STORY AND PHOTOS BY LAURA THOMAS
On a Monday morning at 5am it’s safe to say many people waking this early would wake up with a little regret. The weekend is over and it’s time to tackle a whole new working week. Jasmine Calgaret is not one of those people. The 20-year-old Italian-Whadjuk Noongar woman is ecstatic to be putting on her hi-visibility work wear and steel-toe boots and practically runs out the door to her new job.
On April 20, Calgaret had her first day as an official boilermaker apprentice at Barclay Engineering, in Perth’s south-eastern suburb of Canning Vale. At eight years old, Calgaret decided that’s what she wanted to be after her boilermaker uncle had shown her the skill and precision needed for the trade.
Calgaret would regularly visit her Uncle Mark throughout her childhood, who would often be in his shed welding.
“I was never allowed in his shed because that was the out-of-bounds area, so I was always wondering what he was up to in there,” she says.
Then one day she rebelled and decided to enter the shed and was fascinated with what she discovered. “He showed me what he was working on and I just knew that’s what I wanted to do,” she says.
Over a month into her new apprenticeship, Calgaret is happier than ever. This is the start of her dream finally coming true.
“Every day I go home and I just can’t wait to get to bed to start all over again,” she says. “I’ll be up at 5am [even though] I don’t have to be at work till 6am.
“I literally get ready in five minutes, you know. I’m not the hell girly girl, I just chuck on my clothes; they are already laid out on the bed before I even go to sleep. Then I’m sitting around twiddling my fingers in the morning, it’s like, ‘C’mon, c’mon’, I just want to get straight into it.”
Boilermakers cut, shape, assemble and weld steel to construct and repair metal products and structures for boilers, ships and other vessels, and iron and steel structures, like doors and bridges. The job often uses heavy machinery and can be dangerous. Boilermakers usually work in hot, noisy conditions and are on their feet for most of the day.
It was not an easy journey for Calgaret who tried on many occasions to get her foot in the door of this male-dominated industry.
According to Open Universities Australia, the percentages of men and women working as boilermakers is an eye opener – more than 99 per cent of all boilermakers are men and fewer than one per cent are women.
Calgaret acknowledges that she is one of very few women to tread this path. “There are not many women in boilermaking, especially being an Indigenous female,” she says.
She secured her position at Barclay Engineering with the help and support of The Wirrpanda Foundation, which has been guiding her path through training to apprenticeship for the past eight years.
Calgaret first heard about The Wirrpanda Foundation through Mission Australia, a community service organisation which helps people regain their independence.
“When I was 13 I was taken to an afterschool program called the ‘Deadly Sista Girlz and that’s where I first made a connection with Wirrpanda,” she says.
The Wirrpanda Foundation opened its doors in 2005 and has established programs in Perth, regional Western Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and Queensland. The foundation was founded by ex-AFL footballer David Wirrpanda to improve the quality of life of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The Wirrpanda Foundation’s programs are for people of all ages and cover health, lifestyle, training, employment and justice. Each program is guided by Indigenous role models and mentors, such as Fever player Josie Janz Dawson and ex-AFL player Troy Cook.
Calgaret felt unsupported growing up, her father was often absent but her best friend’s family took her in. She refers to her best friend’s mother as her “surrogate mother” and would return to her after high school and before going to The Wirrpanda Foundation.
“My dad wouldn’t even give me any money to get to school or anything. School was tough for me because I had dyslexia and I was a pretty troubled kid growing up,” she says.
When she was 16 years old, Calgaret’s mother passed away. She moved to the port city of Bunbury, 175km south of Perth, to complete her Year 10 education and lived with her Aunty Sinead. She recalls the pressure she felt and how little she had.
“One day I was doing painting in school and I got [paint] on my clothes and I chucked a bit of a hissy fit because I didn’t have much. So what I did have meant everything to me,” she says.
“Even now, everything I have means the world, and if somebody takes it or misplaces it I get really upset. I basically got kicked out of that high school. I was really lost, so then I started my pre-apprenticeship at TAFE in Bunbury doing welding.”
The next obstacle was soon to come. Calgaret was still 16, at TAFE, when she encountered her first experience with sexism and racism in her classroom.
“I was the only girl in the class. The guys at TAFE were really nasty and always saying inappropriate things.” They constantly pursued her with chants, like “‘Unna, unna, unna”, demanding, “What does this mean, what does that mean?’ Sometimes they would even do little dances around me.”
Calgaret says she overcame the sexist remarks, but the racism was more difficult.
“Then one day I came into TAFE and they actually wrote on my desk, ‘Dirty black coon sits here’.”
She decided to speak to a TAFE staff member about the racism, and was told not to worry and to not let the boys get her down.
At first, Calgaret says, TAFE wasn’t going to act but she did not accept that. “I said, ‘I’m going to go to the police because this is not on. This is disrespectful to me but also to everyone else that wants to learn’.”
Soon after, another TAFE representative spoke to Calgaret’s class, telling them nobody would be passing the course and getting their certificates unless someone owned up to the abuse. No one owned up and Jasmine felt she would have to leave the course.
“I had literally two months to go until I finished my TAFE course and I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t be spoken to like that. What was the point in staying if nobody was going to own up and then nobody would get their certificate. At the end of the day I left and everything got dropped and everybody passed their course. That hurt me.”
Calgaret came back to Perth, to her surrogate mother and The Wirrpanda Foundation. She did the Solid Ground Project, which focused on resume writing and, three weeks in, was offered an administrative job. She was there for six months.
“Never in my life have I ever heard of an organisation that has followed my entire journey, following me along for the whole process even though sometimes they had so many mentees,” she says. “To find the time to help me while they are also helping 40 other people is actually really extraordinary.
“I have a lot of respect for everyone there, for giving me something to look forward to.”
In July 2014, The Wirrpanda Foundation became a Western Australian Vocational Training Employment Centre for the resources sector, in mining, oil and gas and construction.
The federally funded VTEC program works alongside many organisations in the resources sector, aiming to place and mentor 200 Indigenous job seekers into long-term employment.
Byran McGarry is a VTEC mentor and recruiter who has known Calgaret since she reconnected with The Wirrpanda Foundation. He has guided her through many challenges and setbacks over the years, always motivating her to keep focused on her dream.
“Jas is more like a little sister than a mentee,” he says.
“I think when I first met Jasmine in our Solid Ground course to now, the one thing that’s been unwavering is that she has always wanted this apprenticeship. It’s been a really long journey, her character has had to develop through a lot of setbacks and knockbacks, so I think as a person her resilience to stay focused on that goal and to actually get there after two or three different careers over this period is amazing.
“She never sat around unemployed, she always kept working. She has never given up.”
After Calgaret completed her six-month receptionist contract with Wirrpanda, she decided to make a second attempt at a pre-apprenticeship in boilermaking.
The Wirrpanda Foundation helped her enrol at Trades North TAFE in the outer northern suburb of Clarkson, 34kms from her home in Leederville.
The Foundation also sent her to job-seeking network provider PVS Workfind, which helped cover the $2500 up-front enrolment fee.
Once again, Calgaret was the only woman in her pre-apprenticeship class but enjoyed her time at TAFE thanks to supportive lecturers, but she was soon to encounter her next obstacle.
After completing her pre-apprenticeship training she struggled to find work. Rather than unemployment, she decided to try her luck at another career. The Accor Hotel group hired Calgaret and she gave hospitality a good shot, working for the company for about nine months.
McGarry acknowledges the opportunity and challenges in Calgaret’s hospitality role, but says it was “so far from where she wanted to be”.
“I mean she was working the very unglamorous part of hospitality spending most of her time cleaning dishes. She was not using the skills she wanted to be using.
“She stuck that out for a long time and developed from that. It was quite a trying period, but her work ethic and ability stuck through until it was time to leave.”
Calgaret says she was pretty upset when she couldn’t get work in her chosen trade, but she seemed to be getting a chance when someone rang her lecturer looking for a first-year apprentice.
“So I called the guy up and he ended up getting back to us saying he only wanted to employ a boy. My lecturer said, ‘That’s discrimination’, and urged me to do something. I was told I should have taken him to court. I didn’t bother with that.”
Calgaret had many reasons to give up and forget boilermaking completely but the challenges, setbacks, sexism and racist remarks only made her more determined.
She credits at least part of her success to her girlfriend Melanie. “She has been my number one person for moral support. Not only was [The] Wirrpanda [Foundation] helping me look for jobs, she was too over the last two years.”
After the chance at an apprenticeship and the sexist knockback, Calgaret kept applying for jobs and presenting herself for interviews but without success.
“No one would take me on. Everyone was just saying the industry is quiet at the moment.”
Then one day everything changed.
The Wirrpanda Foudation VTEC Team is involved with the new 60,000-seat Perth Stadium, which is under construction and due to open in March 2018 for the start of the AFL season.
McGarry is also connected with Barclay Engineering through Brookfield Asset Management, which is working on the new stadium. He told Calgaret’s story to his contact at Barclay, who was immediately interested and organised an interview.
Barclay is a family run business which has been operating for 35 years.
Calgaret was interviewed and hired by Barclay as a boilermaking apprentice without hesitation.
She instantly felt at home working for the company. “I felt like the first day I was here I had been here for years already, I felt really welcomed.”
“I just fell in love with it straight away. You know the minute I actually got to pick up the welding equipment it was actually like getting a brand new car and sitting in it. It felt like I sunk into the chair, it was so relaxing but at the same time you are getting burnt [by the sparks] so it’s like a reminder everyday of why you love what you love, to come back the next day to keep going,” she says.
“There are days I go home with blisters all over my arm and it’s like, ‘That’s awesome, look at my scars’. It’s a proud thing that I have. I followed my dream.”
David Barclay, the company’s production manager and son of CEO Terry Barclay, is delighted to have a woman boilermaker on board.
“We are very happy to have Jasmine here. I’m surprised Jasmine hasn’t been picked up earlier because she has certainly got the talent,” he says.
“Jas has got a very good eye for the quality of work. It’s a very good thing to have, especially only a month in. Better than most of the people we have here. Jas does everything on time, when she is asked. We cannot count a single fault yet.” He laughs: “We’re waiting for it.”
Barclay says the company will employ anyone if they can do the job properly.
“In our workshop we’ve got that many different nationalities. You never look at someone and just identify them as that. You are a person that’s here to do a job. It’s equal among everybody, including male and female,” he says.
McGarry says he is proud of Jasmine and what she has accomplished, and is thankful Barclay Engineering gave her the opportunity.
“It’s fantastic to see an Indigenous woman doing a boilermaking apprenticeship,” he says. “And she’s not just doing this role because it’s an opportunity – it’s a dream, a dream she has had since she was a young girl.
“To be able to help someone into their dream and see them excel is great. Jas is a real inspiration to other young girls.”
Barclay says not many women do this sort of work, but when they do they should feel comfortable.
“Barclay is a family run business and we try to make it a family environment. Basically we want everyone here to be considered as family and that way if they ever need anything we are there to help, whether it be personal or work related.
“We want to help so we can further their career and make them feel comfortable about coming to work.”
Jasmine already feels a part of the Barclay family, and says she doesn’t plan on leaving anytime soon.