Something told me it was too good to be true the day my husband got the job offer he had been waiting for.
As he told me excitedly he’d been given a permanent position at one of Australia’s best-paying mines, I knew it was a dream come true for him. He’d been talking about this moment for years.
“Our money worries are over,” he said, excitedly.
“Yeh I guess so,” I replied, a sinking feeling forming in the pit of my stomach.
“It’s just that I was hoping you’d get a shorter roster. Two weeks away is a long time.”
Our first baby was just three months old.
“Just for a year,” he said. “Just to get my foot in the door. Then I can look around for something better.”
“Ok” I said. One year. It’s nothing.
Sure, in the beginning, it was exciting. When he was gone I would shop to fill the time. We moved to Perth from Cairns and rented a large, new home at a ridiculous price. We had a holiday in Bali. Bought a $3,000 fridge freezer. Ate out at expensive eateries. But it didn’t take long for cracks to show.
I had no family around for support and new in town, I knew no one.
Two weeks dragged. I was exhausted looking after a baby 24/7 with no help and the days were long and boring with no one to talk to.
I would count down the time until John walked back through the door but when he did he was exhausted. Seven day shifts and then seven night shifts. 12 hours at a time. It took him two days to recover enough to have a proper conversation. He’d been away for two weeks so he didn’t want to leave the house and as far as the baby was concerned, he was practically a stranger.
Routines had changed, he had lost the momentum of parenthood and forgotten the rituals. He stepped back and I picked up the slack.
It didn’t take long for resentment to kick in.
“I’m not sure I can do this John,” I said to him, on many, many occasions.
“Can’t you look for a shorter roster now, so that you’re home more?”
“I’m doing this for us,” came the reply, over and over. “So that we can have a future.”
“I don’t care about the money,” I said. “I never have. I just want you home. I can’t live like this.”
A year came and went and nothing changed. Holidays were rare – 50 men in one section and only four could take a holiday at one time. For two years John didn’t have a break.
Our relationship started to deteriorate.
I wanted him to leave the job but he was hooked on the money. It didn’t matter how much he spent – more was coming in. Thousands every fortnight – and so the credit cards started, car loans and finally a massive mortgage. Now he couldn’t leave, even if he wanted to.
Two years into the job and the mood swings started. He was drinking more. Acting aggressively. Short tempered and nasty. It went on for months. We were all so miserable and I was ready to leave.
We never saw him anyway, what was the difference?
LISTEN: Osher Gunsberg speaks about how to start a conversation with your partner about depression. Post continues after audio.
Then one day after a visit to the doctor about a sore back, he called me to say he had diagnosed him with severe depression. He sounded relieved. He was put on anti-depressants, signed off work for a few months and told to attend some counselling sessions.
He started to open up to me about how awful the job was. He missed us and wanted to get off the merry-go round but he felt he was in too deep. The bills, the mortgage – he had no back up plan. He had no skills, no qualifications. He had come from nothing to this and it would be one hell of a fall from grace if it all ended tomorrow.
As he opened up, I began to understand. I knew that for someone like him, who had so little growing up, who struggled at school, how much of a lure a life in the mines is. All you have to do is stick it out.
Last year there were nine suicides among workers in the Pilbara alone.
The effects on the mental health of these men and not to mention their families is extensive.
My husband still works at the same job. Thanks to the help he got early on, he is much healthier and happier. It nearly cost him his marriage and has had a massive impact on his mental health, but he feels the positives outweigh the negatives.
I’m not so sure.
Rebecca is 35 years old, a mum of two and a business owner. She runs a horse riding magazine in WA called Perth Rider magazine and is also a freelance sub editor for a newspaper in Queensland. Rebecca lives in Beverley, a small town about one and a half hours east of Perth on a small hobby farm and is originally from the UK where she worked for a daily regional newspaper in Essex before emigrating to Australia nearly eight years ago. Rebecca worked for three years for the Cairns Post and their regional papers in the Atherton Tablelands before she had her first child and gave up full time work.