Real Life

I’ve got two degrees but I’m happy cleaning loos

It may not be glamorous, but Napier’s Linda Hirst (52) is proud of her pristine porcelain.
Napier city council

“When people ask what I do for a living, they’re usually surprised when I tell them I’m a dunny cleaner! It may not sound very glamorous, but I choose to do this job and I really do love it.

There’s a lot of value in manual labour that society doesn’t recognise and I believe it’s time they do. I didn’t set out to clean public toilets but this job ticks so many boxes for me – it’s stress free, I have a great boss and I’m not stuck in an office looking at the same four walls every day.

I also love working on my own. I never get lonely because I like to listen to podcasts while I work – I find I get completely absorbed in them. My favourites are Graham Norton and Dave Ramsey, an American financial guru, who’s all about taking control of your money instead of the other way around. I’m hoping to see Dave speak when I go to Nashville later this year.

It’s been an interesting journey to get to this point.

I was born in Napier and grew up on my parents’ apple orchard. I thought about being a piano teacher because I played from an early age and passed all my grades. But I was never very academic and left school aged 17 because I’d had enough. After a string of jobs in factories and shops, I went to the UK and the US for my OE. Ironically, I actually ended up packing apples in England!

Back home, I had my daughter Holly (now 27) and my son Kurt (22). I was a single mother but because I had supportive parents, I was able to study full-time. I ended up doing a diploma in tourism and a Bachelor of Computing Systems, which took three years. I also did a graduate diploma in secondary teaching from Massey University.

I got a job in Darwin, Australia, teaching IT, which I didn’t like. I couldn’t handle the stress or the students’ bad behaviour. I lasted two years and came home to work as a flexible learning tutor, which I loved because I was going into people’s homes teaching level two and three computing.

But then the global financial crisis happened and the business went under, so I picked up a job as a post-construction cleaner, going into new builds after the builders had finished. Six months later, the boss asked if I wanted to buy the business, so I did.

Outside of work, her passion is playing the trombone.

After a bad relationship break-up, I went to the US to visit my brother, who’s a university professor. When I got back, the business had slowed down, so I got a job cleaning public toilets with the Napier City Council. I’ve been here two years.

I’m one of three cleaners and I’m the only female. We work from 6.30am to 3.30pm six days a week. My ‘patch’ is the CBD as well as Marine Parade. The worst thing about my job is the paper and water on the floor, but it’s the vomit I really don’t like.

I’m always surprised at how many people take food into toilets – I’ve found cheese scones, pizza and lots of wine bottles. The worst thing I’ve discovered is a dead rabbit in a sink! That was horrible – I had to get a security guard to remove that for me.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer five months after starting this job but my employers were so supportive. I’m now in remission and so grateful for the kindness they showed me.

I take a lot of pride in making sure the toilets are clean and tourists often comment that Napier is such a clean city.

But it’s not my only passion – outside of work, I play the trombone and percussion in the Bay Cities’ Symphonic Band. I’ve never lost my love of music and it’s a really good change from cleaning loos!”

Quick fire

I’d like to be remembered as…The best looking dunny cleaner in Napier! The other two are men.

On a day off, I like to… Spend time with family, garden, renovate and generally just potter around my house. I’m currently finishing painting an old desk and doing decoupage on it.

One thing I’d like to achieve before I die… Be financially secure and travel to the US, Mexico, Europe, Morocco and India. I also want to kayak the Katherine Gorge in Australia.

As told to Sharon Stephenson

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