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07 Mar 2019

In a week celebrating International Women’s Day, we were contacted by Cate in response to one of our social media posts. Cate was surprised to hear that one of our apprentices Veronica is still getting looks of surprise on site for being a female in the trade. Cate was an apprentice back in the 80’s and experienced these same looks but had hoped that this would have changed over the years.

We reached out to Cate to chat about her experiences as a female tradie in the 80’s and were blown away by what she had to say.

When did you commence your apprenticeship?
1986 – I was one of the very early female apprentices way way back, there weren’t many of us at the time.

What were you doing immediately before you started your apprenticeship?
I did a TAFE course (vocational orientation program) at Box Hill TAFE which was basically year 11 with a day’s worth of cabinet making. English was geared towards resume writing skills and maths to on the job skills with the view to getting a job. Because I knew I was ‘different’ I needed to make sure I stood out. At the time I was very young (15) and jobs were getting harder to find.

What trade did you undertake?
Cabinet making

What made you decide to take up an apprenticeship?
It’s just what I wanted to do – an industry I wanted to get into. I wanted to be a builder but realised that at 5 foot and with a slight build that I might not be able to achieve this but I still wanted to work with timber.

What was the response you got from people at the time? Were they supportive, surprised?
Before I started at the TAFE people were surprised and sort of said why bother? Luckily the Local Leader newspaper did an article on me when I finished TAFE. I got the first job I interviewed for as the owner had read the article the night before!

Back then I didn’t even know that it was something I shouldn’t think about. I’m from a single parent family where if it had to get done mum had to do it – no gender stereotypes were present. I didn’t think of it as a female/male thing, I just wanted to work with timber.

Did you meet many other females in trades at the time?
I didn’t ever meet another female cabinet maker. Those that I did meet were through a Hazel Hawke program that I was a part of. There were a couple of women that studied the building course as a stepping stone for architecture after they didn’t get the marks they need to get straight into the course but that was it. I don’t remember any other women in the trade but it didn’t phase me.

What were the main challenges that you faced at the time?
Ignorance I suppose…

When I started at the TAFE to do the course, the class went on a camp that had no facilities for women so I was told you can’t go. I was 15 so they couldn’t take a young girl in full male presence. That then changed after I spoke up about it so that it wouldn’t happen again to others. Young girls these days don’t necessarily understand the issues we faced back then.

My family was looking to move up to Bendigo or Castlemaine from Melbourne so my mum took me up there to see if I would be able to get work – I guess Mum knew the realities of the difficulties I would face. No one would take a second look at me. They weren’t even supportive of it, not even a ‘good luck’ as I was leaving. This meant that we then didn’t move up there in the end.

Where has your apprenticeship taken you?
When Hazel Hawke was alive I was one of a group of 6 women who got to tour a number of schools with Hazel and talk to the students about taking up a trade as a female. This was right in the height of the Bob and Hawke era and was a great experience.

Are you still in the trade?
No – I left the trade and went to work in Hardware stores and travelled. I’m currently running my own business and I still get in the shed and play all the time.

Why did you leave the trade?
I wanted more diversity – where I got work was more cabinets than craft. In search of the right job I guess I got detoured. I’ve used the skills I learnt to help renovate my house and I’ve applied the experience to other roles. It’s definitely helped me on my way

Do you have any memories of your time as a female tradie that you would like to share?
I remember a union rep coming to talk and he had been there for 20 minutes before he suddenly asked ‘who’s handbag’s that’? When I said mine he realised there was a female in the room but I was happy because I just wanted to blend in.