During her final year of studies at Heatley Secondary College in Townsville in 2020, Samantha Icely participated in a series of work experience placements at the Ventia workshops in Lavarack Barracks. 

"I used to sacrifice some of my school holidays for the work experience," the former Indigenous Captain of the College says. "I knew that it was something I wanted to do for my future."

Working with the team on our Defence Maintenance and Support Services (DMSS) contract in Northern Queensland, Sam then signed on to become not only the site's first female Apprentice Vehicle Mechanic, but the first of Indigenous heritage.

JLU Manager (North Queensland) Wayne Nutchey says this opportunity was coordinated with the school and the local Stars Foundation group. 

"The Stars Foundation provides a holistic program that supports Indigenous girls and young women in attending and remaining engaged at school, completing Year 12 and moving into full-time work or further study," Wayne says.

Sam's positive and proactive application in undertaking the mechanical tasks during her placements drew praise from her trade-qualified mentors.

"The positive feedback Sam received led to her securing full-time employment with us as an Apprentice Vehicle Mechanic," Wayne says.

She's now been in the role for over a year, and she's doing great.

'She's applying the theory and we have no concerns with her technical skills at this level of her four-year apprenticeship."

Sam is enjoying her trade training. Upon completion, she will receive a Certificate III in Heavy Commercial Vehicle Mechanical Technology - a qualification that will enable her to attend Defence-based maintenance courses in the future.

Sam Icely performing Heavy Commercial Vehicle Mechanical woks

Upon completion of her training, Sam will have her Heavy Commercial Vehicle Mechanical Technology qualification. 

Love what you do

"I enjoy working on the Bushmaster armoured vehicles and the G-wagons because I'm really getting to know how to do the repairs," Sam says. 

I also really like a challenge and doing something that I haven't done before. It thrills me when I 'get it' because I wasn't always good at problem solving.

'At technical college, you sometimes don't go into depth, so I've learned to think about a problem, ask questions, then work out the best way for me to resolve the problem."

Being unafraid to ask questions about her role or speak up about safety is helping Sam expand her learning.

"Everyone here says even if a question feels stupid, still ask it. So, if I'm concerned or confused about anything, I don't hesitate to ask, especially when it comes to safety.

"I told our safety officer about the bench grinder having lost its guard and he tagged it out for repair straight away," Sam explains.

Sam Icely with a site supervisor

Sam Icely with Wayne Nutchly JLU Manager North Queensland.

A journey of learning 

Sam's maternal heritage is aligned to the Yuin tribe from the Nowra region of southern NSW and some of her family members are on the region's Mogo Land Council.

"I was born in Proserpine in Queensland, and I've spent a lot of my life in Townsville," she says. 

"In my last year of primary school, I found out that I was Aboriginal, so I always got excited when NAIDOC Week arrived. It became another learning curve for me, and I started to try and get a better understanding of my Indigenous side."

On training to become a vehicle mechanic when the field is male-dominated, Sam says it doesn't concern her.

"At Ventia, I don't have an issue finding out where I belong because my team is very open-minded. Everyone is very nice and supports me becoming a mechanic. I like what I do and I like coming to work.

If anything, when I try hard, I reckon I get a lot of respect.


Top image: Sam Icely pictured with Brodie Reimers, Vehicle Mechanic.