What is it about the long, straight, seemingly endless roads that criss-cross Australia that capture our hearts and imaginations? With rail freight in steady decline, trucks have become the main means of moving everything from fresh food to furniture on the tarmac arteries of our country and cities. Driving these great behemoths was once the monopoly of blokes in stubbies and blue singlets, but that is changing. There are more women in trucks – in coal mines, quarries and cities – than you think, and they love their jobs.
“When you stop in the middle of the desert at night and look up at the stars, there’s nothing like it. It’s wonderful. I just love it.”
Maralyn Bierwith (pictured above) has seen more of the open road than most of us. The 71-year-old has only just retired from driving her big Kenworth 909 triple trailer road train the 2,834 km-long Stuart Highway from Adelaide to Darwin twice a week, delivering freight to supermarkets in Darwin. “Oh, I hate not being able to drive my truck but my doctor’s warned me, so I better take his advice.”
The independent Maralyn had a fall in 2015 while she was hooking the trailers onto her beloved truck, fracturing her vertebrae. She may not be able to drive anymore, but the friends she made while truck driving continue to drop in for a cuppa and a chat. “I love to have a chat. The other drivers always knew when it was my turn to drive because I was always on the two-way having a chat. It gets lonely on that road in the middle of the night.”
Until her retirement Maralyn used to drive ‘two-up’ with her husband John. Husband and wife driving teams are becoming increasingly popular with long haul freight companies. According to Maralyn this is because they work better as a team than two men. “Husband and wife two-ups don’t fight about who’s the boss that day. I know a number of women in their late forties and fifties who have been married to truck drivers and then when the kids leave home, get their licences and start driving as two-up partners.”
Maralyn has been driving a lot longer than twenty years. Her father had an earthmoving business and it was Maralyn, not her brother, who helped move the equipment on weekends. “It’s in my blood I suppose. I haven’t always driven trucks; I worked in hospitality while I was rearing my boys but when my first marriage broke down I was left with nothing. I said to my dad, ‘I think the only thing I can do now is go truck driving’ – he wasn’t happy about my decision but I’m good at truck driving and have made a good living from it. The blokes would say to me, ’We know you’re a damn good little truck driver and you work really hard.’”
Starting in the truck driving business young seems to be a common theme. Lisa Lloyd (in the main picture above) started driving tractors on the family farm at sixteen and got her semi licence at twenty-two. “I didn’t do much with it when I got it; I think it was more for the challenge.” Lisa married a station manager and drove cattle trucks, loaders and tractors in the partnership. When her marriage fell apart she moved to the Northern Territory and worked in a major supermarket chain, eventually working her way up to manager in the bakery section. After a nasty injury she left that job and started work as a tour guide around Uluru and Katherine Gorge. Finding herself unemployed during the wet season a friend offered Lisa a job driving a water truck for a local earthmoving company.
“They gave me a broken down old Mack that took me three days to find third gear in but by the time I left I was driving an eighteen speed rigid water truck. The company helped me get a multi-combination licence which meant I could drive side-tippers, doubles and triples.”
While Lisa can obviously hold her own in a ‘blokes‘ world, it hasn’t been without its challenges. “Other than perfecting the proper load of gravel or mastering the water truck, my main challenges haven’t been mechanical or the isolation but the old men; one told me I should have been in the kitchen and I replied with ‘I’ll go to the kitchen when you go to the old folk’s home!’ We were good after that. Really, the men I’ve worked with have been awesome. I owe it all to the men who have had the faith to give me a go; without them none of this would’ve happened.” Now 52, Lisa lives in Port Augusta and drives a Kenworth AB triple road train running supplies to Olympic Dam. “I still love driving but no more six weeks on, one week off, driving all over the state. This job means I’m home in my bed every night and get to see my girls and gorgeous grandson.”
Lynn Haysom was happy she was going to be home for Christmas; usually she is driving two-up with her husband Tony on the 2,721 km run between Melbourne and Perth. The round trip takes 40 hours. “Its funny, we fight all the time at home but when we’re in the truck we never have an argument.”
Lynn carries general freight across the Nullabor in a Kenworth 200 B-triple road train and while she now partners with her husband she used to drive single between Sydney and Melbourne. “I’ve never had any problems being a single women in this business. I’d pull up at yards to unload and men would always help if I needed it, same with breakdowns or changing tyres. Sometimes people ask me why I’m doing a ‘man’s’ job and I tell them because it’s dead easy, that’s why.”
Lynn has no thoughts about giving up long haul truck driving, “I take time off every now and then but even then I’m driving. I like to have a proper look at the places I see from the truck but never have time to stop and look at properly. I can’t really explain why I love truck driving, I just do. I love the views, nobody looking over my shoulder, the chats, the pride in the job but I think it’s the freedom of the road I love most. It’s like therapy, being out there on my own, knowing what I have to do, the quietness, it’s just beautiful. It’s the best.”