Wāhine workers: Changing the face of forestry

Some didn’t get out of the van. Others lasted a day. Some made it through the week. Two originals remain.

Welcome to Truedy Taia’s world. She is the crew manager for an all-female team that work for Mahi Rakau Forest Management – an initiative that became a reality in 2019.

Today the women are out the back of Kawerau with the Tarawera mountain ranges in the distance.

Taia is trudging out of the forest, the back of her hand wipes sweat from her brow as she stamps on bramble and navigates her way through rotting logs and debris.

Celsius levels are rising as the sun sweeps across the morning sky.

The former cook, who used to work for the company preparing meals for the male forestry workers, says she loves the bush and being outdoors.

“I wouldn’t change this job for the world. I’ve learned so much out here. All the males in my family have worked in the bush and I wanted to experience that.

“I knew nothing so I had a lot to learn.”

When Taia started they were pulling out all the reject pines and that quickly progressed to other jobs including fertilising and thinning.

“Then I had to train my girls.”

But it hasn’t been easy.

“We’ve had so many women through here. Some have lasted a day, some haven’t even begun the day. Some have lasted a week. And I have one original that started with me.”

The job was mind over matter, she said regardless of physical strength or age.

“You just need to have the right mindset if you are coming out here. If you don’t then it’s not really going to work out for you.”

However, the 36-year-old is keen to encourage others.

“I’d say give it a go because you don’t know how much your body can take unless you come out. It won’t be for everyone, but like I said it’s more about the mindset than the fitness.”

Nikki Wilson studied graphic design at Victoria University in Wellington before family commitments bought her back home to Rotorua.

She enjoyed working with like-minded women who shared her enthusiasm for the environment.

“If you like working like a machine, you’re not gonna like this job. My favourite part is probably the fertilising because it’s not too slow and not too fast.

“We carry bags and spades and dig it in. Having a couple laughs on the lines also keeps you sane.”

Marie Botilas has a Diploma in Applied Management but it was the opportunity to make good money that called her to the forest.

But within days she wanted to throw it in. The 43-year-old had struck the physically demanding planting season.

“It was a little bit hard. I really felt like quitting but after a while I got used to it.”

Botilas said working in the bush was good for her soul and “uplifting”.

Being in a male-dominated industry also made her feel proud and kept her fit and healthy.

Although the weather was a nuisance.

“When it’s raining it’s horrible and when it’s hot you wish it was raining. You can’t win, so you just go with the flow.”

Geraldine Dabalos is the newest kid on the block.

She is from the Philippines and has clocked up one month and said having the job made her happy.

Fellow compatriot Nicole Pepito has big plans afoot and hopes to attend university one day.

The bubbly 23-year-old is determined to make the most of it and while the forestry work was demanding she won’t let it wipe the smile from her face.

Meanwhile mother of one Te Rau Rangiheuea has an affinity with the bush.

The 28-year-old lost her job as a chef due to Covid and said working in the forestry gave her options.

“I only work five days a week so I have family time in the weekends to spend with my son. Plus I am getting fit at the same time although it was challenging when I started.”

What is there not to like about being with Mother Nature?

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