• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.
Heather Jones clicks the seat belt, checks her mirrors, and turns on the ignition of her 38-wheeler truck (or road train), stretching some 50 yards long. She will be driving 248 miles one-way with only one service station along the resource-rich and rugged landscape of Western Australia. If a fan belt needs to be replaced or one of the 178-pound tires needs to be changed, she will be the one to do it in the 120 degree F. heat.
Ms. Jones is one of 4,483 women truck drivers employed in the mining industry, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, who are increasingly sought after as drivers for these mammoth trucks.
“[Women] have longer attention spans in a monotonous job of driving long hours. They are multiskilled, consistent, clean, and have a gentle touch on the gears and brake,” says Jones, founder and director of Success Transport, a multitruck company owned and operated by women.
With Australia’s mining boom, the cost of living in this part of the country has skyrocketed. Truck drivers can earn more than $120,000 (Australian; US$105,119) a year. When Jones’s husband disappeared and left her alone to raise two young daughters, driving a truck provided good income almost immediately. Fortunately, the companies she worked for allowed her to bring her daughters along. For seven years, the truck was their mobile home.
Once in the industry, which Jones calls a “boys’ club” where “chauvinism is alive and well,” women have to be as tough as the vehicles they steer to juggle home, hearth, and relationships. A life on the road also entails enduring harsh conditions that come with the heat, the ochre dust that clings to your skin and hair, and countless bugs.
But despite 16-hour workdays, Jones says the joy of driving in solitude and the freedom her job offers is unparalleled.