Well, that’s relative. Turned out that I went into the office earlyish of day one and was immediately suckered into agreeing to drive transfers that afternoon. Other guides had warned me about that and given the tip of having a breakfast beer or two so that you can legitimately claim that you aren’t able to drive: sadly, I didn’t have that amount of foresight. But I might in the future!
Day before a tour isn’t work free, either: you are expected to load up your truck/bus with your own personal gear and you don’t get paid for that time. Company claims that you can do it the morning of, but there really isn’t enough time then as you have to be loading food and drink/checking vehicle systems/filling out paperwork. I already get up at 3 am for a 4 am yard start and 4.45 pickups and the yard isn’t open before 4, anyway.
Keeping up with my blog is harder than I thought it would be. I realise that my writing is not what it should be but, honestly, this job takes so much from me.There may come a time when I am so on top of it that I don’t work so hard but quite frankly I cant imagine it. I am nearly ten years older than the last time I did this sort of thing and the last time was the soft option (even though I didn’t think that at the time!), with things organised and run for me at end of day: still tiring but not my sole responsibility, like now.
My body doesn’t like the work, either. There is a lot of clambering in and out of cramped small spaces with sharp protrusions and corners (trailers) and climbing up high (roofs of trailers to pile wood up onto and huge trucks that I am too short to step up into easily and have to jump down from). I also carry a huge amount of weight on walks – sat phone, first aid kit, snacks for the group and a great deal of water – I estimate that my pack easily weighs 20 kilos.
Injuries I receive on a daily basis include numerous bruises from being bumped against things; splinters and cuts from sharp mulga wood (they fester if not treated promptly); burns from cooking over a wood fire and bumps on the head from trying to get things out of trailers in the dark. In the time that I’ve done this job, I have also managed to tear my brachialis muscle so badly that it has injured the nerves in the finger, cut my head open and work one entire trip running a fever from a bad cold. Needless to say, I deliberately didn’t tell about any of those things; I need to work and they need me to work and I don’t need to be stigmatized as the person who also gets injured constantly. I am the oldest guide here and I don’t want people to think of me as old so I don’t complain.
There’s also the very pertinent fact that if I don’t work, then I don’t get paid. I have visited the doctor twice, and the ER once, since I’ve been here and, each time, I’ve been told to take time off work for my injury/illness to improve. Each time, I stress that I cannot do that and when I am told that some things are more important than money, I respond that that philosophy is all very well but my landlord doesn’t accept vague Buddhist exhortations in place of cold, hard cash.
So, a safe and healthy ideal isn’t really a cornerstone of working in the Northern Territory outback. Busy trumps safe every time; this last trip I hit a new busyness record when I realised my pants zipper was down five times but I only had the spare ten seconds to pull it up on the sixth time of noticing!
Out again tomorrow for four days, back for one and then out for five. I get back on the evening of Territory Day, which is the one day on which it is legal to purchase and light fireworks – I have made arrangements for somebody to buy me some as I have a yearning to blow things up. All the media has been running hot for weeks with exhortations to the public to be safe and not set things on fire and not injure themselves: using fireworks in a responsible manner is the message. And, just like every year, apparently the fire department will spend the whole day rushing from fire to fire and the hospital queue will be immense as people trail in with severe burns and dangling bits of fingers, everybody having ignored public safety in favour of massive bangs.
This Northern Territory regional attitude is endlessly amusing. People mostly seem to do whatever they want and regard rules and laws as suggestions upon which they can make up their own minds to act if they fit in. They also have slightly different ways of doing things, which make me pause and say ‘WTF?’
Yesterday I was listening to the news and I heard of a political protest against fracking, staged outside the minister’s office. I was mildly concerned that there was enough unrest to have demonstrations and then I found that the actual form of the demonstration involved a knit-in: grannies sitting on the pavement and knitting to express their frustrations against underground gas extraction! The minister was rather underwhelmed, I believe.