The Pilbara is a large, dry region in Northern Australia best known for its vast mineral deposits and mining towns. The mining industry saw a great deal of success a few years ago, but the mining boom has now ceased to be profitable for many. With job opportunities at an all time low, many are struggling.
While there are still opportunities for people in the trucking business, this industry has historically been male-dominated. However, one group is trying to even out the mix.
The Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls (PHHG) are a group of female truckers led by founder Heather Jones, who has been driving for over three decades. In 2013, Jones and 30 other women decided that they needed to become more visible in the truck driving field in order to promote female truckers.
Women currently only make up about 1 percent of Australia’s heavy vehicle drivers, and the group is committed to increase the number of female truck drivers nationally. PHHG brings newly licensed truck drivers into the industry, provides them with over 160 hours of training, and opens up opportunities for them to work. When the group began, it was only 30 women strong, but now the nonprofit currently has over 300 people on its waiting list to join driver training.
The ladies drive hot pink trucks, which are meant to visibly show the presence of women in the field. There were mixed reviews when these trucks were first seen on the roads, and when PHHG first began their work, the largest obstacle was bypassing the sexist attitudes of Human Resources workers.
“The HR departments just don’t give us a chance and we can’t get that experience. So we’re just trying to educate industry and road users that we can do the job,” said Jones.
Truck driving is not easy work. Drivers work long hours, tow huge loads, and often do this in grueling weather conditions. Regardless, these women have been proving that anyone with enough training and experience can do the job.
“Yeah, I actually drive the truck,” is the response PHHG member Mel Murphy, who started driving 12 years ago, has given to commentators wishing to clarify that she truly does the work of a trucker. “I certainly don’t push [the trucks] up the road, do I?”
Other groups are providing outlets for women as well, like the Pilbara Motorcycle Girls (PMS). This group seeks to empower other women in the community through education and the prevention of domestic violence and suicide.
The founder of PMS, Leah Scholes, says that it is important PMS has a presence for women feeling helpless in remote areas, especially to newcomers who feel alone. The truckers take “flak” from the men in the area, but Scholes says she doesn’t put up with that.
With the mining boom over, locals need to secure promising jobs, and truck driving is definitely proving to be a successful endeavor for both men and women.
“There’s still a lot of opportunities for big businesses, small businesses, and for the local community,” said Jones. “I think the Pilbara means endless opportunities. You have a look at the land and the variety of everything we’ve got here. It’s just amazing.”
PHHG has already successfully trained 30 women, and hopes to establish a training institute which would allow them to increase their trainee numbers to over 80-100 women annually. The women of PHHG are not trying to replace male drivers – they are trying to help make up for the lack of drivers overall, while also proving that women can handle the tough conditions that arise while trucking. Hopefully they succeed in founding a training institute, so that more women will have the opportunity to pursue careers as drivers.
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