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Robert Carry: An Irishman Abroad - Bound for Down Under

Last update - Thursday, May 7, 2009, 00:40 By Robert Carry

So there I was – back in a grey, drizzle-splattered Dublin housing estate after eight months working for a magazine in bubbling, hectic Thailand. The months back home ticked by slowly, and my new environment began to feel like a sensory deprivation tank.

The appropriate course of action was obvious: leave. The question was just a matter of deciding where to go. I had fallen quite thoroughly in love with South East Asia, and a return was the dream. However, securing any sort of well-paid work in that part of the world is difficult. The only jobs I came across offered miserly pay, and as such carried the inherent risk of landing me back in Ireland broke within months. I needed something well paid.
I had a hard-won Master’s degree in journalism burning a hole in my pocket, but it wasn’t quite the meal ticket I thought it might be when I received it as a wide-eyed newly graduated 23-year-old. With the atmosphere among journos in the Irish jobs market becoming increasingly desperate, it was now practically worthless. I would therefore have to be more creative in my moneymaking endeavours.
Upon my return to Ireland, a friend of mine stabbed me with an interesting piece of information – one of our old school friends was working in the Australian mining industry. He turned up with no experience and was started as a truck driver on $100,000 a year. “He’s winding you up, you muppet,” was my initial response. However, after looking into it I found out that these sorts of wages were par for the course in the outback mining settlements.
Employers in the sector operate fly-in-fly-out shift cycles which see workers stay on site, generally in the middle of absolutely nowhere, for up to three weeks at a time before being flown, free of charge, to their chosen city of residence for a two-week break. The chosen city doesn’t even have to be in Australia: it could be in, for example, Thailand.
We made the deal right then – we were going to Australia! However, before the plan was fully hatched, he was forced to back out through lack of travel funds. So I would be making my way to Australia on my tod.
It wasn’t a particularly appealing idea, but I had spent plenty of time travelling alone in the past and felt confident I could make it work. I didn’t have much choice, to be honest; it was either that or face the ignominy of being the Master’s graduate in the dole queue. Besides, I had visited Australia some years previously for a three-week holiday and quite enjoyed it. Cracking rocks at an iron ore mine in the outback wouldn’t, of course, be quite the same as the lazing around on Bondi Beach, but I had got a feel for the place and the people and was happy at the prospect of a return.
All that remained was one comparatively minor problem – I knew absolutely nothing about mining, and my CV contained precisely zero references to any applicable experience or training. Bombarding dozens of mining companies with tarted-up resumes proved fruitless, and after firing off my 100th responseless e-mail I opted to try a different tack.
The Australian mining industry is massive – it is responsible for some 40 per cent of the nation’s not inconsiderable GDP. I felt sure, therefore, that there would be associated trade publications – and if they existed, then that would be my way into the lucrative industry.
And so it proved. I found five mining magazines and dutifully contacted them. I announced my intentions to travel Down Under, proclaimed my interest in their line of work and touted my training and experience as a journalist. I went to bed that night feeling confident I had found my angle, and when I woke up and checked my e-mail I found three responses. The first editor said thanks but no thanks; the second suggested I get in touch to arrange a meeting once I arrived in Australia; and the third reported that she would be willing to hear some article pitches.
Great, I thought. Now I had to pretend I knew something about mining in Australia and come up with article suggestions people in the industry would be interested in reading about. But this wasn’t quite the daunting task it might sound, and reveals a pertinent point about the nature of journalism.
Being a journalist isn’t about being an expert on the subject you write about. Your topic could vary hugely from one day to the next. Rather, producing good copy is about having a set of skills that allows you to first of all find the information you need, and secondly to present it in an appealing way on a page. Don’t know anything about swine flu? Dissident republicanism? The sub-prime mortgage crisis? No problem. Just talk to the people who do, pick out the interesting bits from what they say and write up your report in a reader-friendly format.
So that’s what I did. And I got commissioned to write six months worth of articles for The Australian Journal of Mining.

To be continued…

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