Hard hats off to her! Canberra tradie hammers her name in history at Australian of the Year Awards

An Aussie tradie has cemented her place in history after winning the ACT Australian of the Year at this weekend's awards ceremony.

Paul Eyers
By Paul Eyers
4 Min Read

An Aussie tradie has cemented her place in history after winning the ACT Australian of the Year at this weekend’s awards ceremony.

Canberra resident Joanne Farrell is the first tradie to win the coveted Australian of the Year award since the ceremony’s inception 64 years ago.

And while it’s not every day that hardworking tradies get the acknowledgement they deserve, for Canberra resident Joanne Farrell, the award is a much-deserved tip of the (hard) hat.

A carpenter and builder by trade, Joanne topped the nominees from her state thanks to her efforts to boost female representation within the male-dominated construction industry.

After years on the tools, putting up with sexual harassment and sexist commentary, Jo realised women would never be on a level playing field unless more was done to demolish the industry’s toxic cultural attitudes toward females in the workplace.

In 2020, she decided to launch a not-for-profit program, Build Like A Girl, which matches budding female tradies with pre-apprenticeship and entry-level training, as well as mentors to help lay the foundations for a successful career.

Jo says the program’s name was taken from a sexist insult she commonly received when starting her career, where she was the only girl on-site.

“It could often be a lonely journey, so now I want to change that so when women enter the industry, they don’t feel so alone,” she said.

Now the General Manager of Kane Constructions, Jo praised past colleagues and family for giving her the self-belief to follow an unconventional path and fueling her drive for change within the building industry.

“When you’re surrounded by people who constantly reinforce that you can do and be anything, it’s very easy to walk your own path and have the life of adventure that I’ve had,” she said.

“If you want to change something that you don’t like, sooner or later, you need to stop talking and do something about it.”

Last month, Jo told Build-it that while being nominated for the Australia Day award was a huge honour, her job rebuilding tradie workplace culture still needed to be completed.

“Predominantly, it’s down to the culture on job sites – it’s the language and the things that are said (to women),” she said.

“Every couple of weeks, I have one of the girls coming to me about sexual harassment. Just last week, we had a really bad incident.”

“If it’s not that, it’s constant comments like ‘you can’t do this job’ or ‘you’re not strong enough to lift that’.”

Jo warned that the industry still has more evolving to do for women to feel comfortable, nailing the blame on bad habits such as drinking, gambling and ignored mental health issues, which she says fuel the on-site toxicity.

“It’s a shitty environment for men, let alone for women,” she told Build-it.

“All of those negative aspects that surround the industry filter into the industry and cause more problems.”

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Paul Eyers has worked as a journalist for a range of media publishers including News Corp and Network Ten. He has also worked outside of Australia, including time spent with ABS-CBN in the Philippines. Stepping away from the media, Paul spent five years sharpening his tools in construction - building his skill set and expertise within the trade industry. His diverse experiences and unique journey have equipped him with an insider view of Australia’s construction game to dig deep into the big stories.

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