Kim Burton left school in Tasmania’s North West in 1980 knowing she wanted to pursue a trade, but no-one in her town would employ her.
- Ms Burton said that growing up on a dairy farm near Burnie, with a couple of brothers and an electrician uncle, “it seemed pretty useful having a trade”
- When she first went down the mines there were no flushing toilets
- After 40 years as an electrician, she has been recognised with a Women in Resources award
“One company said to me, ‘we really can’t take the chance, you’ve never done a trade subject’,” she said.
“But at high school in the 1970s, trade subjects for the girls weren’t an option,” she told ABC Hobart.
Growing up on a dairy farm near Burnie, with a couple of brothers and an electrician uncle, “it seemed pretty useful having a trade”, she said.
“My family was quite happy for me to try and get an apprenticeship but my father didn’t think there was much chance,” she said.
She decided to head to Tasmania’s remote west coast, where she went on to become the first woman to qualify as an electrician in the mines.
There were only four women working in the mines on the West Coast, and Ms Burton was the only one at the mine in Rosebery.
First time underground
The mines were set up for male workers, and she faced some challenges as soon as she went underground.
“I asked ‘where do you go to the toilet?’. They said ‘well, the guys just pee in the drain, anywhere where there is flowing water’,” she said.
There was also a “sort of timber lean-to there covered with hessian. Being 17 I thought I’d go to have a bit of a peep in there.
The toilet set-up was not the only part of the mine geared towards men.
“The boys had all those naked women on calendars on the wall,” she said.
“Not that it bothered me.”
A girlfriend of a man she worked with sent her nude posters of men that she put up around the place.
Too young to get accommodation
Ms Burton was accepted to work in the mine, but on the proviso that she found somewhere to live.
The mines provided accommodation to their workers, but you had to be 18 to have access to it.
“They offered me an apprenticeship there in 1982 as long as I could find some accommodation,” she said.
“They didn’t house anyone until they were an adult, so a kind family took me in for a few days while I found some board when I started.”
Pregnant and working underground
Ms Burton has spent 30 of the last 40 years working in the mines.
She has had children and returned to working 12 hours a day underground within a few months of giving birth.
“I’d been there about 14 years by the time I became pregnant,” she said.
“I didn’t tell the guys because I didn’t want them to treat me any differently.”
She ended up doing her final exam for TAFE with a foot pushing under her ribs, and gave birth to her first child soon after that.
“She was sitting there, I was so fatigued I’d forgotten to drop her off at childcare.”
Women in Resources award
Ms Burton has been recognised in the 2020 Tasmanian Women in Resources award, as the recipient of the Outstanding Tasmanian Tradeswoman, Operator or Technician award.
She told ABC Rural that while she didn’t plan to go in for an award — because she was just doing her job — she “thought about it and thought about the young people coming through”.
“It’s good to know that women can make a career of it, because sometimes you get a few people that like to put you down,” she said.
“I’d just like people to know you can certainly stick to it and the reward’s just the job itself.”