Derry Girls


Behind every great machine is great woman. Hard at work on the new A6 dual carriageway between Dungiven and Drumahoe are the girls operating the machines for Wills Bros Ltd. Darren Scully met up with them for a chat.

The role of plant equipment operator in Ireland has been male dominated since the start of time. Slowly but surely, women are starting to make a breakthrough behind the controls. It is a welcome development and we are finally starting to mirror other countries where it is very much the norm.

In the mid-nineties I packed my bags and headed Down Under to seek my riches in the gold mining industry. On a stinking hot day in Mount Keith, Western Australia, I laid eyes for the first time on a 300-ton Komatsu dump truck climbing out of the pit with a full load of paydirt in the back. The sight and sounds of it, literally took my breath away. How could something so massive actually move with all that weight on it?

Behind the steering wheel was a young woman, wrap-around sunglasses on and moving the machine up the gears as she headed for the crusher. “What’s wrong mate?’, asked my new pit boss, ‘Haven’t you ever seen a Sheila drive a truck before? Don’t they have that over in Ireland?” Well actually no, in Ireland back in the nineties, the only time you saw a woman on a site was the lady in the canteen sliding the bacon into the frying pan letting it float across the lake of hot oil till it got to the other side and then deposited it into your egg sandwich. I never made my riches in Australia, but I really enjoyed the experience and really enjoyed the chats with the many female machine operators working in the mine.

Without doubt they were far better operators than the lads. They were more sympathetic to their equipment, making sure not to drive over sharp rocks, and they kept the cabs in tip-top condition. They never moaned and if there was a problem with the machine, they were very keen to get it resolved as quickly as possible in case of any long-term damage. To me it made perfect sense to have more women on the job and thankfully it is starting to head this way here in Ireland.