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Coronavirus: What does the new normal look like on a mining site in Western Australia?

With the world in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic everyday life has been transformed. A Tyrone man living in Western Australia shares his experiences of lockdown life and the new normal on a mining site with Maeve Connolly

 James Donnelly from Co Tyrone works at a mining site in Western Australia
Maeve Connolly

James Donnelly is a diesel mechanic at a mining site in Western Australia (WA) that employs around 2,000 people and is a two-hour flight from Perth. He is from Brocagh in Co Tyrone. Western Australia has had 788 cases and nine deaths and has a population of 2.6  million

When the pandemic started they closed the international border then the internal borders. Even here in WA they closed areas of the state off to other people, and to travel you had to have a letter from your employer. This was to protect rural and isolated parts as they haven't got the medical facilities to accommodate too many cases. 

I had been working 12-hour days for two weeks on and then a week off. When the pandemic came, we were shifted to two weeks on and two weeks off, which was alright but sure you could do nothing on your two weeks off only go for a walk.

They set up a testing centre at the domestic terminal two which is for chartered flights for Fly In Fly Out (Fifo) workers and now when we go to work we get our temperature taken. Until very recently we then got a finger prick blood sample test for the antibodies that fight Covid. If the result came back positive, you had to go for a proper Covid test. 

They also closed the bar and gym on the mine site and brought social distancing and a one-way system into the food hall. It was pretty tough on men because when the bar and gym were closed we didn't really have anything to do in the evening, except get a few take away beers and sit socially distanced outside our rooms and chat.

That didn't really last very long though, as WA started to remove the lockdown phases on May 10. Overall it's pretty much back to normal work-wise.

Also, a lot of Fifo workers are interstate, flying to and from work, and they have all either been stuck in WA or went home to find work in their own states. It brought about a massive labour shortage and the wages have gone through the roof. I'm a diesel mechanic and everywhere is looking for them, along with operators, labourers, cleaning and cooking staff.

In Perth/WA, phase 4 restrictions are still in place. There was a hard border here until November 14 so no one could come in to WA unless they had a good reason, and they had to isolate for two weeks.

I've heard stories about people coming back from Ireland, who are permanent residents of Australia, and the police calling at the house to make sure they were there when they were supposed to be isolating.

The bars and restaurants are still at limited capacity but aside from the long queues to get in, you really would not know there was a pandemic. There are even festivals going ahead, including Oktoberfest. 

WA has only had 788 cases, a whole lot of which were people on board boats docked in Fremantle harbour. 

As for myself, it's been tough. I had planned on going home to help my father on the farm and see everyone this summer, but that didn't happen because I wouldn't get back into Australia as I'm not a permanent resident or a citizen. 

All being well hopefully I'll get home next summer for a couple of weeks, if they have started international travel again and a vaccine is available. I miss everyone at home a whole lot, but at the same time, I think I'm in the best place in the world I could be for this pandemic.

If you would like to share your story please get in touch with Maeve Connolly by emailing


Part one  - Stories from the US, Estonia, Zambia and Australia

Part two - Stories from Qatar, India, the Netherlands and Switzerland


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