Spanners and Bright Orange Nail Polish

 

Female motorcycle mechanic RHD Townsville I first ‘met’ Sharine Milne, 45, affectionately dubbed Spanner, in July 2021 while bunkered down in the wild, wet and bitterly cold Victorian winter, in between the waves of Covid lockdowns and toilet paper frenzies. What a welcoming breath of fresh air beaming out from my computer screen… a proud indigenous businesswoman, born and bred in Townsville, North Queensland. We skyped for just over an hour, getting the low down on who was behind that bright orange nail polish, that humongous smile and the warmth, aglow from her eyes.

The second time I met her was in person, almost a year later, as I brought my limping Wide Glide into her workshop after a failure of rear brakes. I’d been riding from Bendigo, through the May 2022 floodwaters of New South Wales and Queensland, en route to Townsville, to visit our mutual mate, Mark. My bike hadn’t been so keen after all, on the 200 mm high floodways I’d put it through, so it spat the dummy somewhere around St George! A bit challenging, with another 1,400 km of shite roads to go… lots more floodways, potholes the size of moon craters and oodles of gravel and clay roadworks, with just a front brake and a whole heap of tin-arse luck… mmmmmmmm, that story maybe for another day.

Wide Glide rear brake fail RHD Townsville

When Mark had called Spanner to see if she could help a travelling biker, there was no hesitation. Although Mark had to wait weeks to book his bike in, due to the workshop being so busy, Spanner, not knowing it was me initially, was prepared to pause her bread-and-butter work, to fix a complete stranger’s bike… who was just travelling through.

That’s the kind of compassion and dedication that sets her apart… this is no ordinary mechanic and certainly no ordinary woman!

Straight away I felt I was in good hands… her wealth of knowledge, ease of communication and frankness, was important to prepare me for the worst, as well as give me hope, it may not be too major. Thankfully, it was the latter.

Female motorcycle mechanic RHD Townsville

Spanner is the Owner and Head Mechanic of RHD Classic Supplies and Services. Ten years now she’s owned it and 10 years before that she’d started as a vocational TAFE student, to an apprentice, then the boss.

Relinquishing a lengthy career of shift work in hospitality, where she’d quickly shot up through the ranks, due to her diligence, willingness to learn, adaptability, reliability and respected work ethic… she felt it was time for some serious work-life adjustments after her young daughter told her, “Mummy I don’t get to see you anymore.”

Whanau woman motorcycle mechanic

Family… is everything to Spanner, “I realised I was missing out on those important moments of family life,” she said.

Restaurant Manager to Motorcycle Mechanic… how did that happen?

Early primary school Spanner grease monkey

Back in early primary school, she’d had a premonition that she wanted to be a grease monkey. At the typical Grade 3, what-do-you-wanna-be-when-you-grow-up talk, Spanner said, “A Grease Monkey,” (with actually no idea at the time, what that even was,) but being so damn keen on the idea at that grand old age of nine, she rang up the local TAFE to ask them how to go about it.

The rest is history.

Fast forward a tad; Spanner quit the restaurant, tromped down to the local TAFE… worked and studied her butt off, eventually becoming a motorcycle workshop business owner and a highly respected one at that!

It sure wasn’t easy, even enduring the typical boofheads of back in the day, giving her a tough time about being a female in the trade… no tits allowed in the workshop type stuff… but Spanner sorted them out with her classy wit and her ability to do the work, better than they could, impressing her tutors and peers and earning their respect.

She continues to be a strong advocate and mentor for other women in the industry.

Being a single mum is tough, especially on apprentice wages, but her determination to succeed outweighed any doubt about her career change; she’d focused herself on the ownership role, early on in her training. Having seen how tough it was for her own mum Sharon, to raise Spanner and her three siblings, Spanner didn’t want to repeat the struggles of a low-income household with her child.

Family growing up RHD Townsville

Spanner raised her daughter with solid support from her mum, who nourished her extra curriculum activities. Spanner also acknowledges a whopping amount of support from the local Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club alongside the general motorcycling’s extended family.

“The Townsville Vietnam Veterans MC helped raise my daughter. They were the uncle, father and grandfather figures she never had. The rest of the biking community became the extra aunties and uncles that would buy the raffle tickets, for school. They were the ones that would take the time with my daughter when we were at an event and introduced her to the lifestyle of motorcycling.

“That’s what the motorcycling community is to me… it’s a lifestyle choice. It’s not just a thing to ride.”

One big extended family.

Female motorcycle mechanic RHD Townsville

Coming from a mixed Torres Straight Islander, Māori and Irish heritage, there are family connections she has found over the years, from Australia and Aotearoa, that she is still exploring. Family is very important to Spanner, with her mum and daughter, as her inspirations… tragically though, after losing her mum, Sharon, in August 2022 to Covid, Spanner lost a huge part of her heart. “So, I was mum’s rock and she was mine. She helped raise my daughter and became the other parent… she was just a true parent and a true supportive grandparent.”

“Family is my glue and my motorcycling family is my extension.”

 Her extension also stretches out into the general community, with huge input into helping riders with disabilities, get back on their bikes.

Female motorcycle mechanic RHD Townsville

As a kid, Spanner was diagnosed with bilateral hip dislocation.  “To give you an idea, my sciatic and lower back are pretty well damaged and they told me that I wouldn’t be walking by the time I was 40, let alone having children.” Pffft to the experts then… one child later and the boss grease monkey, that needs to clamber around under and over motorsickles all day… that’s one lady who doesn’t know the word can’t.

“Pretty much tell me I can’t do something and I always go and do it, so yeah, I’m sorry, what? My mum was one of my biggest advocates and watching her struggles through life, in a lot of ways, was my struggle… because I watched her beat all the odds as a single parent. Mum never found something that she couldn’t do… if I couldn’t do something, it’s because I hadn’t yet tried.”

Strong woman with bilateral hip dislocation

Mechanic work often takes immense physical strength, if that is lacking, then technical, smarter methods, to get the same outcome, without bursting blood vessels, are required. Spanner has overcome many obstacles by working nimbler and utilising different tools and methods. This has come from learning to be creative and understanding her body motion.

“Don’t allow anyone to tell you, that you can’t do something because you are of a specific gender. You can always prove them wrong. Not having the upper body strength, as females we are designed softer, we are different in our way of thinking, our perceptions… one of the best things that makes me the best that I can be, is that I am female and my attention to detailI don’t have a bonnet I can close… so it needs to look perfect, or it doesn’t leave my shed.”

A lot of her strength and fitness comes from swimming, learning from an incredibly young age how to understand the physiology of her body, so she could stand and walk. “I was very lucky as a young kid, to have a doctor that was also a sports physio. I realised from my body issues that I was always going to have to look at how I sat where I positioned myself and where my feet were.

Female motorcycle mechanic RHD Townsville grease monkey

“This understanding has carried through with my personal passion for preparing people with disabilities, to be able to ride again. I look at the way people walk and move… I’m not just talking fused ankles… we’re talking, missing limbs and spines that don’t wanna allow you to walk properly, let alone ride for any length of time. So, setting up bikes with that personal touch added, makes it safer, not just for the rider but for everyone else.”

working dog receptionist RHD TownsvilleSpanner and her team work their magic, making it attainable for those with chronic injuries or limb loss to still ride, which would otherwise have been unachievable… reopening the world to them and boosting confidence with a sense of normality, something able-bodied peeps take for granted.

“The cost involved in this sort of thing though is one of the reasons why my welder and my engineer sit down after hours with a beer, to just knock out some design ideas, whether or not it’s going to work and what our options are.”

I’m thinking Spanner must somehow have 48 hours in her days, coz above and beyond all that, she still has time to assist the odd wayward youth or a work experience kid or assist with the rehabilitation of a female army veteran, with PTSD and a service dog, into her workshop.

Queensland Training Awards for Small Business Employer of the Year 2022She is also the recipient of a scholarship from the Queensland Motorcycle Trades Association, where she is now studying for Certificate IV in Training and Assessing, to help her train the next generation.

Multiple award winner of the prestigious Queensland Training Awards for Small Business Employer of the Year; this year’s win recognises Spanner for the achievement of success, with best practice and innovation in Vocational Education and Training.

“The reason that I keep getting these awards is not just because of what I do, but it’s who I am. So yeah, the Queensland Training Awards, keep nominating me because of what I give back. It’s a culture that makes me thrive. It’s my culture of giving back to my mob, which is what I was raised with. Mum dying is probably the underlying crux of all of this. When I look at everything that has happened in the last few months, it shows a lot of what I do in the community, is because of where I come from.”

Amongst Spanner’s numerous bikes there’s a Harley Davidson Road King with a sidecar set up, mainly to pick up broken-down bikes… she’s the first to leave a group ride to get it, helping out the luckless rider. In September it was used to convey her mum to her final resting place… which was discussed with Sharon before she passed and she was super keen on… a funny story, told about Sharon:

Harley Davidson Road King funeral side car

She’d been driving for years without a licence until Spanner’s daughter was about six. When Spanner found out, she made Sharon get legal. The Mr Plod at the time who often caught up with Sharon in her pre-licence days used her unlicensed status as a subject for his Rookies over the years. They’d shared a great rapport and now retired, he was honoured to ride that Road King to accompany Sharon to her place of rest.

In her spare time, Spanner enjoys pottery, photography and drawing; she’s even designed her tattoo and the RHD business graphics. A very savvy businesswoman, RHD growing steadily over 10 years and functioning efficiently, she’s developed most of the computer programming needed for the workshop’s database.

Female motorcycle mechanic RHD Townsville

A woman mechanic, owning her workshop, a prominent community volunteer, is a massive achievement. But is she finished staying at that level?

“I’m never ever going to be the best at it because I’m always gonna be learning something new.”

With a workshop full of projects, where she knows exactly what stage each one’s at, Spanner is all about sharing her knowledge. She will gladly show others how to service their bike. “I’ll offer my clientele how to do their minor services, which others say I’m doing myself out of money, but no, I’m making my customers more in tune with their motorcycles, making them more aware and proactive about their bikes and will know how to explain when something’s not right.”

They often buy the oils and filters from her and being conscious of the environment, Spanner recycles their oil for free.

One tip Spanner taught me, is to prefill the new oil filter before putting it on… so the engine gets that oil sooner… her voice pops up in my mind when I’m servicing my bikes.

Female motorcycle mechanic RHD Townsville

She is such a giver and her frankness is another strength as well as being damn refreshing in this day of so much BS… “I’m honest to a fault, I’m thinking that can be a good thing or a bad thing. If it’s fu¢k€d, I’ll tell you it’s fu¢k€d, yeah? Attention to detail is probably one of my bigger strengths… and if I’m wrong, tell me I’m wrong.

“I sometimes second guess myself though, which is a bad thing… but at the same token, it allows me to put something in, yeah, so I turn that into more of a strength.”

Her aura pumps out positivity and a she’ll be right mate attitude, prepared to give anything a go, she’s committed to providing commendable service not only to her customers but to her peers amongst the biking fraternity and her community as a whole.

It’s still much a man’s world in the mechanic’s trade; Spanner however has brought much femininity and spruceness to the place, as well as being one of the boys, she is one very classy lady.

 

Much kudos and respect to you Spanner ♥

Jay D

 

Madam Rider xx

 

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