Inspirational women powering the Western Downs’ energy sector
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.
From the first female apprentice to work at a Queensland coal mine, to a woman who packed up her life and moved to a new country in search of adventure - it takes guts and determination to do something unexpected and new and all of the following women have these qualities in spades.
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.
Andrea Mulhare - Arrow Energy - Western Downs operations geologist
Working in the Australian energy industry for more than a decade, Andrea Mulhare partly credits her father’s encouragement and assurance that she could do anything she set her mind to for pursuing her career in a male-dominated field.
“My parents never wanted to mould me into anything particular so that was a big plus for me,” Mrs Mulhare said.
Mrs Mulhare, an operations geologist at Arrow Energy by day and a wife and mother by night, said she’s the main provider for her family, and plans to lead by her parents’ example in making sure her little girl knows the world is her oyster.
“If she wanted to (work in the energy sector) I would encourage her, but she seems more interested in being a pet store owner,” Mrs Mulhare laughed.
The past field superintendent was born in Germany and after completing a Master’s Degree in Geology, she moved to Australia in 2005 and started work at a Moranbah drilling rig.
“After geology I did a post-grad certificate in energy studies because it was something that interested me,” she said.
“It was the typical ‘I only wanted to be here for one year’ but then I got stuck, and I was lucky when I started because the mining boom was happening so I never had a shortage of jobs.
“Then I met my husband and the rest is history… I met him on the rig, I don’t always recommend it, but I was lucky.”
Speaking honestly, Mrs Mulhare said generally it can be difficult for some women starting out in the industry, but said as long as they stand their ground, they won’t have any issues.
“I have no issues working with men or women, but working in a male dominated industry you always get a little bit more attention because you stand out, but as long as you don’t take too much notice it’s okay,” she said.
The geologist said she thoroughly enjoyed her role at Arrow and encouraged more women to apply for jobs within the sector.
“I just don’t think there are enough women applying,” she said.
“If you can find yourself a mentor, I think that’s important, especially in an industry where it can be hard to find your feet, someone that you trust and can talk to, that really helps… I always feel like I help the younger girls when they start with us.”
Jodi Mathews - Arrow Energy - Central permit co-ordinator for Surat Basin
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.”
Ebony McGrady - Shell QGC - Well site operator
A few years ago, while working for Morrison Corporation at an Origin Energy camp, Shell QGC well site operator Ebony McGrady started contemplating a new direction in life – and hasn’t looked back since.
“I did a bit of bar work, and I was talking to a few of the boys and thought the grass looked a bit greener over there, and maybe I could have a crack at something like that,” she said.
“The camp manager was encouraging, and she let me know about programs… so I threw my name into the hat for a MIGAS traineeship and apprenticeship for QGC in early 2018.”
Living in Chinchilla and working mainly at the Woleebee Creek site, the 28-year-old said even though she just started as a contractor she loves the job and plans to do everything in her power to stay in the industry.
“The well guys are really good, welcoming, down to earth and smart guys - I have learnt a lot,” she said.
“I’m learning every day, and it’s something new, I’m kept on my toes because every day isn’t the same.”
Ms McGrady said she understands how the industry may seem daunting from the outside looking in, but highly encouraged women to give it a crack.
“We could always use more women, we need to make it more of a girls club rather than a boys club – that’s the goal anyway,” she laughed.
“I’d say just do it – there’s nothing wrong with having a crack and with all these programs that are available, there are a lot of opportunities to learn regardless of anything, these guys are really inclusive of everyone and it’s a very diverse workforce.
“If you get in just grab it with both hands because it’s a great opportunity and stepping stone into whatever you want to do.”
Brooke Geary - Origin Energy - Field project engineer
Miles born and raised, Origin Energy field project engineer Brook Geary said more locals should apply for work within the energy industry.
Starting with the company in 2019, the 25-year-old said it’s been great to see that more young women are choosing to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses because it can lead to a range of exciting career opportunities in the Western Downs.
“It’s about exposing and showing them there’s something out there to suit absolutely everyone,” she said.
“It’s really important to encourage young women to become involved in those STEM courses that the high schools put on and to not be afraid to give it a chance.
“It doesn’t matter what your marks are or how well you did in high school, if you want something there are thousands of different paths to get there.”
Ms Geary said although she often hears the gas industry referred to as being ‘male dominated’, once you’re in it, it’s not different from any other workplace.
“Once you go to work you don’t tend to notice, everyone has their own opinion, everyone brings their whole self to work, and you just work-in together,” she said.
“What it boils down to is don’t be scared, it’s just like any other workplace, and it’s an incredible industry that has so many opportunities not just in Australia but the world… you can go so many places - the opportunities are endless.”
The third generation Miles local said working as a field project engineer is ideal because she’s faced with new, exciting, and challenging environments every day.
“You come for the job, but you stay for the people, and I really enjoy the challenge I get from work, each day can be quite different,” she said.
“I certainly enjoy it out here, it’s a beautiful community – I’m very lucky to have a job as complex and in a company as big as Origin but still get to live in a small town.”
Jess Weller - Origin Energy - Projects lead permit authority
About eight years ago Origin Energy projects lead permit authority Jess Weller traded in her housing portfolio for Hi-Vis and has been powering on ever since.
The mother who’s pregnant with her second son said she worked in real estate for more than a decade before starting a traineeship.
“I decided I wanted a complete life change and stumbled across a traineeship Origin had to offer and decided to take a chance,” she said.
“It was a complete change, it was something I never really thought about getting into - mining - but I thought I would take a chance and give it ago and that was eight years ago – I love it.”
Overseeing the high-risk works that happen on site, Ms Weller said every day is different, and it’s great to work with an amazing group of people in such a beautiful part of Australia.
“I would encourage younger women, especially local women, to try something new,” she said.
“Take a chance and give it a try, you never know until you do and it’s a very exciting industry to be a part of… you can have quite a career in oil and gas.”
Growing up in Walloon, Ms Weller said she’s always been a bit of a country girl and had no hesitations about moving from Brisbane to Chinchilla.
“I couldn’t find a better place to raise my family,” she said.
“I moved here five years ago so I could start a family and keep my career. I was doing FIFO for a number of years and realised it probably wasn’t going to suit me with starting a family, so we packed up and decided to move.”
Tracy Fields - CS Energy - Kogan Creek Power Station health and safety specialist
Dalby mum and CS Energy Kogan Creek Power Station health and safety specialist, Tracy Fields started working in the energy industry 17 years ago, and said it’s amazing to see the industry adapt and change – especially with the announcement of the region’s first green hydrogen plant.
“I think it’s outstanding, all the things that are happening with renewables and different sorts of ways they are exploring making energy that is sustainable, it’s a fantastic industry with a great future,” she said.
“What it looks like now, I can’t imagine what it will look like in 10 years’ time, and for a young person to be a part of that would be an amazing opportunity.”
The born and raised Hannaford local said all the major companies in the region have various programs, and a strong youth pipeline through local schools – but it would be great to see more women apply for roles.
“The Industry is open to and encourages females in non-traditional roles, although one of the problems is females actually applying,” she said.
“That’s a part of the challenge, to get that message out there to say when you’re thinking about what you can do - well women can do anything.
“If you have the aptitude, attitude, and enthusiasm to try a trade, then being a female isn’t a barrier.
“Don’t be turned away by the fact that it’s a male dominated industry because females bring a different perspective and are highly encouraged to apply.”
The mum of two boys uprooted her life in Brisbane 17 years ago, leaving behind work at a venture capitalist business for a chance at a different kind of life.
“A friend at a drilling company called about a safety role and said ‘you just have to be willing to fly to the middle of nowhere and spend weeks on a rig,’ and I thought it would be a great way to see the country,” she said.
“It’s a great way to bring up children and it’s a good lifestyle… and the sense of community is great.”
No stranger to change, Ms Fields urges any women thinking about giving the energy sector a go to “just do it”.
“Change can sometimes be confronting, and like any change it is understandable to be nervous about trying something new or going into a different field but like most things once you try something and you step outside your comfort - you can often find that change can be rewarding.”