The first alarm brings about a fresh day. I’m only half awake, so I reach across, snooze the alarm, turn my bed lamp on and close my eyes relaxed in my half-asleep half-awake state.
The second alarm calls. This time I don’t mess around. I’m up, dressed, lunch packed and heading for the bus always arriving with one minute to spare.
I’ve made it to the bus and am travelling for 35 minutes to the mine site. With limited reception, I have three options: snooze, read a book or appreciate the scenery. I admire the scenery and let my thoughts wander – it isn’t everyday you’re lucky enough to work in outback Northern Territory and see the landscape I see. It’s isolated, scarce and harsh, and yet I love it. There are flat plains as far as the eye can see. Above is a blue sky which contrasts against a land of earthy colours with purple-red soil, green spinifex, abundant wispy shrubs, the odd tree and termite mounds speckled all through.
I arrive at the Tanami Underground Operations. Today will be a busy day, but I’m looking forward to it. I log into my computer and scan my emails. I record survey data from the metres drilled during night shift into a spreadsheet and then view my drill holes using 3D software to ensure they haven’t deviated from design overnight. Thankfully there are no issues and I can continue my morning ritual.
I walk up to our core shed where there are trays and trays of drill core on the racks from the last 24 hours of drilling. Today the drillers have smashed it and between 3 rigs have drilled 360m. I mark up some intervals along the core for the field technicians to take Specific Gravity measurements and then I have a first pass glance off the core gaining a rough understanding of what I’m looking at.
The whole geology team of around 10 people meets in the core shed for our pre-start meeting. We reflect on the last 24 hours and plan for the next 24. What did we do to work safely? What went well? What are our tasks today? Who is going underground to visit the rigs? What are our fatality risks for today’s tasks and how will we control them?
Our daily core review kicks off and when it’s my turn to show my core for the last 24, I walk the team through the geological boundaries I see and most importantly if I have managed to find any visible gold…and today I have found a beauty! As typical rock lovers do, we all get very excited and ten people start picking up the surrounding core hoping to find more gold. It’s hard to describe the strangely satisfying feeling you get as a geologist when you work in a gold mine and you get to go gold hunting every day.
So no time to linger, once I’ve got an understanding of my core I grab my tablet and recording what I see. I note the stratigraphy, texture, grain size, faults, alteration, metal content, graphite content, quartz vein count, visible gold occurrences and finally take some structural measurements.
Back at my desk now and I am hungry. I pour out my muesli then I whip out my chai tea leaves and brew up a proper chai latte in my thermos (it’s the little things that make you feel at home on-site). Today, because I’m busy I’m a half mess of feeding in spoons of muesli at strategic 2-second pauses while clicking away at my screen generating my sample paperwork to send my core off to the lab for gold testing. Done. Sent. Next on the list.
Next on the agenda is a new hole design for one of my rigs. To design a hole I look at our previously drilled holes in 3D. I then use a template where I bring in the downhole surveys for every 30m down the roughly 200-350m long holes surrounding my new design and I use these data to predict how I think my hole will track while drilling. Signing off holes requires rigorous safety checks so alongside the Project Geologist we check to ensure my drill hole will not intersect or come close to any other workings underground.
Tools down its lunchtime! The great thing about working a 12 hour day is that the culture of the geology department is very strong when it comes to lunch. We have a big communal table where we all chill out for a solid hour. Today we pull up the projector and work through the last couple days’ worth of quizzes that we have been saving. Unfortunately, I’m terrible at quizzes and generally just watch.
Today I decide to keep moving as I am going to visit some of the rigs underground. I put on my gumboots as well as my waist belt and attach to it my self-rescuer oxygen supply and cap lamp battery pack. I then connect the lamp to my hard hat helmet, ensure I have 5 litres of water with me and then register as being underground. I pre-start our vehicle and enter the tunnel.
I’ve now made my way 1.4kms underground. It’s dark, confined, hot and humid. I find the underground maze fascinating. I say g’day to the drillers and ask how they’re going. The drilling itself is an inherently hazardous task, therefore there are stacks and stacks of controls put in place. I’m keen to know if there are any issues with the heat, ventilation, any gas recorded, lighting, how effective is water drainage, how well maintained are the walls for potentially loose rocks and I keep an eye out for trip hazards and floor conditions. While chatting away I’m also assessing the drillers’ behaviour to ensure procedures are being followed correctly and that they aren’t showing any signs of dehydration or fatigue. After spending a good 2 hours at the rigs I decide to head back to the surface.
It’s taken a long 40 minutes to get back to the surface and I’ve just made it in time for our weekly section review. When it’s my turn I pull up my rigs on the projector and give the team the rundown: how are the holes tracking, how well has the logging matched our 3D geological model and what new interpretations I have made. We highlight anything that requires reviewing and also discuss the plan for the next few days and ensure I’m on top of preparation work for future holes.
The day is now winding down and I catch up with the drillers on the surface. I’m happy because all 3 of my rigs are tracking well, hence my only instructions for the incoming night shift are drill on, drill on and drill on!
This concludes my day and I’m back on the bus. This time I decide to read my book.
I’m back at camp and decide to smash a 50-minute workout at the gym, which is my usual go-to after work.
I bail from the gym and bolt to dinner at the dying hour to grab some grub before dinner is taken away. Tonight is fish and chip Friday and it’s always nice to look forward to mid-way through my 8-day swing at work before I fly back to Perth next Tuesday. I catch up with a couple of people also having dinner, we wolf it down before we’re booted from the closing dining room and then I retire to my room to clean up ready for bed, ready to do it all again tomorrow!