Eight sneezes gets you one big what?

So my shows in Mackay, Middlemount, Glenden, Dysart & Moranbah in Queensland are all run and done.

Thanks so much to the Anywhere Theatre Festival and all the wonderful people who came along.

Maybe, possibly and perhaps – see you next year?

Anyway I did promise four chapters of my book, and so far I’ve only published two. So here comes number three, with chapter four to follow.


By the way, the sequel to my first book will be out in August, 2015. Called ‘Out of My Mine’ it’s blue and true stories from my second three months on the mining site. Look out! Coming soon!

Mining My Own Business

Dispatch No 3 – days 3 to 6

Eight sneezes gets you one big what?

Ch-3 start nothing dusty sky

Lots of nothing, meaning lots of dust. Impressive sky though.


Day three and I’m up at 5, on the bus at 6, and at the worksite by 6.25 for the 6.30 am briefing. Well I think that’s right, but it’s only my second morning onsite and it’s been hard to see the time, or anything, as I’ve spent both mornings sneezing uncontrollably.

I’m allergic to dust, and mines are very dusty. I’ve been told repeatedly there’s nothing out here, so nothing to be allergic to, but with nothing always comes dust.

Usually in the outback there’s not much dust, as our planet has this genius plan for controlling it called ‘nature’. However, after you pull up, chop up and burn up all that pesky environment, you’re left with lots of dust. Or if you’re me, dust, snot, tears and sneezing fits.

The morning briefing involves the one hundred odd guys and eight even girls working at the site, one of four currently in action at this mine. Six different supervisors take turns telling everyone what their crew will be doing, which is always exactly what they were doing yesterday. One supervisor even says, ‘If you’re doing something different, well you should already know about it.’

There’s also the obligatory daily safety message. It’s delivered with an oomph of emphasis; on the first day I thought it must be safety day, but today I realise it’s the same ‘oomph’ every day.

I wonder if all that repetition may render it meaningless, but with only one warning given for minor indiscretions before being kicked off the site forever, and a strict no-tolerance policy for breaking a range of other rules, it seems that it’s actually the threat of losing a ridiculously well- paid job that keeps everyone ‘safe’. I don’t know, maybe it’s the combination of both that works, or maybe it’s all the high-vis.

At that first briefing I’m informed that it’s been exactly 137 days since the last LTI, and then it’s time for stretches. Each morning the one hundred odd men and eight lucky ladies are led into the carpark, where some plucky soul takes us through a quick stretching routine.

Apparently the stretching leader is picked at random, so each morning I’m now terrified that my name will be called. It’s been stressing me out so much that last night I had trouble sleeping. I’ve got plenty of comedy material, but my stretching material is incredibly limited, and I certainly don’t want to make a dick of myself in front of these guys so early into my stint.

With men like this first impressions don’t just last, they brand you forever…well at least until the end of the job.

Hence I’m pretty happy with ‘Matt’. It’s better than some of the other nicknames I’ve heard. Such as ‘Nuts’, ‘Helmet’,

‘Worm’ and ‘Jacka’. Maybe ‘Matt’ is also a joke about genitals, and I just haven’t figured it out yet.

You might think someone who tries to make a living on stage is fine with public attention, and for the most part I am. Alcohol helps, and so does repetition and practice. When I walk on stage, I know most of what I’m going to say, and through practice I’m usually quick enough to deal with hecklers, and make jokes off the cuff about random happenings.

Then when it’s done, I’m free to leave, which is by far the most important point. If it goes terribly, I run away. If it goes well, I run away. Either way, I don’t have to spend the next year seeing each audience member every day. Hence my fear of stretching.

While the person who leads the stretching can apparently be picked at random, it has so far been led by one of the workplace safety representatives. From what I can tell, there are about four different contractors and each has their own safety rep. On day three, it’s the turn of ours to lead the stretching.

I later find out that his nickname ‘Donk’ is short for donkey, and I hope he’s not keeping the metaphor going from the earlier nickname list. If he is, well why keep bringing that up, even ironically?

A large sporadic circle forms in the carpark, Donk stubbs out his cigarette and steps into the centre. Seeing around a hundred rough men covered in dust and a variety of tattoos, beer guts, facial hair and high-vis doing star jumps is immensely entertaining. I’m trying so hard to suppress giggles, which aren’t manly at all, that during a knee stretch I fall over. Also every morning we do the touching our toes stretch, and about a quarter of the men squeeze a fart onto whoever’s behind them. Nothing’s funnier than a fart.

Next it’s time for JRT Projects to do their own briefing, which is the real briefing, as opposed to the big pretend briefing involving everyone that happened twenty minutes ago. Our briefing is in the smoking area. Two thirds of the men light up from packets featuring either the face, lungs, body, nails or teeth of a smoker who died at age thirty-four. Which is probably very close to the average age of the workers here.

At this briefing on day four, I’m officially introduced and told I’ll be doing something called contracts admin. While everyone is still focussed on me, I’m seized by a mammoth sneezing fit. When I get to four a few start counting, at eight everyone has joined in, and when I finish at sixteen, the thirty blokes in our crew all cheer and Jonno, our company’s onsite manager and my direct boss, is trying very badly not to laugh. By laughing.

‘Double orgasm, we have a winner!’ someone calls out.

I laugh as well. Having been picked on all through high school, those six years of torture taught me that if you try to defend yourself, you make it worse by a factor of around fifty. I’m also grateful that I’ve already acquired ‘Matty’, which stuck despite ‘Double’ or ‘Orgasm’ being way funnier.

Day five for me is clean high-vis shirt day, and I change from ‘Matthew’ to ‘Graham’. Nobody notices, and over the previous three days I’ve evolved from Matthew, to Matty, to Matt. In two days I expect to be referred to by ‘M’ or just a grunt.

At the end of day six I’m still not clear on what I’m supposed to be doing out here. Someone must know, and hopefully they don’t keep it a secret for too much longer. On my payslip it’s going to be called work, but at the moment it’s playing out like an extremely disappointing holiday.

This no-smoking sign was on the fence in the smoking area. The ultimate irony? Or simply the world’s most ignored sign?

This no-smoking sign was on the fence in the smoking area. The ultimate irony? Or simply the world’s most ignored sign?

Xavier Toby is a writer and comedian

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