Pip Buunk, NZ's only female driller, in her own words...

My teachers and careers counsellors didn’t think drilling was a good choice for me, mainly because they had no idea what it was. They said it wasn’t a job for a young lady! I responded; “My mum helps dad’s drillers on the rigs when they need an extra hand, so looks to me like it’s for everyone!”

I had my parent’s support from day one - their only rule for picking a career was that it had to be sustainable. So, I ended year 12 with three modules towards a drilling course completed by correspondence.

I called up the owner of my local drilling company and he told me I could come in and give it a go. I started doing work experience in the weekends and school holidays; learning to weld, help on piling sites and drill water wells - I loved it! Being outdoors, the physical job and the hands-on learning.

This was a shock to my dean and career counsellor as for a while I had wanted to be a hairdresser.

The morning after my last exam, my mum took me to sign out of school. My teachers couldn’t believe it, and thought I was making a huge mistake, BUT.. I knew there were piles in Blenheim I needed to test the next day so I had no doubt where I wanted to be.

Early the next morning, I was in a truck with the drilling crew, driving up to Blenheim. The first of hundreds of trips all over the country chasing work adventures. The guys from this trip I now greet with “hey uncle!”. They became the crew that taught me the ropes, worked alongside me in knee deep mud when things got messy. They helped me learn what went wrong if I messed up, and how important it was to eat the meat from my dinner first, because if I didn’t they’d “help” me eat it!

Since then, I’ve had workmates from all walks of life and backgrounds. I’ve had some that would join me for a beer after a rough day. I’ve had some who would pray for me to find the way through whatever challenges I was facing at the time. Some have ended up as drilling family- one of the guys I worked with on piling rigs now works for my dad, and calls him Dad because, he’s my brother in everything but blood.
Others introduce me to their new girlfriends, as their sister.

On the other hand, there were others that didn’t make life quite so easy…

I’ve had some interesting experiences being one of few females on site, but as more and more women choose jobs in traditionally male careers, the crap we get becomes less and less. It’s becoming normal to bump into another woman tradie or engineer on site although in most of the companies I’ve worked for I’m the first woman to have been employed in a field position.

There were some moments where things got pretty intense and I just needed a break from drilling. Luckily, getting my truck licence was a must from the beginning so I could drive my own gear to site. It also turned out to be a handy backup for when I need that time out.

I left the company I was with early last year and called up a recruitment company so see if I could get some more experience truck driving- I ended up spending 3 months driving trucks to help clear the road after the earthquakes in Kaikoura. I was reunited with the first woman I’d worked on site with (she was a concrete truck driver back then). I was lucky enough to spend a few months learning the ways of an 8 wheeler from her and the guys at the trucking company.

One night, as I was pulling up to the truck stop, my phone rang. It was this noisy English bloke who was adamant I needed to run his new drilling division at Fulton Hogan. I honestly thought it was a joke! But over a year later and I’m in a higher position and with more opportunities than I ever imagined possible. All because I worked my ass off to just get the work done and do it well.

I love the second family I’ve built over the last 15 years, but my absolute favourite part of the job has to be the travel. From geotechnical drilling on the Puhoi to Warkworth road to environmental monitoring wells in Milford Sound. From gold exploration drilling in the old Martha Mine Waihi to geotech drilling in Christchurch.

I’ve been paid to go to more places than I can name, and I can tell you, I can’t think of many better jobs than getting paid to explore your own back yard. Everyone in an office wants the corner window- what if I told you that you could literally work in the ever-changing office that is in the bush, on beaches, next to beautiful lakes and up mountains, and in every city in the country?

Drilling isn’t the only trade that travels. On all the locations I worked at, there were other tradies who came in as part of the project; Carpenters, painters, steelfixers, electricians, mechanics, welder/fabricators, surveyors, digger and dozer operators, logging crews and more. All these people work together to get the project done. It’s cool to be able to look at a bridge, a building, or a factory and think, “I helped make that!”

Two years ago, just after the NZ drilling qualifications officially came out, I applied for and won a scholarship from the NZ Drillers Federation to complete my Level 4 certificate in drilling through MITO which I now have.

I am proud to be New Zealand’s first female driller but hopefully I won’t be the only one for long….