Women and girls in STEM: Sharine ‘Spanner’ Milne

Spanner is a motorcycle mechanic who uses STEM skills in her work every day.

Sharine ‘Spanner’ Milne doesn’t have what you’d call a traditional STEM role.

‘I’m a motorcycle mechanic,’ she says. ‘That means I service new and old motorcycles, rebuild engines and components, and fit up parts and accessories, including custom-fit components that are sometimes not meant for the bike.’

And while there isn’t a lab coat in sight, STEM is very much a part of Spanner’s everyday work.

‘The motorcycle industry has come a long way,’ she says. ‘We have computers to help with some jobs, so we have to know how to read a computer diagnostic readout. And we troubleshoot electrical issues by reading a wiring schematic.’

‘We use science, because we have to be up to date on the chemicals around us and the hazards involved, as well as knowing how all the new oils and vehicles work. And engineering is a daily occurrence – we have to be careful we don’t put something on a bike that will be detrimental to the overall handling of the vehicle.’

Taking the long road

Spanner’s journey to a STEM career was a long one, with a few struggles along the way.

‘I was a single mum doing split shifts in hospitality and trying to raise my 5-year-old daughter with the help of my mother. One day my daughter came home from school as I was getting ready to go back to work and said “Mummy, I don’t see you anymore”. That broke my heart because she was right – I was missing out on her.’

‘I went to work and handed in my resignation. Then I walked up the road to the TAFE and asked “what courses do you have? I need a 9-to-5 job”. They asked what I was interested in and I said it didn’t matter – my passion and drive was my daughter.’

But TAFE also gave Spanner a passion for working with motorbikes. She started as a pre-vocational student, then became a trade assistant. Soon she was offered an apprenticeship with a motorcycle mechanic, which included swapping STEM skills with her boss.   

‘I wasn’t the best at maths,’ Spanner says. ‘But I was lucky that I had a patient employer that helped me relearn fractions, pi and circumferences. And I bought my employer into the 21st century with my knowledge of computers and being able to navigate the internet.’

Eight years later, Spanner did a business management course. The following year she bought her own motorbike shop – RHD Classic Supplies and Services in Townsville. She’s owned the shop for 11 years, with her (now adult) daughter helping out with the marketing and digital side of the business.

Spanner has some simple advice for people in underrepresented groups who want to pursue a career in STEM.

‘Don’t quit,’ she says. ‘As much as you want to, don’t quit. Stand tall and be proud – you are allowed to achieve highly and not feel ashamed’. 

Revving the engine for diversity

Spanner is proud to be a First Nations woman running a business in a traditionally male sector, even though it can be a challenge sometimes.

‘I still fight the stigmatism in the industry, even 21 years later,’ she says. ‘I think it will take a lot longer to get past that. But it’s well worth it when someone comes into the shop and asks for “that Spanner bloke” and I come out. You gotta laugh at life!’

Spanner knows all about the massive benefits that diversity brings to any business, large or small.

‘Diversity can have challenges, but it also has rewards,’ she says. ‘Different outlooks and different skill sets make your team more able to handle anything that can walk through the door.’