Hailing from the UK, Paul had yet to hear of the term ‘FIFO’ (Fly-in, Fly-out).
Intrigued, he embarked on the journey to our shores. Paul joined Liberty Industrial as a Project Manager, responsible for delivering the demolition, disposal, recycling, and rehabilitation work at the former Ellendale Diamond Mine, a very significant project for the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) and at Grasstree Mine, a major demolition project for Anglo American.
We sat down with Paul to hear about how he is adapting to life in Australia, what it’s like working remotely and what advice he has for those thinking of making the leap to Australia or embarking on FIFO life.
1. Before arriving on our shores, what was your experience working in the UK?
I started my career in the Dismantling & Relocating industry, mainly focused on heavy process and commercial machinery and equipment within heavy industrial environments. Naturally, this progressed to larger projects involving the explosive demolition of power stations and production facilities right through the dismantling of oil refineries and chemical and production facilities that were later shipped across Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Whilst working in the UK, I have had the privilege to work with some of the best demolition engineers in the world and have learnt a lot. I have been involved in many projects with many unique and complex challenges that have kept me on my toes. I have worked in all sorts of live facilities, conducted crane lifts in the middle of the night due to favourable tidal winds, and even moved heavy refinery equipment (that exceeded road weight and height limits) from a site, then to a small beach to allow it to be barged across an estuary and finally received at a port.
2. What made you decide to make a move to Australia?
To be honest, it was a little out of the blue! I took it as an opportunity to experience something different and gain further knowledge within different industry sectors.
3. What have been the highlights, challenges, and opportunities of working in Australia thus far?
The highlight is simply being in this country and part of an organisation of this size. I love that I get to be a part of a company that is an industry leader within Australia but is also seeing great international growth.
Challenges? I love a challenge, and I am not one to give up easily. Arriving in Australia and ending up in the Kimberley within the first few weeks were tough on the body, but I got used to it quickly. What did shock me was the sheer size of the country and the distances required to travel to get to projects. Coming from the UK, I must admit, I had never heard of the term Fly-in, Fly-out (FIFO), but I have completely embraced it, and I am used to it now. It’s a way of life.
4. You were the Project Manager of our now-completed Ellendale Diamond Mine Closure project, located 140km from the township of Derby in the very remote region of the Bunuba Native Title Lands in Western Australia. How have you found your experience so far?
The Ellendale site is remote, and it’s around one and a half hours into the town of Derby. The landscape and surroundings are just beautiful. You wake up and sleep with the most stunning sunrises and sunsets. Also, being woken up by cockatoos, not the alarm, is surreal!
I have a fantastic project team working with me, everyone has their part to play in the project, and they do it well. Both my Project Engineer, Sean Zhou and Site Supervisor, Lee Whale, have been a great help in integrating me into the company and assisting with my transition to working in Australia.
The camp lifestyle is certainly new to me and very different from how this type of project would be set up in the UK. However, there are very limited options when we are as remote as we are. The team gets on well and bounces off each other, and it’s very much a group of men and women who look out (and after) each other.
5. The Ellendale Diamond Mine closure project is the first as part of the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) Mine Abandonment program. Can you explain what it has been like to manage this very significant project, and what are your aspirations for the project and team?
I was aware of the project’s significance for DMIRS and that it was the first of its type in Western Australia. I feel very privileged to have just landed in Australia and been responsible for managing this project with the team – it has been a great experience.
Working with the team at DMIRS has been effortless, and their support on this project has been second to none. At the end of the day, we all are working towards a common goal of successfully delivering this project in the safest way possible. It would be great to get to the end of this project and be able to say, “See you at the next one!”
Ellendale Diamond Mine Deconstruction Project. The scope of works involved the deconstruction and demolition of all non-mining and mining infrastructure, including conveyors, diamond processing areas and sorting shed and dump hoppers, alongside site-wide rehabilitation.
6. What are the team dynamics like working on such a remote site?
Well, that’s a good question. We have the loud ones, the quiet ones, the shy ones (me) and the outgoing ones (also me), and somehow everyone gets along just great. Having been on location for several months now with the same group of people, you understand who may need a boost, an arm around the shoulder or perhaps a little quiet time.
The team knows my door is always open, and I’m happy to chat about anything, work-related or not. There is very little that can’t be resolved if shared.
7. You’ve recently wrapped things up at the Ellendale Diamond Mine Closure project in Western Australia, and now you’re getting started with the Grasstree Mine Demolition project in Queensland. Since both are located in two different Australian states, how are you finding your experiences at Grasstree Mine compared to Ellendale Mine?
Yeah, I have literally gone from one side of the country to the other. The only difference I find is the travelling time required to get to the site from home, which is Perth. The Grasstree site is a slightly smaller project than Ellendale, but this has different challenges than Ellendale produced.
The living arrangements are better at Middlemount, but joking aside, I am looking forward to the project’s technical aspects, which will require some quite complex crane lifts in and around other stakeholders’ live services.
These are the type of challenges that I enjoy, and having another good team to work with, Mathew Clenton as senior site supervisor and Jay Robinson as site supervisor, along with the project engineers and the guys on the ground, I am confident with achieving another successful outcome on schedule, on budget and with zero safety incidents.
8. Those two projects are both mining sites that our Liberty project team were assigned to demolish. Were there any similarities or differences between the two projects for the key challenges you and your project team faced during the dismantling, demolition and safe disposal of materials on-site at Ellendale and Grasstree?
The Ellendale project was a former diamond mine site that had been closed for several years, and due to the remote location of the site, its security took a lot of work. As a result, when we mobilised, the site had been subject to multiple break-ins and theft, which left the area in quite a disrupted state.
That said, our project team went to work with planning the demolition works methodically utilising Liberty’s extensive plant and equipment, including the 120 tonne machine, which was utilised to dismantle the main ROM in the E9 area. Most of the project was performed with excavators and specialist attachments, which were used to dismantle equipment and process the waste so that it could go back into the recycling streams.
However, Grasstree is a project carried out within a working mine site, providing its complexities, difficulties and strategies for our demolition works.
Integration between all stakeholders is vital to ensure that the necessary information is communicated promptly to allow the work to be carried out safely and systematically.
The project also has some complex crane lifts to be carried out within areas of live services. This is a challenging aspect of the project for the team, but one that everyone is looking forward to completing successfully.
9. What are the significant differences you have noticed between the demolition industry in the UK and Australia?
That is a good question. So far, there isn’t a huge difference. These are the first mine projects I have had the opportunity to work on, but the process of carrying out the works safely is the same. It is an international language regarding considerations, techniques, and the thought process to do the job according to zero-harm principles.
10. What about the things you have noticed between the people, culture and lifestyle in Australia compared to your hometown in the UK? Have you noticed any similarities or differences?
I came from a small town in the midlands of the UK where the lifestyle wasn’t as hectic as that of Manchester, where I grew up initially.
The main difference I find here is the climate is so much better along with the standard of living, which means outdoor living. So much more time can be spent in the open, walking by the river and through the parks in Perth, a beautiful city with so many hidden gems.
The people here are great and friendly. I have been to quite a few England v Australia sporting events, Cricket, Rugby etc., whilst I have been in Perth; the atmosphere is great.
11. Do you have any tips, tricks, or recommendations for anyone considering moving to Australia? Or for anyone contemplating FIFO work?
My advice is that if the time is right for you, go for it! Come to Australia with an attitude to embrace everything the country offers. Be prepared to put in as much effort as possible because one thing is guaranteed, and you will get it back double. It fits with me just fine despite not knowing what ‘FIFO’ was before getting here. It’s all part of the job.