“Three On, One Off” – The FIFO Promises, Challenges and Realities

“Hearing our own stories has been a necessary part of humanity throughout the ages… these stories help us understand ourselves.”
-Emily McLean, Three On, One Off, director.
Safety incidents, particularly fatalities, capture both the attention and imagination of almost everyone–well, at least they should. Capital Pit mine is an exposé of a boom and bust culture, thrusting pressure on the tonnages and production quotas, all the while risking ‘the big one’ in the midst of that sort of environment. And the big one does occur in this situation, and it’s not like they haven’t been warned!

But there are bigger issues at stake, if that’s possible, smouldering beneath the red dust surface.

Three On, One Off is a story behind the ‘pay cheques and mockery’[1]–the thin veneer of the period of time where mortgages can be paid off and families supposedly set themselves up for life. All-the-while family continuity is often stretched to–and even at times, beyond–the limit.

The social issues are vast and stark. For the Fly In, Fly Out (FIFO) worker there are the challenges of loneliness, alcohol and prescription drug misuse, fatigue, bullying, and even sexual temptation. For the partner at home there’s the social isolation, and for some, infidelity. Distance matters. The FIFO partner is seemingly ‘never there when it counts.’ For the family there are the relational disconnects that inevitably lurk unwittingly–like the son needing his father, or teens needing a dad to be there during adolescence.

Playing at the Subiaco Arts Centre for a strictly limited season (concludes October 24), this 19-scene play is very well written, dynamically presented, humorous, but not without the albeit realistic cacophony of expletives–some of which add to the humour, but most to the seriousness of matters at hand.

FIFO work is not all it’s cracked up to be–the play helps highlight some of the work, family and social risks and realities at play in deciding to work away from family; risks and realities that can counteract the large pay cheque and dreams of affluence.

And it’s the social issues at work in our lives that always take precedence when things go pear-shaped, as they inevitably do from time to time. This production has only further assisted us understand ourselves–in the context of a prevailing working phenomenon that has invented its own traditions and unfortunate legacies.

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