I had never picked up a tool in my life until October last year when I became a professional water tank builder. It was a unique working holiday experience in Australia.
Packing mangoes in a factory in Katherine, NT, isolated, over worked and bored, I had far too much time to think. My partner had come home a week before and told me he’d, ‘been employed by a guy who’s going out bush with a team of tank builders.’ My reply had been to roll my eyes and say, ‘I thought you’d seen Wolf Creek.’ He came home the next night and said, ‘He also needs a cook so you could come too.’ I replied, ‘I’m not leaving my job. This is what we planned. Come to Katherine and get my remaining farm days.’
“15 days later, I’d quit my job and we were headed out bush”
Rural Australians are wonderful. Although I was hired as a cook, by the end of my second day, I asked if I could help build the tanks. My boss put a ratchet gun in my hand and told me to get on with it. I had no experience with tools previous to this job but I would learn. Willingness to try is a must have trait in rural Australia. It’s well received by all employers and our boss was more than happy to teach. He was an equal opportunity employer. No matter what your nationality or sex, if you asked him how to do something, he’d show you and you could try. The work was hard but I was determined to seize the opportunity to learn new skills.
A day as a rural water tank builder
Our days started at 5.30am and would finish when either we were finished or the tank was. Lunch was often an hour to give us a chance to get out of the heat and have a decent meal that would keep us going through the afternoon. Food was plentiful, provided by our boss, it was bulk bought back in town and then refrigerated or frozen in our accommodation part of the road train.
“Heavy lifting became part of the course”
Luckily, I’m fairly strong and have good stamina, as previous to my stint in a packing shed, I’d worked the fields. The theory behind the building is pretty simple but putting it into practise is hectic. Five people lifting heavy steel sheets above their heads, in the blistering heat is way easier said than done. The roof was the hardest part for me. The beams weigh between 20-50kg and take four people up ladders to lift and then hold them as they’re drilled into place. You’re sweating copiously and all the sun cream you put on runs into your eyes! After the outer tank is built, the lining has to be put in and all the fixtures applied. The inside of the tank is a black liner. By the time it’s 40 degrees outside, you can imagine what it’s like inside where all the heat gets trapped. The final stage is laying all the poly and connecting the bore. This was my favourite part as you get to use a skid steer to trench and the poly laying is done with a huge feeder on the back of the truck. It’s all done as a team effort, and after a couple of tanks you start to see where everybody’s strengths lie, so they go up comparatively quickly.
“At the end of the day, it’s an incredibly rewarding job”
You work hard but the evenings are yours to do what you wish with. Admittedly, it’s limited. There’s no phone signal, no internet, no television and nobody for the majority of the time other than the people you work with. But, the beauty of the bush life is that everybody talks to each other. We had people who came over from the cattle stations we were working on for evening beers. Our team were mixed nationalities and from both the country and cities, so we had a lot to talk about where cultural differences and lifestyles were concerned. We cooked amazing food every night, getting creative with our limited resources. The isolation could get to you if you’d had a bad day. Sometimes, I wanted nothing more than to just be away from the same 5 people. Other days the isolation felt like a blessing. I felt free from society. No pressure. It was as simple as a hard day’s work followed by dinner with a view.
Working in the bush
We had very basic facilities, as you would expect living out of the back of a road train, but the views were unrivalled. The fiery red soil turned into an endless blue sky. There were snakes and kangaroos everywhere you looked. Where there was water, a green oasis would spring from the baked earth. At night, as the wet season started, huge thunderstorms would roll overhead. The rain would turn the ground to bog. Lightning split the sky a thousand ways. I’ve never been more afraid of nature than the first night we experienced a wet season thunderstorm. Lightning hit an abandoned stockyard barely ten feet from our truck and shook the whole team awake with the force and sound. It’s a thrilling and terrifying experience. In the mornings we would look out to a sky filled with smoke haze as more often than not, the outback is burning. It’s common to be driving alongside a wall of flames as the bush fires claim the land.
“Back to basics”
To put it all in perspective, working as a rural water tank builder isn’t glamorous. But, it IS worth it. The pay is good and there’re no expenses as bed and board are provided. The facilities don’t include a kitchen hob or a toilet but they do include the views and whatever you can make on a camping stove. It’s an opportunity to go back to basics. To remember how uncomplicated life can be. This world has so much to offer, and my adventures as a remote worker have only just begun.
Written by Mercedes