Helene’s building, breaking barriers
A Jerilderie woman’s career is helping dismantle gender barriers.
Apprentice builder Helene Mortlock was guest speaker at the recent Griffith TAFE graduation night, where she was also named the campus’s Outstanding Student of the Year.
For the last three years, Helene has been attending Griffith campus for three days every three weeks as part of her apprenticeship.
She started her trade with her brother Chris before continuing on under the guidance of her father, Jerilderie builder Paul Ryan.
At 42 years of age, Helene is considered a “late starter” in the trade but hasn’t let her gender or age hold her back.
She was the only female student in the TAFE Building and Carpentry intake of much younger male apprentices at the campus.
All this was achieved while supporting her family, her business (Jumptree Studios) in Jerilderie, and working on building projects with her brother and father, among other things.
At the awards ceremony, Helene graduated with a Certificate III in Carpentry, for which she also received the Award for Excellence, and Certificate IV in Building and Construction (Building).
Adding to the excitement on the night, it was revealed it was the first time in the 63-year history of the Griffith Campus that someone from the Construction Department had won the top gong.
Helene said she was ‘‘overwhelmed and elated’’ to receive such an honour.
She was also called in as a last minute guest speaker for the evening, giving an inspirational talk about her experience working in a “man’s trade” and encouraging young women to follow their dreams and not be deterred by gender barriers.
‘‘I’m the last of Dad’s three children that he has put through apprenticeships,’’ she said.
‘‘Both of my brothers did their time with Dad . . . I think Dad deserves an award for that.
‘‘As I said in my speech, any accolade I receive is really a reflection on my Dad, hence the award is really for him as a Master Builder and a most generous, fair and kind man who gives everyone a go . . . even his 42 year-old daughter, regardless of any mockery he may have copped.
‘‘I’m honoured to have his 60 plus years of wisdom and experience to learn from.
‘‘It’s an honour to be able to ‘carry each other’ in that which he no longer needs to do physically I can do, such as climbing up ladders and under buildings. What I don’t know, he does, and he’s able to communicate very well as he’s an excellent mentor.’’
On the question of gender stereotypes, Helene says she doesn’t believe being a female has set her apart from the ‘‘lads’’ in her course.
‘‘Being a mature age student I’m more committed and driven to achieve in a field I have loved all my life — building and design.
‘‘As a female apprentice in the building industry you initially stand out, but very quickly you’re measured for your contribution, work ethic, skills, willingness to learn and communicate etcetera . . . not gender.’’
The ‘‘trap’’ of stereotypical judgments should be redirected with a lot of areas of life, Helen points out.
Referring to her Dad, she says people have asked her why he’s not in retirement.
‘‘I say that as a society we should be keeping our elders actively engaged if that is their desire. They’re the ones that hold the knowledge and can teach us ‘young guns’ so much, if we care to listen.
‘‘We should value everyone for what they can do and focus less on the negatives.
‘‘To see the value in everyone, young and old, male and female, and see past what they don’t have, or may have lost through age or accident or lack of opportunity, so that we see what they do hold and can give . . . for nearly everyone has something to offer.
‘‘There really is no such thing as someone who is disabled, too young, too old, we are just able to contribute in differing ways if we choose to do so given the chance.’’
Helene finished her graduation speech by thanking her TAFE teachers, father, brother, and family, and stressed the value of older, experienced mentors, and their contribution to society.
~ Sophie Burge & Judy Ryan