Fast forward a couple of decades and the Weipa operation has more women in charge than any other time in the company’s history.
It’s a point of pride for Audi, who has been able to rise through the ranks of one of the world’s biggest companies to become a leader of a multi-billion dollar mining operation.
Her official title is Rio Tinto Weipa’s southern operations manager, which, in simple terms, means she looks after Amrun.
It’s been a long journey since bashing up the dirt road to Weipa in a blue and yellow Kombi van after backpacking in Australia.
Born in Ireland and raised on a small farm about 20 miles from Dublin, Audi is the youngest of seven children.
Her mum is actually Australian, which means Audi speaks with an Aussie-Irish tongue which features the best of both accents, depending on your perspective.
Her sister Doris was living in Weipa with her in-laws, who owned the caravan park, so Audi decided to make the Cape her first major stop in Australia.
“When I left Ireland it was -2° at night. When I got to Cairns it was 32°. In Weipa it was 39°,” she said.
That was the beginning of what was supposed to be a 12-month trip before heading back to Ireland.
“I went travelling around in this Kombi and spent time doing backpacker work,” Audi said.
“We were on Fraser Island at the time of the Childers fire that killed those backpackers.”
The Kombi made it to Weipa – although it was a struggle.
“I remember we were going up the Palmerston Range and going full speed and being overtaken by a cyclist,” she said with a laugh.
“Then we got to the PDR and it was all dirt. I hadn’t driven on a dirt road before.
“The only bitumen was a small strip at Coen.”
When she arrived in Weipa the second time, it would be the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship with the town.
“I applied for a job at the lab with Comalco as an analyst,” Audi recalled.
“At that point in time there weren’t many permanent roles going so I had to job-share with another lady.”
Tasked with testing bauxite samples and grading the quality of the product was a great introduction to the business and after a couple of years, Audi was given the opportunity to set up a special hygeine lab.
“It was for dust and noise monitoring, which didn’t exist at the time,” she said.
Eventually Audi moved onto the mine site, starting a role as an operator at Andoom on Christmas Day of 2005. “You think they go fast when you first get behind the wheel,” Audi said of driving a mining truck for the first time.
“I remember the trainer took me down the road and we got to 40km/h and I was hanging on to the steering wheel for dear life.”
Even just 16 years ago, women were few and far between, although Audi said she had plenty of support from her male colleagues.
She met her now-husband Dom and they joined the same shift so they could enjoy the Cape York lifestyle on their days off.
Audi ended up landing a gig in dispatch, although it was short-lived as Dom landed a role in Western Australia.
“I ended up back in the lab in WA, which was a step backwards for me,” she said.
“We stayed at Cape Lambert for 10 years and I spent all of them in the lab, albeit in different roles.”
As Rio Tinto Weipa ramped up construction of Amrun, a $2.7 billion project, Audi returned with Dom and landed a role as the marine superintendent.
“I couldn’t believe how much Weipa had diversified,” she said.
“We were having Women in Mining breakfasts and there was a lot more recognition for women in the industry.”
As Rio Tinto pushed roles to Brisbane for its integrated operations team, Audi was able to progress to her current position as manager of southern operations.
“I look after 430-odd employees and that’s a big responsibility,” she said.
“I really enjoy the role and the challenge.”
Audi gave credit to former GM Dan van der Westhuizen for helping her step into a more senior role.
“What really stuck with me is that he said if you see an opportunity, take it,” she said.
“Have faith in yourself.”
It’s a message Audi now passes on to others as they look to climb the rungs of the Rio Tinto ladder.
For now, she’s happy to be in one of the most senior positions in the bauxite operations.
However, Audi isn’t resting on her laurels.
She’s currently studying so she can one day become an acting general manager, with a view to one day perhaps looking after her own major operation.
“I do have that ambition, which I think is healthy.
“You have to keep growing and learning in this industry.”