new series ‘A Day in the Life of a Geologist’ :). We are both very proud of you, for so many reasons. Drink lots of water and stay safe! Had a nice chat with Kathryn & Eden on the weekend. Only two more sleeps before you get to hug your beautiful girls :). Love you! Mom & Dad xoxo

  3. So glad to hear that you don’t mind the heat because there is a lot of it there! 🙂 The scenery is really quite beautiful and yes the snappy tree is very interesting! God is good!
    Enjoy the time with your family!

  4. I’m just warn you right now: there’s gonna be a lot of exclamation points in this comment because I absolutely love this. Such an interesting read and so well written! A Kangaroo? A dingo?! FUN! 😀

    That snappy gum tree is super neat. I’ve never seen anything like it! I’m surprised to read how hot it is there. I mean, I know it’s hot in the southern hemisphere this time of year, but didn’t realize HOW hot (comparatively, Fredericton was -22 today). Can’t believe you felt fine despite being critically dehydrated! At least being out in the field beats suffering through all that boring training though. It looks so beautiful there!

    Happy to read how part of you loves being a geologist. Trade you a wheat for an ore?

  5. The pictures are amazing. I would never have pictured it being so lush and beautiful there. I had a desert like place imagined. I am glad you are enjoying your work and that it keeps you busy enough to pass your days away from home. We miss you guys lots and are praying for you often. Crazy about the dehydration! I wouldn’t make it I don’t think. I have trouble getting in the 2 litres a day that I have too these days I cant imagine having to drink so much water!!
    While Calgary has not been as warm as where you are, it hasn’t been too bad either, other than today it has not dipped below +5 in weeks and has been sunny and beautiful most days. I am loving such a mild winter and not missing the snow near as much as I thought!!
    Anyway, take care of yourself and talk soon!!

  6. Very cool…I see I am not the only one who likes taking pictures of trees while traveling.. hehe…kind of laughed out loud (yes, a real lol) at your “well I was bloated, but at least I didn’t die..”. Glad you’re having fun over there.. and that your first trip away from home was not too bad. On my Florida trip they mentioned…the only place where venomous snakes outnumber non-venomous snakes is Australia so…be safe!
    Love ya!

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