Loving life as a lady tradie


Remember that line, ‘girls can do anything’?  Proving that saying’s alive and well in the local construction sector is Arrowtown painting contractor Nell Pooley. She talks to PHILIP CHANDLER about breaking the glass ceiling, but not before painting it

As women nail down more jobs in the Wakatipu’s thriving construction and tradie sector, a ‘poster girl’ for the trend is Arrowtowner Nell Pooley.

From initially working as a painter, the 29-year-old former Englishwoman’s now a successful painting contractor who’s branched out with her partner into home renovation, while also juggling a baby.

On arriving in Queenstown nine years ago, Pooley initially intended a two-month stay before moving to Australia.







In that time, however, she acquired a Kiwi partner, Riki Hunter, so decided to stay – “I just biffed my Australian visa”.

For the first 18 months, she did various bar jobs, but couldn’t get weekends off to spend more time with Hunter, so started working as a painter, instead.

“I actually studied fine arts at school, so I thought I wouldn’t be too bad at it.”

But when she included that qualification in her job applications, she got laughed at and told she probably wouldn’t need it.

“They say in the trade, ‘if you can piss, you can paint’.”

After working for a couple of small companies, she got work on big construction projects like Five Mile.

“I was the only female there, I had my own toilet.”

But she felt like she was being painted into a corner.

“A lot of commercial work is smelly paints, fireproofing paints, it’s big cold buildings, it’s big walls, it’s quite heavy-duty, whereas residential, although it’s hard work, it can just be a bit nicer, more enjoyable, I think.”

So Pooley struck out on her own, naming her painting and decorating business Kahlo, after famous Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.

Her van, incidentally, is named Frida.

She’s won praise for her and her team’s work and the passion she puts into it.

Pooley says women were scarce when she first set out, but “in the last few years, the amount of female tradies has just exploded”.

“It’s still a man’s world, but females are definitely featuring in there and realising, especially in this town, they can earn a bit more money, and realising they can actually do the job as well.”

Painting’s still pretty physical  – “you’re rolling ceilings, you’re sanding” – but probably less so than than other trades, she reckons.

Pooley finds it annoying when people assume women have a better eye for detail, so are therefore better painters.

“There’s so many crap female painters as well.”

She says she absolutely loves the trades sector.

“It’s satisfying work – it’s a hard grind, but there are also so many good people.

“I think a lot of people that aren’t in the trades might think tradies are a bit scummy or not as intelligent, but they’re not.”

When it came to having a baby – Alfred Hunter’s now six months old – Pooley says she was a bit envious of other new mothers taking paid maternity leave.

“But then my partner said he didn’t think I’d be able to sit still, anyway.”

Having a baby did encourage her and Riki, a builder, to start another business, Smart Home Renovations.

“I wouldn’t even be able to tell you how many painters there are in town, but there’s not so many renovation experts, though.”

Since becoming pregnant, Pooley stopped playing her favourite sport, roller derby.

But, just last Sunday she got back into training.

Meanwhile, she’s looking forward to becoming a Kiwi citizen later this year.

“Although I’m a bit annoyed that my son got it before I did – he didn’t do anything to deserve it.”