Breaking through the barrier - International Women's Day

By: Ben Dillon

The Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls celebrated International Women’s Day with a visit to a Port Hedland local high school, offering encouragement for young women keen to join a male-dominated industry

Breaking through the barrier - International Women's Day
Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls Mack on tour for IWD

Stepping into the cab of a heavy-duty truck for the first time can be a daunting experience for anyone but for people who have a genuine fear of driving it can seem like an impossible barrier to break through. Add to that if you are a woman trying to break into a male-dominated industry and the odds are stacked against you.

Bobbi Lockyer is a Port Hedland-based artist and photographer and mother of four whose designs have appeared on the catwalk at New York Fashion Week but until International Women’s Day (IWD) she had never been behind the wheel of a truck. Living in a situation of domestic violence for more than a decade, Lockyer had a very real fear of driving and has only had her driver’s licence for the past couple of years.

Enter Heather Jones, owner of Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls (PHHG) who as well as running a transport business, also heads up a ‘boot camp’ for female drivers coming into the heavy-duty segment. As part of this Jones also brings her trucks to events such as the recent International Women’s Day held by the township of Port Hedland where both Jones and Lockyer were invited as speakers.

With the first stop being the local high school, two of the PHHG pink trucks rolled into the school car park where a swarm of students had the opportunity to climb in and over the truck with talks given for IWD in the school hall.

After this was a luncheon hosted by the township of Port Hedland with Heather Jones and Bobbi Lockyer sharing their personal journeys to the assembled guests. Meeting each-other for the first time the pair made an instant connection through stories of what it means being to be able to get behind the wheel.

"This was the first time we had met," Lockyer says. "I knew we were both speaking at the event and I said to her how awesome I thought that it was that she was driving trucks and creating a program helping women to get in the driver’s seat.

"I said that I was terrified and that I could never drive a truck. Heather said ‘yes you can do it, you want to come and drive a truck after this?’ and she said ‘trust me you’ll love it’.

Heather Jones of PHHG with artist and Bobbi Lockyer who proved a natural talent behind the wheel

"I didn’t think that’s what I would be doing that day let alone ever," Lockyer says. "It felt surreal and absolutely amazing, when I got in the driver’s seat I was trembling inside but at the same time felt super empowered and I knew I could do it.

"There was a point I thought I was going to chicken out but I thought nah I’m going to do this and it was incredible."

Even with only a short drive of the truck Jones knew that Lockyer was more than capable of handling a heavy-duty truck despite her lack of driving experience.

"She was truly a natural. I’ve been doing this for 30 years now and I know within five to 10 minutes whether they are going to give me a nervous breakdown or if they are going to be good and Bobbi was absolutely awesome," Jones says.

Making the leap from a car to a truck is a massive jump for anyone but for Lockyer it was especially poignant.

"I was in a domestic violence relationship for over 10 years and I wasn’t allowed to drive so I was terrified of driving and didn’t get my licence for years.

Read how the pink PHHG trucks came to be Volvo, here

"When I finally went on my first driving lesson I broke down and cried the whole time. It was such a huge thing to get my licence and drive a car, so to think that I was now sitting in the seat of a truck and driving a truck made me feel on top of the world," Lockyer says.

"I just had this fear that it would be so scary and I wouldn’t be able to see anything but I was surprised about the visibility. It was a bit to get used to not having a rear view mirror and just using the side mirrors but it was great. Just by being up there I felt this new found kind of freedom and feeling of control which I loved."

Life changing experience

Jones said that the results her boot camp program has produced have been much more than just learning heavy-duty driving skills, for both herself and her students.

"When we started training I just wanted safe drivers on the highway, I never ever thought we’d be able to change people’s lives in such a powerful way, there’s been so many amazing roll on effects for our participants," Jones says.

"One story is we had a domestic violence survivor come through our boot camp and she was so good we put her on our trucks for a couple of months and she has now gone on to pulling quads interstate.

"Trucks are so big and it’s very empowering for these women and being able to achieve something that not even a lot of men can do is hugely satisfying. Even the view from up in the cabin gives you a feeling of achievement."

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The feeling of independence that driving brings and the freedom of movement it offers is something those who have been driving since attaining legal driving age often take for granted, but the benefits surely have massive psychological benefits also.

"It’s funny, because it wasn’t until I got my licence and became a driver that I started to meet so many women who actually do have that fear of driving, I thought I was alone in that so I think a program like what Heather is doing would be incredible for them," Lockyer continues.

"I think a lot women would be intimidated and probably wouldn’t even consider doing it if it was a male-driven course because when you’re with other women you feel more comfortable and ready to do it and Heather is amazing, she just has this way of making you feel calm and in control and empowered.

"I grew up in a country town and when I was young my dad was a truck driver, so I had been in trucks before when I was little but I was scared of them. I never thought I’d drive a truck and in the future, I have considered maybe I will go and get my truck licence; it’s pretty cool," Lockyer says.

Empowering women

Heather Jones said she’d like to continue to participate in events like IWD by taking her trucks out into the community to give women the opportunity to see what a careers as a driver might be like.

"We’d like to do more of these events which empower women but we need funding, our transport business pays for our outreach initiatives and its expensive travelling across the state and not being able to service our customers when we go to these events," Jones says.

"Volvo Group are one of our main supporters and we have been able to do amazing things with their trucks to promote truck driving as professional and achievable for people who haven’t been in the industry through training. And with the automatic trucks we train in you can pretty much get the majority of people in those trucks and they are safe professional drivers, without having to change gears they can concentrate on the road and the load and all the traffic around them."

According to the Australian Trucking Association only three per cent of truck drivers in Australia are female with industry-wide representation at only 26 per cent, with most women in the industry working in administrative roles. However, while initiatives like Heather Jones’ boot camp can provide a stepping stone for women, more needs to be done to redress this gender imbalance.

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