Waiting for the world to return - in the midst of coronvirus remote workers are feeling the isolation more than ever

02 June 2020



Brett Brady has been a Maintenance Assistant at Gordon Power Station for over 30 years. The pandemic doesn't appear to have interrupted this essential worker's day-to-day duties. But the Gordon Dam and nearby Pedder Wilderness Lodge where Brett often chats to tourists are both eerily quiet.

Brett Brady - Maintenance Assistant

Twice a week Brett inspects Gordon Dam, located in the middle of Tasmania’s South West. A lack of tourists coming to walk the dam wall has left him feeling more isolated than ever. Arriving at the dam in a Hydro vehicle is usually a sure way to attract people with questions. Answering them all made up the beginning of his working day.

 

"Tourists ask a lot of questions about the power station and dam. Where the water comes from, where it goes once we've used it, how much water the station uses. Tourists are genuinely interested in how the power station works. We like to help out."

 

Brett enjoys explaining how it all works and shares his knowledge on walks and campsites in the area. Before the pandemic, when Brett did his rounds, he would often come across campers at Scott's Peak, a mountain at the southern end of Lake Pedder. But without tourists, campers, fishers and walkers, it's deserted. “When the campers were here, we’d usually find a tent or a campsite set up. Campers might be fishing on the lake or on a three or four-day walk,” said Brett.

 

"We’d bump into the odd camper needing assistance. We have a satellite phone on board and can help if they are broken down, injured or lost."

 

Day-to-day maintenance and operations of the power station and the four dams remain mostly the same. “There's only two or three of us stationed at Gordon. Two maintenance assistants and a rolling roster of power station operators. There are the occasional outages and contract workers coming through, but with the contractors, we now keep our distance. That’s the main change we've seen,” said Brett.

 

Things are quieter than ever at Strathgordon village where Brett stays. “May to October is pretty quiet, but even then there used to be a half a dozen new faces each night.” Brett finishes work, has an evening meal and walks across to the Pedder Wilderness Lodge for a drink and a chat.

 

"The lodge staff used to call on us to answer questions about Hydro. However, with no tourists about, we’re noticing just how remote we are."

 

Brett doesn’t see the lodge staff much these days. “We only see them now when we fill the vehicle with diesel – the lodge being our only local fill-up point. The lodge retained four international staff to keep things going. They chose to be here, but they're pretty isolated here at Strathgordon, probably more than us. We see them when we're doing daily village maintenance, but it's only a chat from a distance these days,” said Brett.

 

The small team of Maintenance Assistants help with the upkeep of Strathgordon village. They maintain village water supply, sewage treatment, local pool and council facilities. “The pool and gym have closed for now. There's only half a dozen of us in the village, but you can't go to the gym or the pool after hours,” said Brett.

 

With less traffic, Brett and wife Sandra kept active by combing the roadsides for rubbish. “We walked from Lake Pedder, where the canal channels water from Lake Pedder to Lake Gordon, all the way to Gordon Dam. But we've run out of road,“ said Brett.

 

"Cleaning up the roadside we found plastic bottles compacted in earth. When we dug them out we noticed native burrowing crayfish living under them. Ants were using rags as covers for nests."

Brett and Sandra picked up rubbish along the roadside at Strathgordon

“Although the animals have learned to live with the rubbish, they can now go back to what is natural. Which is much better for our native animals.” Together they cleaned up 38.6km of road side, filling around 40 large rubbish bags, to dispose of at the local tip.

 

Social distancing changes everything we know to be familiar. “No one touches your desk now. You just leave it how you like it. They’re all too scared to touch your stuff these days. That's a bonus.” There are changes in the field too. “We're keeping further apart. Talking out of the vehicle with windows wound down instead of getting out to say ‘g'day’,” said Brett.

 

"We've had a few across the bonnet meetings with contractors, instead of shaking hands like we used to."

 

“Skype meetings have saved a lot in travel time. Before we would drive to Wayatinah for a team meeting in the morning and drive back to Strathgordon. One Skype meeting can save us a five-hour round trip for a one-hour meeting. That's four hours we get back to do more work,“ said Brett.

 

"It might be worth leaving some things the way they are after COVID-19 passes. Especially for the people it's working for."

 

On weekends, Brett travels to New Norfolk where he lives. He and his wife still get out and exercise, but it’s not the same as it used to be. “We walk to the coffee shop, but get takeaway coffee instead. We take it home with us instead of going into the coffee shop and sitting down to chat,” said Brett.

 

"My wife and I go for a walk every day. But we’re missing that connection with the locals."

 

All this social distancing means you have to keep connected. “We've been Snapchatting with the grandchildren. They live in the North West of the state. So we're getting lots of video calls to see what they're up to. They're home-schooling at the moment,” said Brett.

 

Caretaker of the village, dam, station and campsites, Brett looks forward to tourists and campers returning and new faces at the lodge. That's when everything will feel normal again for Brett. Until then, you can expect him to be lapping up the solitude and keeping spirits high.

 

Brett doing an excited jump on Gordon Dam

 

 

 

 

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