Cherie Howie

Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Photo recall: Fun times, climbing poles, stringing telephone lines

A lot of our thinking has changed since women tackled 'men's jobs' in 1979

Kirsty Lamb, at 17 was one of the New Zealand Post Office's first women line workers. Photo / NZ Herald. Picture Research / Emma Land.
Kirsty Lamb, at 17 was one of the New Zealand Post Office's first women line workers. Photo / NZ Herald. Picture Research / Emma Land.

No wonder Kirsty Lamb was smiling: she was living the good life.

The 17-year-old was just a year into her career as a lineswoman for the New Zealand Post Office when she was photographed by the NZ Herald hanging from a Devonport telephone pole, a borrowed man's singlet covering a bank slogan.

Now a 50-year-old mum juggling two teens and jobs as a teacher aide and teacher of English as a second language, she has fond memories of her nine years working for the Government department.

"We did have a lot of fun. It was a different time then. There were different work ethics. Working for a government department was all it was cracked up to be.

"They used to go on about the Ministry of Works and that there was one guy doing all the work and four guys standing around leaning on their shovels - the Post Office was a little bit like that, too.

"It was so easy, there was no pressure. You just went to work and did your job. There were no goals to meet. If you wanted to work overtime and get extra money, you could. If you didn't, then you didn't have to. It was a different life."

As one of a tiny number of women working on the telephone lines, Lamb, now married with the surname Ellis-Smith, not only caught the attention of the media - but also her older colleagues.

Some were less than impressed to see a woman on the job, despite Ellis-Smith finishing top of her Takapuna intake that year.

"I remember I was the only female working with about 250 guys and a lot of the guys said, 'This isn't women's work'. That was just the old-school thinking, that women should be at home cooking and doing the dishes.

"I decided then that, even if I didn't like my job, I was going to get my training done and do the job."

As it was, she enjoyed it and stayed until 1987 when she left to study horticulture and landscape design at Massey University.

Besides, many of her male colleagues were supportive, and her father was dead proud. "I was proud and my Dad was especially proud. He used to say, 'my daughter, the pole-climber'."

As well as fixing faults, installing new lines and digging trenches for cables, she was chosen to work on the first fibre optic cabling in the country in 1986.

"They said I was chosen because I was a woman and had delicate fingers. That was part of the reason anyway."

Ellis-Smith says she did not grow up wanting to be a lineswoman. Instead, she got the job after applying for everything going after leaving Glenfield College at the end of her sixth form year.

"Basically, it was a job at a time when you took whatever you could get."

- Herald on Sunday

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