From hospitality to hauling

Since moving from Japan to the remote Pilbara region of Western Australia, Mari’s had a fascinating career trajectory – changing gears from hospitality to driving huge mining trucks and excavators.

Last updated: 8 December 2023


“I really like operating. I love it.

I never thought I’d get a job in mining. I’d been working at Coles for a few years after I moved to a remote mining town in Western Australia and had a baby.

When my daughter was almost a year old, I dropped into a skills office to see a friend, and she offered me a job driving a dump truck. I’d only ever worked in hospitality and retail, so it was exciting to get a start in the mining industry.

Mari on site in Western Australia with one of the enormous trucks she operates.

Within a year of driving trucks, I was asked to apply for a fly in, fly out (FIFO) job with Rio Tinto’s Iron Ore team at Marandoo Operations.

There were a few big culture shocks when I started.

The first was the sheer size of everything. I grew up in downtown Tokyo – my high school was around the corner from Rio Tinto’s office in Japan – so being on-site in regional Western Australia was like another world. You need to walk an extra mile to get anywhere! The distance was a lot to get used to.

The trucks themselves were so impressive, too. It was amazing that one tiny person was sitting two stories up in this enormous vehicle – driving, reversing and unloading without driving off the road or making mistakes. It feels like a normal car when you’re in it, but I thought they were so cool when I first got there.

The language barrier was hard for me. In hospitality, I could get by ok with broken English, and I’d lived in New Zealand for 10 years before moving to Australia, so I could understand English quite well. But on site, you’re driving, making quick decisions, giving directions, and trying to communicate on the two-way radio. So it was important that I could speak and understand clear English for safety and to do my job. I had to adapt so I could understand. I listened to local radio stations a lot, because they speak naturally and fast, and through a bit of static like the truck radios.

It must have worked, because after about eight months on site, my supervisor asked me to become an on-the-job trainer. So I’ve been onboarding and truck training ever since. I operate a digger now, but the main part of my job is still training. We used to do practical training – it was fun to sit next to someone as they learned how to manage those big trucks in slippery, wet conditions. But nowadays, we use simulators and must work around automated trucks on site, so it’s important we know how they operate for safety.

I would love to see more women working in operational roles, and especially more Japanese women. Even though I’m the only Japanese woman on my site, everyone has always been very supportive and encouraging of me. Safety always comes first, and you get used to the size of everything very quickly. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

So if you’re working in hospitality and dreaming of a career in mining, take the leap.

If I can do it, you can do it.”

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