Out of the Mines and Into the Mind

Luke Costello is in his second year into a Bachelor of Psychology with honours at UniSC Moreton Bay
Luke sits in an empty lecture theatre at UniSC where he is studying psychology
Luke dressed in mining uniform with his helmet as a Fly in, fly out worker
Luke as a young mine worker, dressed in fluorescent orange and covered head to toe in black soot

After more than a decade as a FIFO worker in the coal and gas industries, Luke Costello realised he could – and would – completely change his life’s direction. Now in his second year into a Bachelor of Psychology with honours at UniSC Moreton Bay, Luke’s determined to try and understand what makes people tick.

Luke Costello says he is lucky that he knew from an early age what he wanted to do after high school.

“Since Year 10, I knew I wanted to be an electrician,” Luke says. “I did a lot of work experience during the school holidays in Years 11 and 12, trying to get an apprenticeship in my hometown in Warwick, but I couldn't find one. So, I had to look elsewhere, and ended up in Middlemount.”

Luke found work in the coal mining industry, working underground in wash plants and on draglines during his apprenticeship. His first job as a tradesman was working as a fly in, fly out (FIFO) worker out of Cloncurry on a construction project for a zinc mine.

He then tried his hand in the gas industry, working on gas well heads around Miles, Chinchilla, and Roma before moving to gas plant construction on Curtis Island, QLD, and later to Onslow, WA.

“They were mostly FIFO jobs, so eventually I got tired of that and ended up back in Warwick for close to a year doing domestic sparky work, which was okay, but then I found myself going back to underground coal.”

Luke had just turned 29, and says he got to the stage where he wasn’t satisfied with his work.

"I didn't like going to work anymore. So, I started writing down some ideas of things I wanted to do instead.”

On Luke’s list of possible new ventures, were several ideas that could have taken him in completely different directions.

“I had ‘electrical TAFE teacher’ written down. I had ‘owning a pub’ down as well, starting a nice, vintage Queensland-looking pub. There were a number of other ideas on there too, probably half a dozen things on the list that I wrote down and thought I might want to try.”

It was the start of the new year, January 2021, that Luke had his “light bulb moment.”

“During this time I drove a lot to and from work – from Middlemount to Warwick and back to Airlie Beach where I lived – so I used to listen to a lot of podcasts during the drive.

“On one drive I was listening to Joe Rogan's podcast, and his guest was Dr. Phil, who’s a psychologist. I was just sitting there listening to it, and they were having a really good conversation about human nature and that sort of stuff…why people do different things.

“And that's when it clicked. It was probably a 20 second decision for me…I decided right then I was going to become a psychologist, because I've always been curious about what makes people tick and what draws people to do the things they do."

Going to university, Luke says, was never an option. None of his immediate family – and most of his extended family – never went to university, so he says he never thought about it in high school.

“Listening to this podcast and hearing these guys talk, I had this light bulb moment. I thought, ‘Why can't I go to uni? There's absolutely nothing stopping me from going to uni and doing something totally different to what I was doing.”

It is a long road to become a psychologist in Australia, a minimum of six years full time. Despite this knowledge, Luke says he had a “massive drive in that direction.”

“Psychology was what I was going to do,” he says, “I was going to learn what makes people tick.”

Despite his determination to go to university and become a psychologist, Luke kept his plans quiet from friends and family while he sussed out how to enact his new life path.  

“I didn't even know how to get into uni, so I literally just rang up. I can't even remember which university it was, but I rang them up and said, ‘How do you go about getting into university?’

“I ended up ringing a few random universities, and I had a really good conversation with someone at the UniSC help desk one day. We probably spoke for around 20 minutes as they walked me through the QTAC application process, and I wrote it all down.

"So, I applied and jumped through all the hoops, and during that time I didn't tell anyone what I had done, not even Mum and Dad.”

Then, on a date Luke remembers well – the third of June, 2021 – he got his letter of offer to start at UniSC at the Moreton Bay campus. He was living in Airlie Beach, working as an electrical coordinator for an underground mine, and – in the space of three weeks  – Luke packed up his entire life and made the move.

“I handed in my resignation, packed everything up, moved to Brissy and became a full-time uni student, all in the space of three weeks. And that's when I rang mum and dad and announced it to my family, through our family group chat on Facebook Messenger."

Luke kept his ambitions quiet to make sure he had "definitely been accepted" and the ducks were in a row. "Then it finally came to fruition – which filled me with heaps of excitement – so I was pretty motivated to get started.”

“Everyone was supportive, there was no negative stuff. It was definitely a big career change, so there were a few surprises when I started to tell people.

“I went from working seven days on, seven days off, in an underground coal mine environment in rural towns to suddenly moving to the city, going to uni and learning content, having to write essays and reports and things like that. It’s totally, completely the opposite end of the stick.”

As opposite a lifestyle as it is, Luke says he’s enjoying the learning process with the overarching motivator being “getting that ticket as a psychologist.”

“I basically treat this as my new fulltime job,” he says. “I think it's important to have that mindset because it will be my job one day. It is challenging – I'm just in my second year this semester – but I think having a lot of adult life experience is a big help.

“I’m not straight out of high school or living under Mum and Dad's roof. I lived in a 3x3 metre donga for four years during my apprenticeship, have lived in a lot of camps away from home and seen a lot outside my hometown, so I’ve got heaps of experience to draw upon outside of uni, which helps put things into perspective.

“We might be going over something in social psychology, or a key topic, and I'll be able to link that with something I've seen or heard or been involved in throughout my years of FIFO work.”

Luke says learning he could handle the workload was a real boost. “It's nice to learn that about yourself…I didn't know how I would handle the workload in a totally new environment.

“I decided I was going to put my best foot forward and give it a good go. I think the sense of achievement I got from learning that I can do all the academic stuff and learning how to structure my time was really nice.

“I learned a fair bit of that while working as a coordinator – you’ve got to have time management skills – but studying for four subjects has its own obstacles."

Reflecting on his original ideas list, Luke says while there were half a dozen ways he could have gone with his new career challenge, he is grateful he chose psychology, as there's a "definite need for it."

“Thinking about the pay wasn't even a criteria for me, because as a FIFO worker I've been on good wages for a lot of my life, and been very fortunate with that.

"I just wanted to be doing something where I was waking up every day knowing I'd enjoy my work. So, this is where I am. And I'm enjoying it."

red and black truck in mine tunnel