KODY House beat a large field of applicants to secure her apprenticeship in a field dominated by men.
"I was interested in challenging myself," says Kody House, reflecting on her reasons for becoming a diesel fitter. "I didn't know much about engines but I was used to manual labour."
The 21-year-old, who grew up on a cattle property in central Queensland, is now entering the fourth year of her apprenticeship with Komatsu. But while she always helped her grandfather out with jobs, she never showed an interest in cars or engines.
Out of high school, House took a job working for explosives company Orica in Gladstone. But she found herself drawn more to the work of the fitters and turners in the company workshops than the business administration she was studying at TAFE.
In 2008, she saw an ad for an apprenticeship with Komatsu and applied. After an aptitude test and interview, House beat more than 60 competitors (all men) for the position.
"I didn't know too much about the job but I was attracted to doing more hands-on work and thought I should give it a go," she says.
Based in Gladstone for the first two years, House's job frequently took her out on field services at mine sites, three or more hours' drive away. The work involved maintenance and customisation on loaders, excavators and, of course, the giant 830E dumper trucks.
"Everything's massive," she says. "Even the tyres are bigger than me. Seeing the trucks for the first time was daunting because everything was so big."
Because of the size of the vehicles, many of them have to be transported in pieces and reassembled at their final destination. "It's like a big Lego set," House says.
Much of the work involves overhead cranes to put the pieces into place and "rattle guns" to tighten or loosen anything. House rarely works alone because most jobs take a minimum of two people.
As far as she is aware, House is the only female Komatsu apprentice in Queensland. But after a transfer to Brisbane in the third year of her apprenticeship, she began meeting female apprentices at TAFE who work for other companies. "Usually I have to be 'one of the boys' but it's good now to have female friends as well," she says.
House will finish her apprenticeship and become fully qualified this year. "I want to stay with Komatsu to get more experience," she says.
"A lot of people have told me the first five years after qualifying is where you really learn the trade.
"I know I won't be able to be on the tools all my life but I still want to have a real technical role. I love troubleshooting and diagnosing machines and I want to get more into that, providing technical support to other tradespeople."
House admits that being a woman in what is still largely a man's world isn't always easy.
"Coming from an industrial town, I struggled in my first two years," she says. "I copped a lot of shit - it was very challenging and there were times I wanted to quit."
House attributes the support she got from her parents as the key factor in her sticking with the job. ''My mum has been amazing and has always been there for me," she says. "My dad was really good as well, before he passed away two years ago. At first he didn't want me to do it but when I did, he was right behind me. His death was hard because I really wanted to prove to him I could do it."
The move to Brisbane, though, has proved the right one, both professionally and personally.
"The guys here are more accepting than in Gladstone, a bit more modern," House says. "Some of them have got daughters about my age and they've taken me under their wing.
"I can do a lot more things by myself now and I've proved what I can do."
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