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Ruminating on FIVE and our Partners

Posted by David Doyle

For 18 months now we have been working with Rio Tinto teams around the State, on mental health strategies across key sites from which Rio Tinto fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) and residential workforces are drawn, along with some key communities in which DADAA works – Derby, Paraburdoo, Geraldton, Busselton and Esperance.

L-R: David Doyle (Executive Director of DADAA), Eddie Bartnik (WA Mental Health Commissioner), Andrea Mitchell (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Mental Health) and MIcheal Gollschewski (Managing Director of Pilbara Mines for Rio Tinto)L-R: David Doyle (Executive Director of DADAA), Eddie Bartnik (WA Mental Health Commissioner), Andrea Mitchell (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Mental Health) and MIcheal Gollschewski (Managing Director of Pilbara Mines for Rio Tinto)

We are learning, as is Rio Tinto, about the unique mental health issues facing FIFO and residential workforces not only in Rio Tinto’s workforce but nationally and internationally across the resource sector. And with additional partners like the Mental Health Commission and the Australia Council for the Arts, we are about to embark on a daunting project called FIVE to arrest and explore issues around mental health across five regional WA sites.

For the first time we will be taking community arts into a mine site in Paraburdoo. As much as we can get this project right out into the work site, this is about artists, researchers, miners and their communities connecting to explore and trial specific mental health interventions, through participatory cultural practice.

And it’s exciting.

Mental health covers a wide spectrum. Somewhere along that continuum we are all operating. Through projects like FIVE we want to get conversation, resources and supports into the five target WA communities, in a very accessible manner. This is not clinical work but that early advocacy and anti-stigma work – essentially intervention practices that results in new conversations amongst WA communities around mental health as a normal part of life. If we can get that conversation going, change some perceptions, shift some negative mental health behaviours, and get the evidence through new research, I’ll be very happy.

Importantly we also aim to get five significant new works of art out of this project – the creation process of which I’d guess will be the point where the most significant conversations between communities around mental health will occur. We welcome artists Craig Walsh and Hiromi Tango to FIVE along with a team of local artists, led by Nicole and Alex Mickle, both long-time project collaborators. It’s great to have them on FIVE.

Through FIVE I want to challenge the stigma around FIFO workers and seriously start to explore just who that FIFO community is, what they think, how they connect and what they want to say to the rest of WA and Australia. And importantly, what forms their artistic practice might result in.

This is a big and timely conversation we are about the have – from Derby to Esperance. So far we know much of Rio Tinto, and the five project communities are excited about it.

We have brought together some of the best artists who work in a community context to work across the five communities. We have conversations going between miners, tradies and artists about the potential of using dynamite as preliminary steps in the creation of core steel sculptures. It’s exciting stuff and it’s going to take a very different approach.

Artists merging skills with mining trade skills and processes suddenly creates all sorts of new potentials around art and working life. It’s risky, but loaded with potential.

Our research team are schooled in national projects like DRIVE and Disseminate. DRIVE, for example, focuses on road trauma experienced by young men across Tasmania, and the impact of male risk-taking behaviour. It’s brutal stuff, but critical work into the reality that is Australia. It’s an honour to have Peter Wright and Nat Georgeff leading the FIVE research.

Personally I have a social responsibility to the FIFO and residential mining workforce with a share of my wage coming off their backs for 11 years. In WA the degree of separation from any of us to the mining industry is tiny. We are deeply reliant on them, yet we don’t acknowledge the social and economic imperative of their work. Through FIVE we are going to have to adapt to Rio Tinto at a level we have never had to adapt. But for me this is where partnering becomes truly authentic. Essentially we are aiming to blend our approach with Rio Tinto’s approaches, Rio Tinto’s teams with ours and, apart from Paraburdoo (where we don't operate), bring our communities together with Rio Tinto's.

It’s complex work and could well fail, but my overriding sense of our next two years of work together is that we are going to learn some very important things from each other, and have conversations that we have never had, but have needed to for some time.

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Dadaa Principal partnerRio Tinto Arts partner Australia Council