WHERE EAGLES FLY AND TERMITES RULE: Tour Three into South Australia, Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory 26th April to 10th June 2021

Currently we have just come to the end of Tour Three which has taken six and a half weeks and over eleven thousand kilometres. It has been a truly extraordinary trip with workshops being run in South Australia and then in the Northern Territory for the first time with great success.

SALT has travelled in rural and remote NSW for many years when teams of tradespeople volunteered to help farmers in drought areas between 2014 and 2019. We know how important it is to be prepared and plan for all eventualities. When you are 100’s of kilometres from the nearest service station or shop, you cannot afford to leave things to chance nor your fuel tank low. Driving to Darwin and back was on a whole new level and took all our previous knowledge plus research into driving into areas we had not been to before.

The months and weeks before this tour flew by, as we were also still running workshops and had all the logistics of two previous tours to organise, whilst core tradespeople were also dealing with personal events on an unprecedented level. It felt like the perfect storm.

Lists became the guiding force that bought us to target, with hours to spare, as we took delivery of our second tool trailer and outfitted it ready to run workshops. Driving and first aid courses were completed and were to prove worth every cent. Risk assessments helped to get us to the most optimum position we could be to start this tour.

Finally, we were heading west towards Adelaide in South Australia where the first two workshops had been organised with the South Australian Department of Education. Whenever we can, we work with Departments of Education when organising schools to visit and this hugely helps the logistics of the tour organisation. Whilst in Adelaide it was also wonderful to catch up with people at an informal SALT meeting before we turned north to start our journey up the Stuart Highway with the next stops Port Pirie and Port Augusta, then on up, crossing the Tropic of Capricorn and the South Australian Boarder into the Northern Territory.

Alice Springs and Tennant Creek are very individual places but one of the extraordinary things about the SALT Workshop is that no matter where we go – from a well-resourced school to a school with students struggling to engage- the result is the same. In the words of students:

  • I had a great time. It taught us all many things. Gave a sense of achievement & confidence.
  • I like how the tradies went through everything and didn’t think you were stupid if you didn’t know something.
  • I enjoyed the whole experience. How new and improved skills are exciting.
  • Learning new things and doing things I never thought I could like working with machines.

And the Career Advisors:

  • A few students did not want to participate at first but within 30 minutes they were super engaged.
  • Seeing the younger people start to believe in their abilities.
  • The workshop was brilliant and all tradespeople professional and had excellent rapport with students.
  • I have not seen many of these students engage in school. This opportunity actually brought tears to my eyes. Thank you SALT and PLEASE come again.

The journey continued to throw astonishing information our way such as learning that the statue of The Stockman in the town of Katherine which is based on Sabu Peter Sing was the cousin of one of the SALT founding members and we would meet his daughter at the workshop that day. Even our experiences of remote driving changed and sang.

The Stuart Highway stretched away in front of us, eagles soared and hovered over the road looking for small movements and thousands upon thousands of termite nests flashed past on either side as we drove. We continued on, heading due north towards Pine Creek, through the land of the Nitmiluk people and the Northern Territory.

One of SALT’s goals has been to reach all States and Territories of Australia and 2021/22 are the years that goal will be reached with workshops in New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Northern Territory, Western Australia, Victoria and Tasmania.

The Pine Creek Workshop was one of the highlights, most of the schools have been middle or high schools but this is a tiny primary school and the only school in Pine Creek. Pine Creek has a small population but an iconic past which has included its location at the junction of three large indigenous groups; the Wagiman, Jawoyn and Waray people. Its history also includes its part in the Overland Telegraph Line (built at extraordinary odds in the 1870’s) which the Stuart Highway largely follows, a gold rush mining past and modern events such as the Didgeridoo Jam. Even with a small permanent population it still ranks as an important town in the Northern Territory.

By the time we got to Pine Creek we had been on the road for twenty-four days and covered close to five thousand kilometres and this was the fifth workshop of nine in the Northern Territory. The logistics to run a tour like this, which travels huge distances including largely rural and remote areas is enormous and our risk assessments encompassed everything we could possibly think of. This work was well worth the effort and because we have worked in many rural and remote areas, we are well versed in what it takes and the problems we may meet. Some of the best value for money are the CB radios fitted to the vehicles and other things worth their weight but which we hope never to use include snake bite kits and a defibrillator.

Arriving at the school before anyone else was easy as we were staying in dongas at the Pub/ Caravan/ Camping site across the road. The workshop the day before had been in the airconditioned comfort of Katherine High School’s large hall, on this day we were outside in an undercover cola with the heat and humidity of the start of the Northern Territory dry season. We set our vehicles up in a tight perimeter to help isolate the workshop as per our normal protocols but as the entire school was to attend the workshop this was possibly overkill.

Ten years ago, Supporting And Linking Tradeswomen, SALT, envisaged reaching out to as many women and girls as possible across Australia to break down the concepts entrenched in society that work is gendered and in particular that trade work is for men only. This was a huge vision and a daunting task but as tradeswomen we are used to challenges and the need to keep going against the odds.

There is a curious history about how jobs became so gendered. When the Industrial Revolution began in the mid 1700’s, women and children where the major part of the work force. Life was cheap, conditions tough and people dispensable. By the early 1800’s a social conscious developed and children began to be relieved of working in mines and under industrial machinery. Women continued working with men but often in more menial roles and continued to be paid much less; conditions were terrible for all. Men began to take over most industry roles although women remained in the background and even when countries relied on them in times of war, they were quickly pushed back out as soon as possible. Coupled with this was the fact that women until very recent times (1980’s) where literally seen as men’s chattels (this was the legal tax term) or belongings. It is within our living history that women could not apply for mortgages in their own right.

So, this daunting task involves unravelling hundreds of years of the way things were which people simply accept and do not question. SALT took on this challenge in a very practical, grass roots approach teaching people to use tools at any age.

As we set up the workshop at Pine Creek Primary School, we caught glimpses of the children as they arrived at school. They seemed excited and interested and sneaked peaks around the corner at us as they washed their breakfast utensils but we noticed that almost none of them had shoes on, this being normal for the outback. We shouldn’t have worried because the school came to the fore with boxes of shoes for just such an occasion. Twenty-two indigenous children ranging from five to eleven years old plus adult members of the community joined together. When one of the Mother/Aunties with a number of children in the workshop was also without shoes, one of the SALT tradies took off her own boots and gave them to her, returning to the ute to fish out her fathers work boots which she had been carrying in memory of his recent death.

When we began our SALT Skillwomen workshops in 2012 one of our aims was that at the very least, people would gain life skills to help them to  be more independent and able to do things for themselves, but our end purpose is to open women and girls minds to the possibility of apprenticeships and a career in the trade. We know that this is working because 79% of young women who complete our workshop state that it changes what they are interested in as a career.  This figure comes from the responses of 1624 recent participants in high schools.

Primary schools are different and we are happy to teach both boys and girls as we find they are all open to new possibilities and the girls are not affected by the boys’ presence which can cause them to be rather preoccupied! We divided the children and adults into groups and began one of the most rewarding workshops of not only the tour but of our history. Our workshop hummed with tools and delighted children and adults who soon took ownership of their skills. Our world shrank to that hive of activity in the busy outdoor cola, surrounded by a watered green oasis of the small playground. Tapping on our shoulders, the universe also made a presence. During the short break the children, community and teachers plus some tradies walked to the Pine Creek Library to listen to the astronauts on the Space Station reading a story.

Before long everyone was back and hammers rang whilst spade bits dug into timber destined for handles. Before we knew it, thirty odd timber boxes where being given a fine sanding and we had children sitting down around one of our tradies filling out their feedback sheets.

When asked what they liked best some of their comments included:

  • The workshop was good and it was new to me. It was first time I made a box.
  • I love it and happy working
  • It was fun
  • Saws
  • I love the workshop
  • I like this and thank you for coming
  • It was very, very good and we did not had this before
  • It good & hammers

As we packed up and got ready to leave the children rushed up to us all giving huge hugs and farewells. We rescued a high vis vest which had been wrapped around one of the dolls in the sandpit and closed the gates behind us heading back out onto the Stuart Highway for the last stretch into Darwin and another workshop in the morning.

Having travelled from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean to the Timor Sea, we finally turned back to head to Clare for one last workshop in South Australia. We were due to head into Victoria to Mildura but the clouds of COVID were gathering again and we cancelled this part of the route to head back via Broken Hill and pick up two workshops in the ACT instead. Little did we know that the Pandemic was soon to overtake us two weeks after getting home and cause our next tour to be cancelled as we all went into lockdown on 26th June 2021.

SALT Tradesperson AMY SIRC

  1. Your Name: Amy Sirc
  2. Your Trade: Carpentry
  3. The age you entered your trade and how you did this: I was 29 years when I became a mature aged apprentice. After I decided I’d take up Carpentry, I wasn’t really sure what was the normal pathway into the trade so I booked myself an appointment with the careers advisor at my local TAFE. She told me about a short 9 week taste tester kind of course that was marketed towards young high school boys to see if they would like to consider either Carpentry or Bricklaying.
    I loved it and soon after it finished, I called up every builder in my local area for an apprenticeship but only one gave me work experience. I promptly enrolled in a Cert II in Construction (or as it is commonly referred to as the Pre Apprenticeship course) while doing work experience on a building site.
    At the same time as this, I enrolled in Bricklaying via night trade (in just over a year I had completed and received my Bricklaying qualification.)
    A few months into the Pre-Apprentice program, I got offered an apprenticeship with a builder based in Gerroa, NSW. I continued to stay enrolled in the Pre-Apprentice program and started my apprenticeship part time. I went on to work for 3 employers in total during my apprenticeship and have now finished with a Carpentry qualification.
  4. What attracted you to your trade? I have always loved renovating my mother’s houses and coming from a design background, I was always intrigued on how houses were built.
  5. What keeps you going when times are hard? I suffered from anxiety throughout my apprenticeship experience. I was constantly feeling that I was under a microscope and put extra pressure on myself to not only keep up but I over compensated to make up for being a female in a non traditional trade. I always struggled to feel like I was ever good enough to be a carpenter.
    I’m sure I’m not the first female tradie to have these feelings and I probably wont be the last but the only thing that helped me get through it was talking about it. The support I get from talking to other SALT members and other tradies was invaluable. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter what trade you are doing, the act of talking about issues helps.
  6. What makes you really proud? I’m proud of myself when I look back and remember where I had started from. How I had felt at the start, when I was fresh onsite with no experience, had no tool training or no prior knowledge about carpentry and where I am today and everything that I have learnt.
    I am in a position now where I can make a positive impact on other people. I love being apart of the workshops that SALT run in both Primary and High schools as well as in community centers across Australia. My proudest moments are the ones when I teach girls how to use power tools for the first time and watching them discover new skills that will last their lifetime and knowing I was apart of that experience.
  7. Have you had different careers? Yes, I left high school and studied Fashion Design in Sydney. I absolutely loved it but I found it exhausting working unpaid in internships. During those years, I worked for a large hospitality company at night working in their nightclubs, cocktail bars and restaurants. By my mid-late 20’s I was an Operations Manager and was no longer feeling challenged.
  8. What do you believe are the benefits of working in a trade as apposed to more traditional employment? YES! There are SO many pathways that lead from starting a trade and there’s lots different work you can do as a Carpenter. The hours are flexible if you work for yourself or subcontract and you are never out of work! I love that the work I do is physical, it keeps me fit.
  9. What do you love most about your trade? I love that I can immediately see the work I’ve done each day. I’m forever learning new things and easier ways to do my job.
  10. What personal triumphs have you had? Its not a huge thing or really a triumph but the one thing that never fails to put a smile on my face when I think about it is the time I competed my stairs module at TAFE. My stairs and balustrade practical work not only got me full marks but it was so good that I was asked to pull down the existing display stairs and leave mine up for all the carpentry students to learn off from then onwards. (I even low-key wrote my name on it so everyone would know that it was done by a woman)
  11. What do you do in your spare time? Outside of working for SALT and working onsite, I am beginning the early stages of renovating my mothers house. Prior to Covid, I loved to travel, I paddle board, go to the gym and regularly try to catch up with friends and family.
  12. Links to website/social media and/or hashtags. You can find me on Instagram @thislittleone.

Louise Mears Tour Three

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