Xavier Toby – ‘Mining’ My Own Business
Xavier Toby @ Tuxedo Cat – Raj House – Room 2
6:00pm, Tue 11 Mar 2014
So: it may come as a bit of a surprise to some people (or not) that I’ve got a degree in engineering. Not any fancy engineering that really matters, mind you, just Computer Systems Engineering. But I also work in an engineering-based field, and we currently do a lot of work for the larger Australian mining companies. And, a few years back, I spent a few months travelling back-and-forth to a mining camp just outside of Karratha whilst commissioning a system at a shipping terminal.
So when I saw the précis for Xavier Toby’s new show, it went straight on The Shortlist; I’d quite enjoyed my introduction to Toby, and I was curious to hear of other people’s experiences living the FIFO life. And, judging by the number of men waiting for this show who appeared to be replicas of the FIFO workers that I’d encountered (towering muscular megalith men), I figured I wasn’t alone.
And yet, at the top of the show, when Toby asked if there were any FIFO workers in the room, I was the only one that raised my hand… and I was, I assure you, the smallest (in height) man in the near-capacity room (and certainly the only one that would be regularly mistaken for a woman). That probably had more to do with this being 6pm on a weeknight in Adelaide, where crowd participation is all but outlawed… but I was still bloody surprised.
The reason Toby became a FIFO worker, he tells us, was a need to alleviate the debt he’d racked up going to Edinburgh the previous year (a common lament of performers, it seems); he managed to land an admin job (not a “real” job, as many other FIFO workers would point out) at a mining site, and from this short stint came a series of short stories that coalesced into a book… and this show.
There’s a distinct matter-of-fact-ness to Toby’s tales, and he covers the broad timeline of his experience: from the dedicated flights filled with burly blokes (ever sat between two Maori man-mountains on a 737? I have. No armrests!), to the hazing rituals and practical jokes, to the joys of living in a donga, to the diet of meat, meat, or meat with salad (the vegetarian option)… it’s all there, and it’s all super familiar to me.
And that was a good thing for both of us, since Toby would occasionally throw to me for support for the next topic he was tackling; and whilst we had a good bit of banter around the OH&S issues at our respective sites (pro tip: don’t joke about climbing into a bucketwheel whilst out on the stockyard), being the only (diminutive) foil for Toby felt a little cumbersome, and I wound up wishing there had been some others in the audience to share some of that banter.
The downside with the ability to identify with much of Toby’s material is that… well, the performance lost any incredulity that may have kept me on the edge of my seat. I get the feeling that the intention was to paint FIFO life as this half-dream, half-nightmare lifestyle populated by characters with ocker accents and two-short-syllable names, outlandish events and tedium rolled into one; and maybe, for some in the audience, that was how it came across. But FIFO life for me was… well, surprisingly OK. The food, though utilitarian, actually made me eat much healthier than when at home (though the fact that management wanted to appease the workers by providing booze at cost in the Wet Mess kinda negated the healthy eating part). My work, though hard and with long hours, was also behind a desk most of the time, and the people I was working with either really wanted me there, or genuinely didn’t care about my presence: there was no hazing in my experience. The fact that there was an enforced isolation (the only internet connection was via a shared satellite link which redefined “molasses”) was probably a bigger problem; if you didn’t venture outside the confines of your donga, there’s a real opportunity to get seriously depressed on-site – but that wouldn’t make for a good comedy show.
Then again, I’m not sure there were enough straight laughs in ‘Mining’ My Own Business as it was; it felt about ten minutes too long, and more like a spoken word piece (that happened to contain a few jokes) than a comedy piece with a story. Sure, I had some laughs, and some of his stories were amusing (and familiar)… but, if I had my time again, I’d probably prefer to read the book, to be honest.
— Pete Muller (@festivalfreakAU) March 11, 2014