F Troop

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
Four young women came to work in the rough, tough environment of forestry.

Submitted: February 24, 2017

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Submitted: February 24, 2017

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Back in the eighties there was a female contract planting gang working in Kianagaroa Forest. But first, let’s get one thing straight. We used to call our work crews ‘gangs’. No connotations, nothing to do with Hell’s Angels, Mongrel Mob or any other oddball group you might know of. To us a gang was just a group of workers, and I see no reason to call them anything else. Ok then, this female contract gang was the first in New Zealand and they could plant more trees in a day that any of the male gangs. I’m told it was all to do with female hips and bending over! Anyway that particular gang was called ‘F Troop’ because there was a TV programme of the same name at the time. Forestry wit!

When it comes to modernity, it has been said that the South Island is a little slower than the North, but eventually they started a women’s gang at another forest. It was during a time of high unemployment. Whoa, there’s something else to put right here: Governments used government department as a sponge to soak up the unemployed. Most of the time, those government departments did not have real work for the so called, unemployed, and more importantly, did not have the supervisory capacity. Any wonder the government departments were shown to be inefficient. So anyway, that other forest, their F Troop turned out to be a disaster.

The women sent out by the Labour Depart were world-wise and selected for their bulk. Even ‘bulk’ had a different connotation then: these were big, strong women. The work they were given was pruning, using ladders to climb trees and on steep country. Their supervisor was a young, small fellow, intimidated by his larger gang members. It takes a while to fitten up to climbing ladders all day, without having to climb up and down steep hillsides! So these women soon twigged that leaving their ladders down in the gully and ‘encouraging’ the young supervisor to nip down to retrieve them, gave the girls a bit of a rest! Now you see… The job selection by the boss as well as the supervisor he appointed is questionable, but the agenda might have been that the women would find it all too tough and quit. Is this an example of why females face difficulties in the workplace?

We needed four extra people for our pruning gangs, and where possible I preferred to keep the Labour Department out of the picture. They usually had people they wanted off their books. Instead I put an advertisement in the paper. By now we were calling ourselves ‘an equal-opportunities employer’ and the District Ranger had whispered in my ear that at least some females should be selected. In the back of my mind, I recalled the other forest’s experience, nevertheless from the twenty odd CV’s sent in, I selected ten to be interviewed of them there were four females.

Be aware that forestry work is physical, dirty and somewhat dangerous. Forestry workers are no angels with a pecking order evolved from no nonsense, hard bosses. Well, all that’s pretty much an urban myth, because in our case, due to a stable workforce from a stable community, we were no rougher or tougher than any other group of workers. But outsiders didn’t know that.

The CV thing was something that had to be gone through, but these were young people had little or no work experience, so the bullet points were really a reflection of what they did at school. While that is well and good, school pupils will act in a certain way in front of a teacher and differently among their peers. They will act totally different when immersed into a group of older people. Forestry work is constant and physical with little change day in, day out. We weren’t looking for Einsteins.

When you go for an interview, it is a good idea to be thoughtful about your appearance, and I have to say the young guys did not think bout of theirs. Yes, I know they were applying for forestry work. I interviewed the candidates in alphabetical order and I have to say that the guys did not impress overmuch. One of the girls, (I’m not being disparaging with the term) was a local girl and I had pretty much pre-selected her anyway. The other three were Wilsons! Wouldn’t that confuse the pay clerk, Albert? None were related and we already had another Wilson on the payroll! Anyway, these three girls were dressed up to the nines and looked pretty, which put doubts in my mind about their suitability. They all assured me that they enjoyed physical work and that they weren’t delicate. I still had my doubts.

I figured that one girl on her own might have assimilating into the gang because there would realistically be some favouritism towards her. So taking the bull by the horns, I employed the three Wilsons as well! Now, you have to be physically fit for forestry work and not everyone wants to go through the pain of it, so with these four girls, I made the same rules as for the guys. After three weeks we would have a meeting. If they did not like us, or if we did not like them, we could part company with no ill feeling. They agreed to the terms.

Of course there were some adjustments to be made here and there and we already had a couple of eighteen year old guys on the payroll so obviously they wanted to show their prowess. But that settled down after a certain amount of dust had settled. There were no toilets on the hill, so we had to make rules about that, and it was a simple matter of sorting the gangs out so the girls fitted in. Just the same those four had a good attitude.

Within a month, these girls were climbing trees (without ladders) to eighteen feet and pruning their way down and they planted trees during the season. Their output was at least the same as the men. They took part in all the activities including fire drills and burn-offs. The only thing they wanted to negotiate was that we had a logging crew operating in the forest and I had one of them helping with log scaling – measuring logs. My idea was to give each girl a month at a time on the easier job. They came to me because they found a month off the more physical work took away their fitness so they preferred one to be permanently on log scaling. They elected the person.

It all turned out very well and I had no regrets employing female workers. They worked with us for four years but the end came when the government of the day decided it had no place owning forests so we were all made redundant! I see two of them from time to time, both are grandmothers and both work in retail sales – have been for years! Nobody knows where one of them ended up but the other, also a grandmother, cares for the elderly.

You might hear all the theories and believe what you will about females in the workplace. All I can relate is what I saw; young women working hard in what was perceived as a male environment. Out of their overalls they were as feminine as any mother, wife or daughter.


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