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Purpose, empowerment and strength

I am Eliza Maher, aged 25 and based in the Wairoa region working for my father Bruce in the family business. 

I first got into fencing from around the age of 9 when my older brother and I would go out to work with Dad every school holidays. It was always more fun than hard work, marking posts and carrying the spade earning my pocket money. Over the years I got more involved in the practical aspects of fencing. I went off to university and when time came for me to graduate in early 2020 I decided to take a year working as a fencer before heading on an OE. Of course due to Covid that didn’t exactly go to plan. Suffice to say it is 2023, I’ve been a fencer for 3 years now and have finally booked the ticket!

Early on in that first year we were about to start a long 7-wire electric fence and my skill with a hammer and staples was a bit average! Dad decided I was too slow and so we headed up to a FCANZ fencing day in Gisborne and got a Stockade 400i. That staple gun and I have seen a lot of work since then, Dad might have sacked me early on otherwise!    

The majority of fencing jobs that I am involved in are rural, conventional fences. We install new fences, only occasionally having to repair old ones, and recently a lot of those have been fencing off waterways. 

One of the main challenges I have experienced being a fencing contractor is the weather! Being in Hawke’s Bay/East Coast you would assume it to be a sunny, dry place but in the past few years, all the major weather events have really made being able to go out and put in a full week’s work quite difficult! It has certainly meant sacrificing more than the occasional weekend to go and finish a job. It is heartbreaking to see what a sustained amount of rain can do to the landscape and makes working conditions very challenging. There are days in the summer heat or the winter cold when you push through but there has never been a moment where the sense of accomplishment and achievement I feel when doing my job hasn’t made it worth it. 

Jobs making memories

Some of the best jobs that come to mind are the ones from my childhood. Back then we were based in the Taihape/Ohakune area and the majority of work was down the Paraparas (Parapara Road) and Whanganui River. They were some long, steep fencelines in the middle of nowhere fencing off bush or boundaries. I have fond memories of working out there, of the old houses we would stay in, and of the time I got to spend with my Dad in some beautiful places. We would stay in old cottages or shearer’s quarters during the week, with most of them having slight rat problems. I remember once staying in an old homestead and watching a rat that was almost the size of a cat as it ran along the wall of the lounge! It is the early life lessons he taught me back then that give Dad and me the basis for being able to work so well together now. I am sure there were some difficult jobs in the past but upon reflection none so bad as to outweigh all of the good ones.  

“ One of the things I enjoy most about fencing is the sense of empowerment it gives me. Being fit and strong, knowing I am capable and good at my job. “

It gives me purpose, knowing what needs to be done and being able to achieve it. Being able to start a job from scratch and see what you have built with your hard work and time. Also learning important life skills and practical lessons that will help me for the rest of my life. You learn how to work with people, be a good teammate and learn how capable you really are. The physical aspect of digging a posthole, and walking up and down a fence line using a hammer and staples, are all things that might one day come in handy. 

The more I see other women in male-dominated industries the more confidence I feel in my choice to be a fencer. All it takes is getting out there to give it a go and having a decent work ethic. I am lucky that I have been able to work with my family and get taught by my Dad about a job he loves and knows so well. Being able to go back to a place years later and point out a fence that we had built makes me so proud of this job I do.  

Written by Eliza Maher

Published in the Women in the Industry Feature in WIRED Issue 68 | March 2023 by Fencing Contractors NZ