Builder Genevieve Black fell into her profession and can’t envisage ever falling out with it

Australian-born, with Filipino and Caucasian heritage, Genevieve Black was raised in a little place called Woy Woy, north of Sydney, and moved to Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland 11 years ago. She brought her bartending/management and landscaping/gardening background with her and carried on doing both, before unexpectedly finding her calling in construction.

So Genevieve, who or what inspired you to become a builder? I randomly found building after a drunken night out on which I met my first boss, Steve Holmes of Calibre Construction. I’d always enjoyed physical work, and offered up my — lack of — skills while out on the town, talking shit. I never had any kind of interest in that sort of thing whatsoever, but with him teaching me as I went along, I ended up helping him build a fence in Grey Lynn. As soon as I picked up one of his tools, I knew it was what I wanted to do. It was like seeing ‘the one’ across the room.
Today, I do what I do because of the joy and fulfilment it brings me. I like the step-by-step process and structure the trade provides, and enjoy all the small things about building that lead to the big things and creations that happen — nailing nails, digging holes, standing frames, taking measurements and writing on the timber, making beautiful cuts with new blades, even sharpening my pencil. I enjoy almost everything. 

ABOVE “Building provides variety — it’s not often that I get bored,” says Genevieve, who learned her craft on the job. “I love the banter and casual environment too. If you’re working with a cool group of people, the work environment is super fun and you get to experience great teamwork building stuff together. A typical day is all day on the tools. It’s hard but a good time!”

What kinds of projects are you working on at the moment? I’ve mostly been doing renovations/extensions with the company I work for as my main job, residential building company Build & Craft. We’re working on a renovation in Remuera at the moment, then we’ll be doing some work for development company Winton, and then another renovation and a new build after that. In the weekends [and through Tradespeople, Aotearoa’s national directory of women and gender-diverse tradies], I take on my own work, from handywoman odd jobs to remedial work.

What’s been your favourite building job so far? Probably a new build on Great Barrier Island five years ago, a 100m2 build with a deck. We camped in tents on site and had a long drop for a toilet, and I bathed in the sea at a secret waterhole the family we were building for took me to. It was real rustic styles — no soap for six weeks! After work, I’d walk down the gravel road to the neighbour’s place to visit her pigs and have wine by the fire with Māori bread [rēwena]. It was absolutely magical.

What’s the best thing about being a builder? There are so many awesome things about building, but the core answer to that question is how fulfilling it is. To see the result of what you’ve worked so hard to build is such an awesome feeling, especially when you’ve done it well, because building isn’t always easy. Even the challenges are awesome, though. You never stop learning and if you have the right attitude, you’re always improving. 

ABOVE Does Genevieve dream of building a new home for her and her daughter Claude one day? “Rather than build new, I’d love to renovate or add an extension to my current home — I think I’d get a greater sense of satisfaction from seeing the transformation,” she says. “I’d renovate and extend the home I own with my ex-partner and in-laws, so there would be enough bedrooms in the main house and then two small cottages on the property that family and friends could come to stay in.”

What’s the best thing you’ve ever created? My daughter, Claude.

What are your favourite snacks that you don’t like to share? Chocolate and ice-cream.

What makes you hopeful in these strange times? When you’re down, the only way is up.

When you’re able to travel, where would you like to go to next? Australia and the Philippines.

How can people have more fun? By living in the moment and not caring about what others think.

What else should we know about you? That I love self-help, true crime and puzzles.

Amazing, us too… but back to the building — which of your personal qualities inform your approach to your work? I’d say I’m considered, practical and generally enthusiastic. I like to take reasonable time and work efficiently for the best outcome. I don’t like to waste people’s money, so I try to get the best bang for their buck where I can. 

What would you say to anyone else who suspects building might be their thing? Go for it. Do the carpentry trade certificate, or start out labouring to see if you can hack the hard work. You really have to work your way up and do the hard yards before you start doing the cool shit. Then, once you get to the cool shit, it’s much more satisfying because you know how hard you’ve worked to get where you are.  @genevieve__black; @tradespeople_nz

Interview Emma Kaniuk
Photography Frances Carter

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