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A Very FIFO Christmas

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A Very FIFO Christmas

The Revd Don Fimognari and Judy Clay reflect on their ministry among Fortescue Mining FIFO workers.

Like so many West Australians, many chaplains will be working over Christmas, in hospitals, aged care, prisons, the military and with FIFO mining communities.

Fr Donato – Fortescue Workplace Chaplain ministering to the Fortescue family at Iron Bridge - Port Hedland operations.

Port Hedland…. remote and yet a busy and bustling town… commerce here is the key to the viability of this community.

Iron Ore Mining brings the financial lifeline and with it, a mixed and diverse population of permanent residents and those who make up the FIFO (Fly in – Fly out) contingent. With the advent of Christmas, like any other permanent residential community across Australia, the excitement and anticipation grow as families here prepare to celebrate.

And yet, for hundreds of men and women, it is not such a joy-filled season…… separated from loved ones by the tyranny of distance or the anguish of loneliness, for these, it will be just like yesterday as it will be like tomorrow… just another day in the year. For some joy will come with a phone call or a Skype connection, while for others that won’t be the experience of Christmas.

I wish it to be a season of “Ho Ho Ho… Meeeeery Christmas” for all, and hope and pray that the story of the Christ Child will indeed be a Wonder-Filled event….

Blessings Don

The Revd Judy Clay - Fortescue Workplace Chaplain ministering to the Fortescue family at the Chichester Hub.

My first Christmas on site:
Much of my first Christmas Day on site was spent doing a Santa Lolly Run, sharing lollies I had bought with the men and women on site – traversing processing facilities, offices, and crib rooms. It was amazing the joy it brought to grown men and women when they were offered a Christmas lolly!

Christmas Family visits saw some people ecstatic to have loved ones with them for Christmas; others were only too happy to be working out on site so as not to see the joy of families together, for they were without their loved ones and alone out here.

Some people were upset because of broken families, isolated, and not seeing their children for Christmas, they didn’t want to be in camp and see families together either. Yet others had chosen to be at work because they don’t want to be with family at Christmas.

I shed my own private tears as I felt the isolation and distance from grandchildren and loved ones for the first time.

Christmas services on site are small but intimate. I remember the awkwardness of having a navy-blue bedsheet as an altar cloth, Ribena and a bread roll for Eucharistic fare, and having hi-visibility clothing and work boots as vestments. There was no choir, only the voices of the few gathered miners singing carols with delight, thankful for a place to celebrate Christmas, and grateful to meet others who share their faith. New friendships were forged in that moment of solidarity.

I witness the joy of people finding a faith community within the FIFO community. Something new had been born in the roughness – the Bush chapel was the stable where new life was found and celebrated.

From the Chapel we could hear people making merry in the tavern, when a tropical storm hit. Thunder crashed, and lightning flashed, rain came in torrents. We were trapped, waiting for the storm to subside.
While we waited my phone rang. Someone I know was in the medical centre suffering chest pain and about to be evacuated by Royal Flying Doctor. I ventured down the hill to see him. He was frightened, away from home and loved ones, in a medical crisis, on a remote mine site on Christmas night. He was flown out in the dark of the night.

Some weeks later he returned to work, having had heart surgery. But he came back to prepare to leave. We had talked in the past of his leaving FIFO life and returning to his hometown – his country. The Christmas Crisis of his illness confirmed his desire to be close to home.

This was the man who took me on my first walk across the lengths and heights of the Ore Processing Facility, and showed me something of the workings of the then unfamiliar place that I had come to minister in. We said our farewells and I have never seen him again. But I haven’t forgotten him.

He is another of the many who come and go, without fanfare, through the revolving doors of FIFO life. As I write, I am about to leave this place which has become familiar territory. It holds a special place in
my heart, but I’m about to begin a journey as a FIFO chaplain on a new site.

This Christmas I will be on the Iron Bridge construction site – a place of a transient, contracting workforce, with facilities still being constructed.
There will be no Bush Chapel. I ponder and wonder, how will I celebrate Christmas with my people this year? My adventure with God continues...

Christmas blessings Judy

Published in Messenger, December 2019

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Chaplains are experienced and qualified professionals who are present in workplaces to offer care in the name of Christ to anyone who needs it.

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