Two South African Sanire members who are part of the Homecoming Revolution told Rock Talk about their experiences overseas and their reasons for going, and then returning. Read on to find out what Rick Ferreira and Willie Snyman have to share with you.
Rock Talk: When did you emigrate, and where did you go?
Rick: In October 2008, just as the waves from the global financial crisis began to rock the world markets in earnest. It was unforeseeable, of course, but in hindsight it was probably the worst time for a family to embark on such an endeavour. My wife and I, along with our two small boys, moved from Carletonville to the city of Perth in Western Australia. I took up a position with a large consultancy firm.
Willie: I emigrated to Queensland, Australia in January 2008.
Rock Talk: What is your current job and how does it compare with the job you held at the time when you emigrated?
Rick: I'm a Rock Engineer, specialising in Mine Seismology. Although my job now involves a number of additional mines in the Gold Fields stable, in a centralised structure, the role profile is essentially the same as before.
Willie: I am Chief Rock Engineer at Khuseleka Mine. I was Senior Rock Engineer with BLA in the Free State.
Rock Talk: What job(s) did you hold overseas?
Rick: A mixed bag of geomechanics related to deep and high stress mining, including real-time monitoring and due diligence projects.
Willie: I was Co-Ordinator Geotechnical Engineer at Dawson Coal Mine.
Rock Talk: Did you gain valuable experience or insight while you were working overseas?
Rick: The working experience was testing, but enriching in a holistic sense. A well established and recognised consultant's job is easier than one with limited contacts. I found this to be one of my greatest barriers as I pushed to develop new business in a new section within various interdisciplinary working groups.
The attitudes in the office were very disciplined, structured and focused on the pursuit of profit, which was well communicated. The global financial crisis didn't help my cause though - a number of operations scaled back production or were effectively shut down and placed under care and maintenance.
The trackless mining methods I got exposure to were different from those applied to the tabular ore bodies we're mostly familiar with. The physics remains the same, so the processes of countering rock deformation or control are pretty much the same.
I was based in a biggish city, with all the amenities afforded by living at the edge of the sea, but found the on-site work environments very harsh and remote, and constant travel over long distances was uncomfortable.
One's perspectives are greatly enlarged by becoming a citizen of the world. This is not a bad thing.
Willie: I was exposed to open pit strip mining with large mechanical loading equipment.
Rock Talk: What did you find to be the major difference between the mining industry in the country you went to, compared with the South African mining industry.
Rick: The safety culture, in the workplace and beyond, seems to be more readily embraced in Australia. Also, deviations from norms and standards are not tolerated as easily. There appears to be a greater attitude of accountability and purpose in people's daily lives.
Willie: There are more professional, smaller teams, which are young and energetic.
Rock Talk: What was your reason for emigrating?
Rick: There wasn't a single reason, but many, both private and professional. A future for my children where a walk in the park is not a gamble, or where ethnicity is less important than merit or ability, certainly rated near the top of the list. Degradation of infrastructure, poor governance and service delivery in the country, intolerable levels of crime and corruption and political uncertainty were big "push" factors. A desire for career development and new opportunity (where a glass ceiling wasn't at least perceived to be so real) were also large motivators. Let's not forget the perpetual nuisance of "car guards", which definitely ranked highly on that list!
Willie: I moved to Australia for personal reasons.
Rock Talk: When did you return, and what was your reason for returning?
Rick: We returned in July 2009. The support base for the family unit was established within six months. But the support base on the work front – which eases and paves over those difficulties – was mostly absent. The other alternative, to relocate inland for a residential role on some operation, was impacted by the global financial crisis. This option was particularly detrimental to a foreigner on a temporary work visa (without a permanent residency visa) and bound by obligations to the previous employer.
I also believe the worst of the financial crisis in Europe, the USA and elsewhere is yet to manifest, so having employment with a precious metals producer can only be good.
Willie: I returned in April 2009 for personal, family reasons.
Rock Talk: What did you miss most about South Africa while you were away?
Rick: Freedoms we take for granted, from less bureaucratic regulation of our daily lives to a lower cost of living. The easy SA lifestyle... the moderate climate... the natural beauty of the land... friends and family.
Willie: I missed my sons and the incredible nature.
Rock Talk: What do you miss most about the country you spent time in, now that you are back in South Africa?
Rick: Order and progress. The efficiency of the system; things seldom break down and when they do, they are quickly repaired. The cleanliness of streets and public spaces. When the town/city/community celebrates or commemorates, they do so in a national spirit. Cycling and walking/jogging lanes. The public transport system. Life by the sea. An absence of burglar bars and high fences; the sense of personal security.
Willie: The beautiful Queensland coast and fishing, the Great Barrier Reef.
Rock Talk: What was/is the biggest difference between your life overseas and your life in South Africa and did/do you find this an advantage or a disadvantage?
Rick: Working as a consultant and living in a hub city is miles removed from working for some mining operation and living in a small mining town. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Now that I've had the opportunity to experience each, I must admit that I favour the latter. I've re-discovered the fact that the rural life style with short commutes is not altogether a bad thing. The biggest challenge to being back in SA, for me at least, is to accommodate the negative "push" factors that produced the desire to explore other possibilities. At least for now...
Willie: Safety and lack of crime is a way of life in Queensland. I found that an advantage.
Rock Talk: What advice would you give a colleague thinking of emigrating at this time?
Rick:There are definitely some points to consider before embarking on such adventures. Firstly, and this is of fundamental importance if you are a family person, don't move unless you have full agreement with your spouse. You'll be so glad you did.
The so-called "culture shock" is real; the first couple of weeks are the worst, so it would be great to have someone on the ground who you know, to ease the process. Some employers are better than others at providing assistance with the relocation and integration experience, especially those first few days/weeks.
Unlike what the internet searches suggest, a rental property in Perth is not readily available and I found it very taxing and frustrating to compete with a large crowd of people for this, all intent on being the chosen tenants. I'm not sure the same holds true for other cities in Australia, but it is noteworthy.
Houses are very expensive to buy, but if you can afford the deposit (at least 10% of purchase price or around R500 000) you should find a decent property (the market is in a bubble and house prices have recently begun to retreat, but the correction is likely to be limited, given the high demand for rentals).
Regardless of your planned destination, be prepared to try new flavours and be open to a whole new life. Our jokes are not their jokes. Boerewors and biltong are scarce but obtainable – or you can make your own.
Most purchases will likely seem grossly expensive; stop converting the local currency back to ZAR after you've established your budget. Your earnings should be sufficient to cover your needs comfortably and you'll have the pleasure of seeing your taxes being ploughed back into the upkeep and betterment of your community.
Things begin to run down as the years pass, so a younger age (pre-40ish) can take the stress and strain (pardon the pun) a lot easier!
There will be inconveniences and you can count on a lot of upheaval. Most of these changes are for the better, though. A positive frame of mind and determination to make it work will see you through.
Willie: Go and experience it whilst you're able to go.
Rock Talk: Please tell us about anything you failed to take into consideration before you emigrated/anything you would do differently if you were to decide to emigrate now.
Rick: I'd strongly advise those contemplating emigration to obtain a PR (permanent residency visa) first, and then make the move. This will open up further options in case the first job doesn't pan out as anticipated. Be prepared to take a step (or two) back before you find your feet again and begin to move forward.
Beauty abounds in the most unexpected places. Rick Ferreira stands next to salt formations in a disused development end, at around 400 m depth in an underground (long hole open stope) mine in the Kalgoorlie/Kambalda region, Western Australia.