Shooting the vast Australian outback had been my goal ever since I first arrived in Sydney. After three years I finally had the opportunity — a Special Report (a Reuters’ investigative story) on a worker shortage in the middle of Australia’s mining boom. My destination, Karratha, is a small town in Australia’s northwest.
After a more than 6 hour flight from Sydney, from one corner of Australia to the other, I touched down into a landscape exactly as I had imagined. The land was littered with red iron ore rocks, clear blue skies stretched with an immensity you only feel at sea, and trains, huge trains, hauled iron ore from the mines to be loaded onto ships bound for China.
This remote region called the Pilbara is at the center of Australia’s mining boom. But with more than AUD$400 billion in new resource projects on the drawing board, miners are struggling to find people who want to live and work in this harsh environment, despite offering wages in the six figures for truck drivers and construction workers – more than Australian doctors and lawyers earn.
But the high wages mean sky-high rents in outback towns in the Pilbara region – something we quickly discovered when we drove into the Aboriginal “dry town” of Roebourne, where alcohol has been banned due to high rates of domestic violence. After hours of driving, we found a bed in Roebourne in a dirty hotel room for $230 a night, with a can of insecticide in case of a midnight attack by some weird Aussie pest.
In outback towns which before the mining boom struggled to exist, we met workers from around the world — French, South Africans, Germans, Koreans, New Zealanders, and of course lots of Australians. All of them came to the outback with different dreams, but the same objective: earn the money to make those dreams come true.