Welcome to the FIFO life

By Chelsea Wallis
Apr. 23, 2013 – Mining IQ

Stawell Gold Mine, VIC (Photo: Chelsea Wallis)

Stawell Gold Mine, Stawell ,VIC.
(Photo: Chelsea Wallis)

The fly-in-fly-out lifestyle is a lot like Vegemite: Either it’s a cultural icon or it’s a strange foreign concoction – as you would know if you’ve ever tried to feed it to an American. Not many things can claim to be as inherently polarising as the FIFO.

But wait, there are a number of culturally-accepted forms of temporary specialty workers from agriculture labourers and government officials, to the Royal Flying Doctors. It’s not a new idea, but why all the fuss when it comes to the mining industry? Maybe it’s time FIFO professionals had their own TV series to set the record straight.

It started off the same as any other remote work. A 2005 report says as far back as the 19th century Aussie mining shelters were hit or miss when it came to establishing permanent roots. It wasn’t until the 1960s and ‘70s that the Pilbara iron ore mining and shipping facilities began to recruit specialists to live in designated temporary camps near site. Although some took permanent jobs in the region, many returned home once the work was done. Then in the 1980s, the modern FIFO professional began to appear in the Australian oil and gas, and construction industries, making way for the jump to mining.

A few key events aligned to make mining’s contemporary FIFO life possible, for example, in Western Australia. The state government entered into agreements with international mining companies, giving them tenure of the land while they cultivated mineral resources. Companies became responsible for infrastructure, leading to towns like Newman, Tom Price and Parapurdoo. In addition, developments in flight technology in the 1980s made travel fast, safe and affordable, and the number of FIFO professionals in WA multiplied. Exponentially.

Today, technology has made the lifestyle into a new beast, creating a whole new inventory of benefits and drawbacks specific to the line of work. Perhaps this is the biggest difference between modern mining and other professions: There are so many workers in our industry who live the FIFO life.


  • When away for weeks at a time, family events and holidays are at the mercy of the scheduler.
  • Fatigue. It’s difficult to find a routine both on-site and back home with family.
  • Lack of sleep and fitness combined with unhealthy eating at the mess hall.
  • The correlation between stress and the long commute to work.
  • Finding support for families back home.


  • Home for extended periods.
  • Remote location compensation in your paycheque.
  • Frequent flier miles for swag, upgrades and the flight lounge.
  • Mining companies like Fortescue save money flying in specialists rather than setting up towns and relocating families.
  • Many mines are making the effort to better support their workers with such benefits as health screenings, squash courts or fun runs.

I’ve heard it said the second happiest day in the life of a FIFO professional is the day he gets platinum frequent flier status, and the happiest day is when he loses it. I’m sure you have your own list.

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