By Kelly

Steve the rock-licker (not Kelly’s brother)

I live in an academic bubble. I live in a university/government town, I’m a PhD student and I married an academic. Without quibbling over semantics you may call me an Earth Scientist, a geologist, oceanographer biogeochemist, or just Kelly if you like. Today, rather than my usual introspective gaze into ‘a day in the life’, I shall explore the view from the other side of the fence. What is it like for people outside the bubble to work with geologists? Say in the field….say in a mine?

I have enlisted the help of a man has run in to the odd geologist in his time (not least because we grew up together but because my brother has worked in the mining industry for over 12 years) . We are not known for being particularly sensible siblings, so if you are interested in a probing discussion of resource allocation, education or philosophy you have the wrong blog post…

Kelly: What is your job?

Her brother: I am a” Rapid Earth Displacement Engineer.”

You blow stuff up?

Yes I blow stuff up.

Randomly, or are you employed by someone?

Specifically…I’m one of the site Superintendents for a drill & blast contractor over here in WA. The two main scions* of earthworks are ‘mining’ and civil/construction. In short, Mining is about production. Ore is ‘released’ by looking at where and how the ore body lies – most often it’s lying very still – then figuring out how to get to it. A pattern of drill holes is determined and marked out on the ground which are then drilled by rigs that range from something the size of a Prius, to something that looks like a factory with a telephone pole strapped to the front.

We then place ‘X’ amount of explosive in these holes and stem the remainder with inert material to contain, “stem”, the release of energy keeping it in the ground where we want it doing the work. The holes are all connected by various delayed detonators so a sequence can be initiated, analogous to a checkerboard  where we control the direction of movement of the ore, by initiating each square in sequence.The Civil/Construction team, of which I’m  currently a part, does the same thing but usually on a smaller scale. We do the ‘finesse’ work for construction. Need a trench blasted between two existing roads? Need a narrow cut put through that hill for a railway but a rare Northern-Spotted-Quoll might have taken a dump nearby and you need it done with surgical precision? That’s where we come in.

And in a genteel manner I’m sure. Do you work with geologists? And if so how useful are they?

I do sometimes. They’re associated most often with Mining. They’re useful when we run out of stemming. Although some of the fat ones can be awfully troublesome when pressed into a drill hole!

And what do you call them?

They’re known colloquially as “Rock Lickers”. This I believe came about due to their practice of wetting down samples of rock they might find in the mining pit by using spit to scrub them up for a quick assay. They’re hardly singled out though; blasting crews are “Powder Monkeys”, drillers are “Rattle Heads”, and dump truck drivers are “Bone Heads”.

What sort of training would you advise for a person who only has academic credentials?

Senior First Aid, Heavy vehicle driver’s license; both are quite standard these days. Besides that; archery, and falconry, are always in high demand.

What’s the best part of the job? What’s the worst?

What, falconry? Um, being able to chase the neighbour’s goose from your yard by yelling “Sick ’em, Winged Angel of Death!” would be good.The worst? Forgetting to take that little hood off his head before yelling “Sick ’em, Winged Angel of Death!” and your falcon screeches and suddenly starts blindly clawing at your eyes.

How do you manage with working away?

With varying degrees of success. Working Fly In Fly Out (FIFO) isn’t for everyone. These days the rosters are getting shorter which is good for keeping one sane. For me, I’m very lucky to also have a partner both patient and supportive, and certainly independent. She deserves an ovation.

Judging by the tone of this interview I’d say she deserves more than an ovation. Is there room for more field geologists or is the “boom’ over? (Is it my imagination or don’t we go from boom to boom??)

There’s always room for more Geo’s. I reckon I could fit 3 and a half down the average blast hole. Trying to predict the world macro-economy would require an understanding of Chaos Theory that I don’t possess. People are smart enough to be wary of the media sensationalism. I imagine a slow down in construction and infrastructure growth, a sort of plateau with some bumps and dips in it. But there’s still years, and billions of dollars, in project pipelines.

If say you didn’t earn five times as much as I do, what would be your ideal job?

Writer. I’d like to day-trade and invest in business and property on the side. There’s a great deal I’ve learned in this career, risk management and assessment particularly, that would be a fantastic cross-over skill…or geneticist. I’d breed falcons with cows. Difficult to support on your outstretched arm perhaps, but being able to launch your cow at an outdoor breakfast would be gold!

Thanks champ, this has been enlightening. I look forward to further discussions between this family’s rock-licker and powder monkey, see you at Christmas 🙂

* I don’t know about you but I had to look this up….


1) (also cion) a young shoot or twig of a plant, esp. one cut for grafting or rooting. 2) a descendant of a notable family: he was the scion of a wealthy family.