Jessica Gardiner

SALT TRADESWOMAN,  SALT WORKSHOP TRADIE, SALT OF THE EARTH VOLUNTEER TRADIE

Trade - Plumber

I had recently come home from a two month travel trek though China.  For the first time in my life I wanted to lay some roots in a city and call it home. I wanted to learn a practical skill and mix up the scene. You could say I was a little rough around the edges growing up. My mother always cracked me up. She'd yell at me for getting muddy or riding around with the boys and coming home with bleeding knees. She'd say “No one will marrying you if your legs are covered in cuts and bruises” or “sit like a lady'”, “act like a lady” . So of course I'd go out looking for bigger trees to climb and bigger jumps to stack.

My eldest brother Ronnie was real cool about the idea. He advised me to get a white card and a pair of steel cap boots so I'd be ready to go right into a construction site when the phone rang.

As I went through the yellow pages ringing random plumbing businesses I tried a few different tactics. No one I had called had ever worked with a female plumber and most of them were pretty surprised to have a girl chasing their line of work on the end of the phone. After a few weeks of frustration I'd had enough of the rejection. I decided to jump on my bike (literally) with my white card and new shamefully clean steelies and walk myself into whatever construction site I went past. I saw a truck out the front of a residential property and a few tradies about, I pulled up and started chatting away....Hi I'm Jess, what are you guys doing here? Cool. What's your trade? Nice. Do you know anyone looking for a first year apprentice plumber...

After about two weeks and a few phone calls with a builder that was umm-ing and ahh-ing, I finally got a days work. The hardest part was over (or so I thought). Foot in the door. The first day of work was pretty funny. I was the only girl there. The boy's were all so awkward around me. No one knew how they should act, or whether or not they could speak freely because there was a woman present. The sub-contractor handed me a shovel and pointed at the ground and said 'dig here please' and moved on upstairs. I thought to myself “whaa?!- what's there?- hell yes I'll dig! -what are we digging for?- when should I stop?”. I was just so pumped to be given a go. Just quietly I did take a sneaky pic of the hole I dug and later sent it to family and close friends. Proud as punch I was of that hole.

In the last two years to keep up with plumbing, I've quit smoking. My drinking has dropped by probably 85%. My body is so in tune with its needs and I listen to them loud and clearly now. The first year I was barging through the front door every afternoon, covered in mud with my boots still on, I'd tsunami through the kitchen eating everything I saw that was instantly edible. I was barbaric. After half an hour of consuming my body weight in food I'd wash off the mud, and jump into bed. First year was exhausting.

At the start of this journey I said to myself no matter how tough it gets, I'll give it 12 months before I make my decision because I knew it was going to be a big lifestyle change and I had to be willing to try and adapt. That year went so fast and I've come so far since then. I just wanted to be one of the boys and do the job that they we're doing. Second year I'm in my element and I know who I am and why I am at work. I have just as much right to be there as anyone else and we all work hard and in unison at work. I've embraced my womanliness and love more than ever that I'm woman and killing it with my trade. I have rough-lovely hard working hands with manicures. . Its hard yakka, but anything can be done if you choose to be there and do it.

I love waking before the birds. I don’t even need to set an alarm anymore. I love sharing Sydney's busy roads with every other tradie and apprentice in their trucks and hatchbacks all sipping on coffee and listening to morning radio, you share a smile with this morning battlers. You share the cold dark blood morning with a smiling and mutual understanding. I love climbing in around and under a house all day and then turn on the water mains and having no leaks in the new service line I just installed. Damn that feels good. Turn on that new tap wear for the very first time. And I love getting out of my car, putting the keys in the door and letting the day go until tomorrow. Believe me, it's a satisfying feeling.