When former Otūmoetai College student Dale Kutia joined the Air Force, women were segregated from men, hardly any trades were open to them and their male colleagues were paid more. She wasn’t even allowed to ride a bike.
Now, after nearly 50 years of service, Warrant Officer Kutia is the longest-serving woman in the Royal New Zealand Air Force and is leaving after witnessing momentous changes.
In 1972, after leaving college, the 17-year-old was the only applicant at the local RSA, where she passed her entry test.
At the time, enlisted females joined the Women’s Royal New Zealand Air Force and were only given a three-year contract rather than the 8-12 year contract offered to men.
Jobs were limited to clerical trades, such as shorthand typists and data processors, and were paid 80 percent of the men’s rate.
Women were required to be single on enlistment. If they married or got pregnant, they were discharged.
The six-week recruiting course was also more limited.
“We weren’t allowed to use weapons, so there was no rifle drill or ground defence exercise,” says Dale. “Instead we had a picnic at West Melton.”
They spent the time making bed packs and having blankets thrown on the floor if beds weren’t made properly. They also polished brass and their shoes.
Following recruiting training, Warrant Officer Kutia began her Clerk General Duties course at Wigram, where they were finally allowed to mix with the males – but only during the work day and not to socialise out of hours.
A big shock was not being allowed to ride a bike because wearing a skirt meant it was “unladylike”.
“It wasn’t until 1977 that were we allowed to ride bikes,” she says.
In 1983, Warrant Officer Kutia and her husband Richard, also in the Air Force, were chosen to be the first married couple to be posted together to Singapore. However, the posting was pulled because of the perceived unfair financial advantage they would both receive.
“So I chose to go on leave without pay and followed my husband,” she said.
After two years the pair returned to Woodbourne and Warrant Officer Kutia returned to work.
She excelled at her trade and was awarded the Meritorial Service Medal for her role of looking after a $300,000 budget and turning a team in turmoil into an efficient unit.
She was also heavily involved in recruiting on-and-off for about 12 years, shaping the face of the RNZAF.
In 1997, she was the first person from the Air Force deployed to the Sinai in Egypt as an officer clerk. The posting had always previously gone to Army personnel.
Later, she was chosen for a year-long deployment to Timor-Leste, where she was an advisor to the Timor-Leste Army.
In the later part of her career she took on major projects that affected the entire Defence Force. She created a computer version to replace paper payslips, which would arrive weeks after pay day and generally ended up in bins.
Relaxing in her Waipukurau home, Warrant Officer Kutia says looking back on her career it doesn’t feel like 48 years has passed.
The decision in 1977 to integrate the WRNZAF with the RNZAF was significant as it offered women so many more opportunities, she said.
“Over the years we started to have a voice,” she says. “There’s still work to be done, especially with leadership opportunities.”
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