WOMAN'S DAY: First female sparky paves way for others
In celebration of International Women's Day, the Chinchilla News is shining a light on inspirational women who work in and power the Western Downs energy sector.
Like many other industries within Australia, being male dominated is not unique to the energy sector, and the following women are paving the way for the new normal - they just wish more women would apply for roles within the industry which boasts endless opportunities for those determined to juggle the shift work and life balance.
It takes guts and determination to do something unexpected and new and the following woman has these qualities in spades.
Working as the only female electrician for a Queensland mining company in the 90s (while driving ambulances as a side job), Jodi Mathews has watched the mining sector evolve and become more inclusive over the decades.
"It's been evolving over the years, it's always evolving, and it's good to see the changes that occur and the continuous improvement," she said.
"I started my apprenticeship in an open cut coal mine then I went to power stations, and the power stations were attached to the CSG industry."
Working as Arrow Energy's central permit co-ordinator for the Surat Basin, Mrs Mathews said it's a great industry to build a successful career.
"Since (2008) being with Arrow I have done three diplomas on top of my trade… Arrow is good at having those potential avenues," she said.
"A role in any of these industries, you are forever learning new things, they find different ways of updating things… (and) the opportunity to learn and improve is always going to be open," she said.
The 50-year-old didn't sugar-coat her journey through the industry over the years and said it had been challenging, especially in the beginning starting out as a 19-year-old apprentice expected to do the same manual labour as men.
"I was told I was an experiment and if I didn't work out there would be no more women - so I obviously did something right," she said.
"In all honesty, when I started my apprenticeship, you weren't protected, you were expected to do everything and I would be absolutely knackered - at the end of the day I was shattered.
"You can't be precious, you just have to get in and have a go, but you also need to speak up and say 'hey, I don't have that ability to do that'."
Forging the way for the women who came after her, Mrs Mathews said she had to work in oversized men's uniforms with the crutch dangling past her knees while covered head to toe with coal dust.
"There weren't even women's toilets, so I actually had my own toilet block… they simply weren't set up for women," she said.
"It's a heck of a lot different now… It's not so much as common (to see women in the industry) now but it's a lot more accepted," she said.
Mrs Mathews said it's great to see more women take up roles in the industry because they often bring a new perspective or skillset to the table.
"I was neat and I would do all the mark-ups on the drawings because that was something I was good at... and I had small fingers (for rewiring switch boards) and I could fit into places they couldn't in behind machinery," she said.
Growing up on a Jericho property with a handful of brothers, the former sparky said she was always encouraged to get a trade and encouraged others to do so.
"Whether it be in workplace health and safety, driving machinery, or operating a powers station - go for it, I've met some awesome people in the industry male and female," she said.
With all great things come their challenges, the wife and mother of two boys said one thing about shift work is you miss out on family milestones, and that it's especially difficult for women in the industry that don't have support at home.
"I've worked all types of shifts while bringing up a family, but my husband was very supportive," she said
"A lot of women I speak to, say they are still expected to go home and cook the meals whereas my husband and I balance everything out."