KATHLEEN DONAGHEY | Courier-Mail (Brisbane)
They used to go camping together as families but these days the only time the men see each other is during job handover on Lihir island, New Ireland.
When construction manager Michael Watson is on the island, his good mate Andre Sauvage is back in Dicky Beach on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
And when Mr Sauvage lands in the tropics to take over their job for three weeks, Mr Watson returns home.
"Socially it's a bit of a pain because we used to go camping so much," Mr Watson said. "But we still get to catch up and we can talk free on Viber."
More Australians are taking up FIFO [fly in, fly out] jobs in places like PNG, Africa, Siberia and Indonesia.
Some like Mr Watson want a new challenge while others like Mr Sauvage are escaping the lack of work opportunities back home.
The pair are employed by PNG company Anitua which is undertaking construction for the Newcrest gold mine and training Papua New Guineans in the same work.
Mr Watson said being a FIFO worker on a tropical island had its benefits over working in a western Queensland mining town.
Lihir, a two-hour flight from Port Moresby, is a 22km-long extinct volcano in the Solomon Sea.
If they get a half day off on Sunday, the boys grab the opportunity to go surfing and diving.
"On our island it's coral reef to the shore and we have surf," Mr Watson said. "We made sure to bring our surfboards."
Added Mr Sauvage: "The guys that are stuck in western Queensland, they don't have that luxury."
Sometimes their work requires ferrying construction materials to nearby islands using traditional banana boats.
They have to work in the torrential rain but because they are located almost on the Equator it never gets cold.
While it was hard at first, both men have settled into the routine of being away from their families and make up for lost time when they return for two weeks.
Mr Watson's 15-year-old daughter Charlee said she didn't mind her father working away because "when he comes home he's all mine. He's not running around doing work".
Mr Sauvage said he felt very lucky to have the job given the lack of employment on the Sunshine Coast.
"I do think I'm very fortunate," he said. "I am sure there would be a million other people who would jump at the opportunity."