• Cal Mcilwaine gets flown in to Pilbara, Australia to work 12-hour days for three weeks straight.
  • So far he’s made around $80K before taxes, has no living expenses on-site, and travels on his week off.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Cal Mcilwaine, a 29-year-old FIFO worker in Australia. This essay has been edited for length and clarity. Insider verified his identity, employment, and salary.

I’m the lone wolf of my friend group.

Back in Ireland, all of my friends were getting married, buying houses, and having kids. I wanted to set off on an adventure and travel the world.

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I started to research different career opportunities that would allow me to make good money that I could spend on travel. I always had an interest in visiting Australia and I had heard about mining jobs years ago.

I figured if I did that for a couple of months, I would have a piggy bank for traveling. So in June 2023, I left Ireland and moved to Perth, Australia to become a FIFO worker, which stands for “fly in, fly out.”

Landing a FIFO job in a new country wasn’t easy

FIFO is an industry that largely exists only in mining fields in Australia, Canada, and Alaska. Mining companies in Australia extract iron ore along with other minerals and send it to crushers and refineries. Then, it goes to Port Hedland, which is the main port in Australia, and cargo ships send it to China.

Me standing next to the service truck. Cal McIiwaine

Australia is one of the most mineral-rich countries in the world, so there are a ton of mining projects and FIFO jobs available here.

But that doesn’t mean it was easy to land one.

I found some YouTube videos about FIFO work, but there was no how-to guide on what to do if you want to enter the industry from a foreign country.

I had to come up with my own game plan, which included applying for a working Visa. I had no experience in mining and I had never driven a truck or bulldozer — I also didn’t have a license in Australia. It wasn’t going to be easy moving to another country and landing one of these jobs, but I was determined.

After arriving in Australia, I spent about three days exploring tourist sites before I turned to the job hunt process. In Australia, you need to get tickets, which are like qualifications. I spent two and a half weeks at a training center getting certified in CPR and working on an elevated platform, along with a heavy rigid license to drive big trucks.

Once I did that, I paid a company called W1n W1n to do my résumé and absolutely hammered job pages and applied to as many FIFO jobs as I could for about 10 days. Within a month of arriving in Australia, I secured a FIFO job.

Now, I help others get into the industry with videos on social media and a guide I made for foreign workers interested in FIFO.

I work 12-hour days for three weeks straight

I get flown in from Perth to work in Pilbara, a northwest region of Australia that’s rich in iron ore.

I wake up around 4 a.m. to get ready for work, which starts at 5:30 a.m., and I spend the next 12 hours in the mining field.

The view is a nice perk to make up for the early start time.Cal Mcilwaine

The conditions are physically strenuous and the average temperature during the day is 95 degrees Fahrenheit. In peak summer time, it hits about 113 degrees.

Me on the job filling up a tractor. Cal McIiwaine

As a serviceman, I maintain a fleet of 45 or 50 machines, including dump trucks, diggers, dozers, scrapers, and other mining equipment. Throughout the day, I fill them up with fuel, grease them up, top up fluids, and blow out their air filters.

Then I pack everything back into my truck and drive to the next machine. I usually end work at 5:30 p.m., and the ride back to the site takes about 40 minutes so I usually get home at 6:10 p.m.

Normally, when I get back I try to shark down food and organize lunch for the next day. I aim to go to bed at 9:30 p.m. so that I can get as much sleep as possible for the next day.

During my week off, I get flown back out to Perth. The flight takes about two hours. Some people go on weekend trips to Bali. I like to go on road trips around Australia.

I also have the flexibility to go on breaks during the year. I took seven weeks off around Christmas and went to Esperance, which is on the southwest coast of Australia.

I’ve made around $80,000 so far this year pre-tax, and my expenses on-site are paid for

As a FIFO worker, companies pay for employee flights to and from the mining field. They also pay for housing accommodations and offer amenities like a food court and gym at the housing site.

My room is dorm-like and it’s nothing special but it has everything I need and I use it for sleep.

There’s a big workout culture among FIFO workers and the gym is well-equipped to satisfy those needs. The gym has a strength room, a cardio room, an outdoor gym, a CrossFit room with classes offered, and a female-only gym. I usually walk about 25,000 steps a day on the job but still try to work out about two or three times a week.

As someone completely new to the industry, I make $5,329 Australian Dollars per week before taxes, which is around $3,477 USD — but I also don’t work every single week of the month. So far, I’ve made around $80,000 before taxes working the last nine months, including a seven-week break I took to travel around Australia.

During my week off, I fly back to Perth and either go away for a week or pay a friend to stay with him for the week. My expenses during my week off usually come out to around $1,300 USD.

I’m getting the adventure I was searching for

I’ve been here for nine months and I plan to stick it out for the rest of the year. Cal McIiwaine

I originally planned to work this job for three or fourth months at most.

But now I’ve been here for nine months and I plan to stick it out for the rest of the year. Once I learned about the machines, became a part of the crew, and started making good money, I didn’t see a point in leaving.

I’m enjoying learning new skills and my bank account just keeps growing. Once I wrap up the year, I’m going on a 10-month trip to Vietnam, Thailand, New Zealand, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

I won’t have to worry about working and I’ll get to experience the adventure I’ve been craving.

Once I’m done, I plan to get right back into FIFO work for my second year and do it all over again.

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