MEETING Rachael Durbidge is an inspiration. Honestly, she could do motivational talks. It’s not that she preaches from a soapbox, it’s more the way she’s just grabbed life by the balls and followed her passion.
Rachael, from Gawler in South Australia, is a qualified automotive technical paint advisor, and beneath her calm and friendly manner is a confidence that comes from knowing who she truly is. Backing this up is a great talent for laying down lacquer and the prep work that goes along with it; she can colour-match to a T, and knows all the technical stuff behind it.
As a teenager Rachael knew exactly what she wanted from life. “I love art and I love cars,” she says. “I was happiest hanging out with my brother Chris on the weekends, doing car-related things. A cocktail for a happy life is to add what you want into it, so I combined my two loves: painting and cars. No one in our family paints or is interested in painting, so my 80-year-old nanna believes that my passion came from her dad, who helped paint the Titanic!”
As it turned out, getting the ball rolling in Rachael’s chosen career was relatively hassle-free. “I wanted a spray-painting apprenticeship, so I walked into Gawler Bodyworks and asked for one,” she says. “They offered me work experience, and after one week I was offered an apprenticeship.
“I still had to finish Year 11, but I was also working at the shop. I was so appreciative of the opportunity that any chance I had to be in the workshop, I was there – after hours, during free lessons, whenever. I’d sweep floors, wash cars, anything.”
Co-owner of Gawler Bodyworks, Bernie Stack, remembers when Rachael first rocked up. “Rachael was 15 years old when she came in looking for a job,” he says. “It was unusual, but we figured that she was keen enough to ask and was into cars, so we’d give her a go.”
It’s fair to say he never regretted it.
Rachael’s strong work ethic and natural talent for laying on paint saw her skills quickly develop and grow.
“I was accepted really well, but I had to earn it. Also, I was taught a lot of stuff in a workshop environment; some of it I didn’t necessarily want to know!” she laughs. “I had to learn to cop a lot of shit and take it on board. You can’t get upset about it, ’cause then you’re straight out the door. You pretty much couldn’t show any emotion. The only time I remember crying was when I had bog getting hot and drying in my eye – that hurt!”
Rachael’s first respray came a year into her apprenticeship, on a silver Ford Escort rally car. “I remember thinking: I can’t believe they are letting me spray this early into my apprenticeship!”
After eight years on the gun, Rachael moved into the spare parts game, but it was short-lived. “I missed paint, so I came back to it,” she says. She found freedom in contract painting, and soon moved to next stage of her career.
“Frank Evans-D’Angelo gave me the first kick-off with restorations,” she says. I always liked older cars, but I developed a true love for them after that. The cars I worked on were stunning. Frank does amazing work; he’s a great panel beater.” While working with Frank she laid down the Anthracite paint on Gary McRae’s VR HSV Senator, which we featured in the 2014 edition of SM LSX Tuner.
When Frank moved his shop 140km away, Rachael moved on to technical painting. “As the paint reps already knew me and the quality of my work, I was contacted with the opportunity to be an automotive technical paint advisor for Spies Hecker and DuPont, through Crash Supplies and Lakeside Nissan,” she says. She trained to become South Australia’s travelling tech guru, helping paint shops with technical queries and demonstrating the correct use of the product.
Visiting workshops saw Rachael grow a steady stream of mates, though there was the odd pain in the arse. “There was the occasional bloke who couldn’t accept that I have the same amount of knowledge as he does,” she admits, “but it was rare. The majority of people have been fantastic. Even old-school guys who don’t think women should be in the industry have accepted me very well. They’re proud of what I can do; they know I’m doing it for the love, not for anything else.”
One such bloke is Darren Dawe. Rachael was responsible for the Peacock Green Metallic paint on Darren’s XY GT, and now the two are great mates. “Two years ago, when I first saw that Rachael was going to paint my car, I was worried; I didn’t think she could do it,” he admits. “But she deserves all the credit she gets, she’s fantastic. I now see her like a daughter.”
There’s no doubting the quality of Rachael’s work, nor her passion for her chosen vocation. For her it’s all about the creativity, and has nothing to do with gender. She has this advice for women considering a similar career: “If you’re thinking about it, definitely go ahead and do it. I like that there are a lot more women getting into the trade.
“Some people reckon that women have a better eye for colour. I try not to be biased on any level, but we do have a cleaner workshop – I know that for a fact!”