SALT Tradeswomen Australia Conference

Sydney 2016

Salt Women in Trade Conference Banner

SALT Australia Conference 2016

Supporting And Linking Tradeswomen’s founder Fi Shewring had worked for many years as a tradesperson and trade teacher before she started SALT. She had taught courses specifically designed to engage women for many years and through that experience realised that the issue of women entering into trades was not anything to do with women’s capability. She started to research, advocate and talk to women about their stories and wrote a booklet and papers (insert link) but whilst well received nothing changed. She realised that more needed to be done.

Whilst on a research scholarship which she designed to investigate the pathways women took into trade in the United States of America she attended the Women Build California Conference in Los Angeles in 2009. In her words:

“I was blown away by being in a room with 600 other tradeswomen! I had never been on site with another woman never mind seen this many tradeswomen and the truly extraordinary thing which really struck me, was these are all normal women whom you would meet in a supermarket. They were all ages, all shapes, all types….and this was in the days before this conference started attracting much bigger numbers. This is one thing that Americans do very well; they are very supportive and will come from near and wide to get together. It didn’t matter what the trades were, they had a common experience and a common goal to support each other. I thought at some time I want to do this; I want to bring Australian tradeswomen together to see what this feels like.”

It took another nine years to achieve but the inaugural SALT  Tradeswomen Australia Conference came to fruition in 2016. It was held in Wollongong, SALT’s home city and attracted people from not only across Australia but from the USA as well. Planning an event like this takes a great deal of time and effort and was all done by volunteers who were all local tradeswomen and none of whom had any experience in this field.

The result was an extraordinary event which celebrated ‘100 Years of Tradeswomen’ with an exhibition as part of the Conference, which went on to be shown in two other venues including the Broken Hill Munitions Factory, now part of TAFE NSW. SALT wanted to acknowledge the work of the many people who have broken boundaries again and again, showcasing women in trades is not new and many have gone before us. The exhibit started with Alice Anderson in 1916 from Melbourne, Victoria, who is credited with inventing the mechanical creeper. The work done by women during both World Wars was acknowledged but particularly poignant was the huge effort made by women during World War II.

Fi Shewring had been researching into the work done by women in trades during war times and came across the staggering numbers of women who had worked in munitions, aircraft building and ship building; over 40,000 in just these three industries in 1942. Not to mention the work done in the Land Army, nursing, parachute packing etc. Her research also led to lost photos about the production of the Owen Gun, the only Australian designed and produced gun of the Second World War, also known as the Diggers Darling, which was like SALT, also born in Wollongong. Following on from this discovery, Fi started to try and find women who she could interview who had worked in these areas. She managed to find a number of women plus family members who remembered the stories of women who had died and interviewed them.

The opening of the conference was also the opening of the ‘100 Years of women in trades exhibition’ and was attended by a small number of surviving women and family members representing others who had worked in munitions were presented with awards to acknowledge the work that they had done during the Second World War. NSW Minister for Women at the time the Honourable Pru Goward MP opened the conference which was also attended by the Lord Mayor of Wollongong, Gordon Bradbury and other guests.

The exhibition also highlighted work done by others since WWII, including women who continued to work in industry in Wollongong during the 1940’s to 60’s and on into the 1980’s and 1990’s, Tradeswomen on the Move and many others. It culminated in the work that SALT was currently doing including the SALT mobile workshop which commenced in 2012.

The next day was the main day of the Conference, MC’d by Narelle Hooper, an award-winning Australian advisor, author and director with over 25 years of experience in business journalism. She is Editor-in-Chief of Company Director Magazine and non-executive director of The Ethics Centre. Talks were given by people such as Millie Morris, an electrician with many years’ experience, who had dealt with horrific harassment in the early days of her career but who weathered the storm and had succeeded in sustaining her career. Also represented was Gina De George, then Head of Diversity for Lendlease.

The conference was attended by people from every state in Australia and 30 trades were represented. When the years of experience of everyone in these trades was added together there was almost 900 years of work in the trades represented.