Released as part of the 40th edition of The Griffith Review in April 2013, this was my first formally published piece of work. I wrote it at urging of the incredible Julianne Shultz, editor of the Review at the time, whom I served with on the Queensland Design Council. She saw in my 21-year-old self a storyteller, the potential of a writer, possibilities of a future inconceivable to me at the time. The essay came together in the mornings after 12+ hour nights shifts, lying cross-legged on the rough pale blue sheets of my single bed in an ice-cold donga, somewhere in outback Australia. ‘Show, don’t tell’, Julianne said to me at the time, and through draft after draft, I worked to try show the world what it was to be a young, Sudanese engineer on rigs around Australia. Who knew it would be the beginning of an entirely new career? A personal transition that began its trajectory with a glimpse into an industry in the throes of change.
‘You’re working on the rigs?’ one of the drillers from my camp asked, his voice heavy with surprise. ‘We assumed you were just with the camp. Respect hey, that’s awesome, we love having chicks actually on the rigs.’
Another chimed in. ‘Yeah, that’s great. What do you do?’
‘I’m a service hand, a “measurement while drilling” specialist. You really think we’re really welcome here?’ I asked.
‘Yeah! We need more of it.’
Later that day, I had another conversation that challenged this view. Clearly women in the oil and gas industry are not universally welcomed. My rig manager was quite clear about his views, ‘I said nope, no, absolutely not. There was no way I was going to let a female be on my crew. Everyone agreed. Sean (the manager on the other shift) even said to me that if she was hired, he would quit.’
The rig manager shrugged as he explained the reaction to a ‘lady’ applying to be a leasehand on the rig – the lowest level job, responsible for cleaning and errands.
‘I just didn’t want to deal with the extra hassle that it would bring,’ he said.
I am the only woman on the twenty-five-person rig in Central Western Queensland.
Later that evening as I begin my regular twelve-hour night shift, I touch my iPod screen and select my current favourite anthem. In a flash Seal’s velvet voice reverberates through the white earbuds. ‘This is a man’s, man’s world…’