An Australian mum is smashing gender stereotypes in the male-dominated trucking industry and urging other women to get them behind the wheel of some the country’s heaviest vehicles.
Women make up just 2.9 per cent of truck drivers nation-wide, but a group of passionate girls in the Pilbara town of Karratha, 1,500km north of Perth, are forging the way for females in the industry.
Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls is a not-for-profit training program giving women the know-how to start a career in trucking, fronted by co-founder Heather Jones with her daughters Kersti, 33, and Chelsea, 32, by her side.
Heather Jones (pictured) established Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls in 2014 in the West Australian town of Karratha, to train and encourage women to get behind the wheel of a road train and land jobs in the trucking industry
When Heather’s daughters Kersti, 33 (pictured left) and Chelsea, 32 (pictured right) were kids, they spent seven years on the road with their mum in trucks and now they work for Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls
Nearly three decades ago, Heather divorced and was looking for a job to support herself and her daughters, who were then 5 and 4 years old when a friend suggested she start a job as a truck driver.
The trio spent seven years living in a truck with Heather home schooling the girls as they travelled the state delivering fertilizer to farms and cargo to shipping ports.
It’s no easy feat driving a 60m, 180 tonne truck across the unforgiving landscape of remote WA, but Heather saw it as her ‘lifeline’.
‘We were a novelty to start off with, people wanted to see if we would actually make it,’ Heather told FEMAIL.
‘There were plenty of older men who would say it’s not a place for a woman but they were few and far between.
‘On a whole how you treat people is how they treat you – if you’re a nice happy person that does your job and gets on with it, you’ll be treated that way.’
PHHG started off the back of her business Success Transport in 2014 to train women, young men and anyone who didn’t have the skills and know-how to get a job as a road train operator
It’s no easy feat driving a 60m, 180 tonne truck across the desolate and unforgiving landscape of remote WA but Heather took to it quickly as the opportunity was a ‘lifeline’ for her
While life as a truck driver isn’t a glamourous one – with early mornings and dusty physical labour and even taking on jobs emptying sewerage tanks at caravan parks – it can be a comfortable and rewarding one, Heather said.
She said she sleeps better in her truck cabin, which is decked out with a king-sized mattress, fridge and TV.
As Heather cemented her career in the trucking industry, she started her own company, Success Transport and would meet with other women in the same field.
‘We would all just get together and have a good old girls’ gossip about life and the challenges we as women faced in the industry,’ she said.
While life as a truck driver isn’t a glamourous one with early mornings and dusty physical labour and even taking on jobs emptying sewerage tanks at caravan parks, Heather said it can be a comfortable and rewarding one
They would talk about the ‘chronic’ lack of female toilet facilities on the road, how all the clothing and uniforms were made for men and how the physical labour that comes with the job required upper body strength many women lack.
In 2014, one member showed the group a submission from the federal government appealing for foreign truck drivers to work in Australia.
‘We have no issues with foreign drivers whatsoever – we need more truck drivers – but it specifically said that women don’t drive trucks,’ Heather said.
‘It listed the reasons saying it’s a boys’ club and that women want to stay at home and socialise and have babies.’
From there, the idea of Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls (PHHG) was born.
The group acquired two hot pink road trains that jut out in the dusty Pilbara landscape and has been giving many woman a new start in life behind the wheel of road trains ever since
Heather and her friends were ‘indignant’ at the claim women didn’t belong behind the wheel – and they started to think of ways to increase their visibility.
‘It’s not about picking out women and saying “hey look at us”, we’re saying “we’re here, supporting the boys and part of the team”,’ Heather said.
PHHG started off the back of Success Transport in 2014 to train women, young men and anyone who didn’t have the skills and know-how to get a job as a road train operator.
‘If you don’t know what you don’t know, no one’s going to give you a job – all the jobs then were advertising five years experience or more and we wanted to give people somewhere to start,’ Heather said.
‘We did a couple of radio interviews and it just went bang – we were getting applications from all over Australia.’
With Kersti and Chelsea now working alongside her, Heather hopes she can eventually pass the torch and continue the work of PHHG
The group purchased two hot pink road trains that stand out in the dusty Pilbara landscape and have since welcomed any woman who wanted a start in the industry.
With Kersti and Chelsea now working alongside her, Heather hopes she can eventually pass the torch and continue the work of PHHG.
Heather said she has found seeing the impact of giving women jobs in the trucking industry and the ‘lifelong friends’ she’s made along the way an unexpected reward.
She has trained women to land and sustain well-paying jobs giving them a sense of power and independence they might not have had otherwise.
‘It’s more than just a training program – it’s a community of women who support women in the industry,’ she said.
‘I never thought that would be part of the deal, I just wanted to train and give them the opportunity to have a productive, safe career – all these other side benefits have just been heartening.’