Back in 1930, economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that the working week would be cut to 15 hours a week, with people choosing leisure over making dollars. But today, most of us spend more time with our colleagues than our families. Is it possible to achieve the ideal work-life balance? Jane Steward believes she has found the balance.

It’s no secret that most people would rather spend less time in the office – and more time in the sunshine. However, many find it hard to strike a balance between their profession and their personal passions.

Jane Steward is a laboratory technician who works at Murrin Murrin Operations a mine site in the north eastern Goldfields region of WA.

Her job is a fly-in fly-out (FIFO) role, so she flies to the mine site for a set stay, instead of relocating permanently. Under this arrangement she works 12 hour shifts on a 2&2 roster (two weeks on site and two weeks off site). The two weeks on site includes a week of nights and a week of days over a 15 day period.

During her time off Jane chooses to spend this time doing something she is passionate about – volunteering with Australian wildlife and sharing this information with the public. This is her story.

Hi Jane. How long have you been doing FIFO work?

I have been doing fly-in fly-out work for more than eight years.

What is working on a mine site like?

While on site I live in a village containing rows of housing with tin roofs (called “dongas”) positioned around common areas which include a dining hall (the “mess”), tavern, gym, pool, and lots of other sporting facilities.

At the mess you eat breakfast and dinner, plus pack your lunch and take this with you to the mine site. It’s wonderful to not have to worry about what to cook after working 12 hours. Plus once a week your accommodation is cleaned. Having these facilities allows you to relax in your downtime.

Living away from home, family and friends can be hard. Working long hours and shift work is difficult but I have been able to balance my private life and mine site work so that the income advantages and flexible work roster do allow me a better lifestyle.

You also do a lot of work in the volunteer space at Kanyana Wildlifea not-for-profit organisation dedicated to wildlife conservation.

For the past eight years I have volunteered at Kanyana Wildlife with the education team as a tour guide and animal presenter.

Kanyana Wildlife cares for sick, injured, orphaned and displaced wildlife in our rehabilitation centre, as well as breeding threatened species, conducting training and in-house research and educating schools and the community. It is run by volunteers, with one full-time staff member. There are over 300 volunteers and there are many roles available where you can do as much or as little as you have time for.

Before that, I used to go overseas and volunteer in Thailand with abused elephants. After coming back from a sad experience, one of my friends said, “What about volunteering with Australian wildlife?” … I haven’t looked back since.

I also volunteer in Port Hedland with Care for Hedland (another not-for-profit organisation) during the Flatback turtle nesting/hatching season which operates from November to March.

What is your favourite part of volunteering for wildlife organisations?

It would be the animals and being around like minded passionate people.

I enjoy learning about our unique wildlife and sharing this knowledge with the public… it’s amazing.

After receiving on the job training, you work as a team to scan PIT tags (microchips), flipper tags and measure their shell after the females have finished laying.

It’s incredible to sit on the beach in the middle of the night and witness this incredible turtle laying event.

What kind of animals do you talk about at Kanyana Wildlife?

We do day tours with red tailed black forest cockatoos, emu, tamar wallaby, western grey kangaroo, echidnas and reptiles.

For our nocturnal tours we present and talk about our boodie (burrowing bettong), bilbies and the bilby breeding facility, woylie (brush-tailed bettong), echidna and nocturnal birds such as tawny frogmouth and stone curlews.

A woylie is a small marsupial with grey brown fur and a boodie is a small rat-like kangaroo with grey fur and thick tail. Before I started at Kanyana I didn’t know they existed.

These are two critically endangered species – and we have them.

We have a breeding program for woylies and are part of the Australia wide breeding program for bilbies. The young that are bred are transferred to other breeding colonies or released into protected reserves.

How many hours do you tend to try and tend volunteer for? Do you have to commit to set number of hours?

The education team at Kanyana Wildlife has a calendar of bookings that they email out to two or three times a month. They have advance bookings up till December. I work out when I’m in Perth and see if there are any bookings in that time period and I email them back with the bookings I can do.

How do you get trained? You are responsible for teaching, sharing and educating other people – have you just learned all of that whilst you have been volunteering?

At Kanyana Wildlife it’s mostly on-the-job training with monthly structured training sessions on the weekends.  The experienced volunteers help out new members to show them how to do things, explain where things are located and how to handle each animal safely.

There are written notes about each animal and a training sheet that lists everything you’ll need to know and once you’ve completed a section an experienced person will sign it.

I train people at work and use those skills to help out new volunteers.

When I first started I observed as many presenters as possible to learn how they present the animals. Initially I found speaking in front of an audience terrifying. Then after learning one animal and presenting it several times (and learning from the good and bad experiences) I would move onto the next animal. Eventually I was able to present all the animals.

There’s always one or two other people with you to offer support and help out if you get stuck.

Do you get to see wildlife when you’re on site?

Red kangaroos, monitor lizards, cows, echidna, wallabies, bats and a lot of birdlife & insects.

Because of your volunteering experience, do you feel you are now more comfortable when you come across wildlife at work? 

I’ve learnt from volunteering that if you give animals their space, you can safely observe them behaving naturally.

I came across an adult male emu with two young chicks when I was walking on the road that surrounds the village. At first I didn’t see them and it wasn’t until the male emu let out a couple of deep drumming sounds and I stopped where I was and saw them. I was between them and the bush. After I took a few steps away from them and gave them some space, they crossed the road and disappeared into the bush. 

Do you feel your role as fly-in fly-out helps you be a volunteer – would you be able to sustain your volunteering if you worked a nine-to-five in the city? 

I think I would initially struggle as I would only have two days off. Yet at the same time I wouldn’t be working twelve hours, so I would be able to volunteer after work or on weekends, like some people at Kanyana Wildlife.

While FIFO work is a different lifestyle to a standard 9-5 office job, Jane is a great example of how this kind of approach can have a range of benefits.