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Interstate separation takes toll on families

Published in Geraldton Guardian on 4 September 2020

“Will you be home for Father’s Day?” — A question often on the lips of FIFO partners in the lead-up to the big occasion. Working in the mining industry can mean missing out on big days, especially in the age of COVID-19. Curtin University Researcher Sharon Parker says the extra time away from home caused by quarantine and border closures has been difficult for FIFO families

If Petra Avery does not move to Western Australia, her young children will only get three weeks with their dad this year.

Her son Oliver was six months old when her husband Bruce Avery left their home in Toowoomba, Queensland, and travelled to a mine site in Western Australia for work.

“When he came back, the baby had no idea who he was,” she said.

Although Mr Avery was able to come home for a short period, he had to leave three weeks later, and she said it was unlikely he could return for another six months.

Mrs Avery said this arrangement had been hard for her young family, and she was afraid the time away had damaged her children’s relationship with their father.

“All the kids at their school are making Father’s Day gifts, and my kids won’t have that in the same way. Bruce just buries himself in his work,” she said.

Their daughter Harper, 3, used to have a very close relationship with Mr Avery when he lived in Queensland. “He doesn’t get the boundaries I have put in place with her while he was away,” she said. “Their personalities are clashing.” The family have considered moving to Perth to be closer together, but the decision has been difficult for Mrs Avery, as she is hesitant to leave her entire support network with two young children. The Averys are not been the only ones struggling.

Curtin University’s Sharon Parker has researched the impact of COVID-19 border closures on fly-in, fly-out workers’ mental health. “Preliminary analyses show that more than 40 per cent of workers are experiencing high or very high psychological distress,” she said.

“Events like Father’s Day are very difficult for FIFO fathers who are away, especially for those interstate workers who might be uncertain about when they will get home.”

She has called for employers to do more for their workers during this challenging time.

“We need companies to do the right thing by caring for their employees and do whatever they can to support them at this time,” she said. “The way companies treat people during times of crisis is a great indicator of the real values of a company.”
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