Female plumber, gasfitter and drainlayer Kellie Hinton isn’t your bog-standard tradie

She was the first woman ever to pass Unitec’s New Zealand Certificates in plumbing, gasfitting and drainlaying, and until recently Kellie Hinton was the only lady tradie working at her current level in these occupations. She came to her profession through her father, and today they work together in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland on residential, commercial and industrial properties. Kellie’s expertise can also be hired through Tradespeople, Aotearoa’s national directory of woman and gender-diverse tradies, but let’s get to know her a bit first.

So Kellie, why do you do what you? It’s simple — I love it. Every day there’s something new and challenging to do — I never know what the next phone call will bring. I get to use my brain and hands, I get to spend time outdoors, and I get a lot of enjoyment out of seeing a job well done. Being able to help someone and remove just a little bit of stress from their lives makes every job worth it. 

MAIN IMAGE Kellie lives in Swanson, surrounded by nature. “My partner Martin Seitner and I call the foothills of the Waitākere Ranges home,” she says. “We live in an ’80s prefab classroom that my parents and I relocated and rebuilt into a house, near my extended family on the 10-acre property we share. We’re 1km from the main road, so as soon as I go through the gate, a weight falls off my shoulders as the city falls away and I enjoy the silence and patchy cell-phone reception. We’re surrounded by native bush and have a natural-formed pond at the front of our home, along with a stream that leads to a waterfall. Every morning when I wake up and open the curtains, I remember how lucky I am. It allows me to breathe, reset and do my job efficiently.”

Why did you choose to work in this industry? As kids, my sister Rebecca and I often spent time at my father Lance’s office, helping my mother Theodora out and annoying the fellas in the lunchroom with difficult questions while learning all about the trade. Dad didn’t want either of his girls to become plumbers, so Rebecca went into vet nursing and I went into travel and tourism. Then 9/11 happened, and I changed careers to accounts — for a company that ended up going into receivership and liquidation on the monthly pay day. Dad said, “Come out on the road with me and earn some money for a couple of weeks until you can find something better.” Famous last words…

ABOVE Kellie and her father/colleague Lance Hinton. She says the best part of her job “is working with my father, because it’s given me the chance to get to know him so well.”

You’ve had to overcome some health challenges to get where you are today… When I was 26, I had encephalitis, and six months later, I contracted viral meningitis. The specialist told my mother to bring me home because I wouldn’t be able to speak or control the left side of my body — challenge accepted! On my first day at Unitec, I overheard someone in the lunch room laughing about how I’d never make it — challenge accepted! To the guys in my class who joked about how I’d never finish the course — challenge accepted! To the men I’ve encountered during my career who’ve ignored me and spoken to my boss instead, even though he didn’t do the job, and the counter staff at supply shops who don’t believe I am who I say I am — challenge accepted!
I had a choice to listen to people like this or pick myself up and succeed, so I revelled in the looks on their faces when I met and exceeded their low expectations, passing my course with higher marks than my counterparts, both at Unitec and on the board exams. Now I have a wide support crew who challenge any fool who dares to disbelieve in me.

What’s a common task people call a plumber for that they could probably handle themselves? I think the most important thing to know about your home is where the main water isolation turn-off point is. There’s nothing worse than hunting around in the garden for it at 3am because a pipe’s burst; these things never happen at a decent hour. Knowing where this valve is can save you having to pay an expensive bill for an overnight call-out, because you can just turn it off yourself, then call a plumber in the morning and pay a normal rate.
Day to day, knowing how to clean out your shower waste is really useful. Showers block up easily if people have long hair, and pulling off the cap and removing the hair could save yours from clogging, your shower liners from funny-coloured mould, your nostrils from bad smells, and your toes from having a bath instead of a shower, while making your life so much easier.

ABOVE When asked about her most treasured objects at home or work, Kellie says, “This is going to sound strange, but Dad bought me a small pair of Rothenberg adjustable grips and they’re too small for the guys, so they leave them alone, but they fit my hand perfectly. They’re just the cutest little things — my precious!“

What plumbing-related jobs should we never try at home? Everything else. I know there are a lot of people out there who think they know what they’re doing and, yes, the repair might work, but you might also be messing with the health of you family due to things you never thought about. You can change a tap washer, sure, but if you don’t know how to do it correctly, ask a professional. That’s why we train for so many years — to learn how to protect you, and in most cases, it works out cheaper in the long run. I watched so many videos during my training as a plumber and what can happen when things aren’t done correctly scares the bejeebies out of me.

What’s your secret to staying optimistic, whatever life throws at you? Stop and take a breath. It’s so easy to lose days racing from one place to another; they all start to blend into one, yet if you stop for a second and take a mental picture of where you are and what you’re doing, it makes everything more fun. And if you don’t want to do that, take up roller derby!;

Interview Emma Kaniuk
Photography Frances Carter

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