Working as a driller’s offsider in the Tanami Desert was certainly a from of camping, but not so much for pleasure but to top up the coffers whilst travelling. We had traveled from the East coast right across to Perth, then back again into the Centre booking in at a carvan park in Alice Springs. We had eaten through savings a little quicker than anticipated and in order to pay a few bills I began look for some work.
A local drilling company were looking for an ‘offsider’ to assist one of their mineral exploration crews working in the Tanami Desert. I applied and they put me on for a month’s work.
I hadn’t being doing a great deal of hard physical work for a few years so it proved to be a challenge. We were away for 3 weeks and everything needed for that time was loaded onto trucks including fuel, water, food, repair equipment and all supplies for the actual drilling.
The work location was about 600km out of Alice Springs along the Tanami Desrt road, then a further 100kms north, accessed by a bush track winding through endless spinifex and dunes.
It was the middle of summer and daily temperatures were reaching 45+degrees. Having grown up in the Great Victoria Desert I am used to such temperatures but my body complained nonetheless. Lighting strikes meant fires blazed around during the day adding to the heat, and lit the sky at night. We slept outside in swags, and each morning our faces and throats were black and dry from the thick falling soot.
Sometimes we would have to pack up and move quickly to burnt out areas to avoid risk of machinery and equipment going up in a blaze.
The work wasn’t entirely foreign as I had operated drilling rigs in my early 20s in Western Australia. During this time I’d operated down the hole hammer rigs for water and mineral exploration in the Pilbarra and also used auger mud rigs in Perth. However, as mentioned I found it pretty tough going this time around. Visit the Nature Conservancy page for conservation work happening in the Southern Tanami desert.