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Filling the driver shortage gap


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Owner/Driver  /  June 2, 2016

Mel Murphy, part of the Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls’ team, is proof that woman can take a leading role in Australia's road transport industry

Mary-Ellen ‘Mel’ Murphy, born in Western Australia’s north, says trucks were her mind as a schoolkid. She’d grown up around them, plus her mother had driven trucks. Before she began driving, however, Mel worked in hospitality and day care, relocating to Sydney for five years.

Moving back to WA and basing herself in Perth, she’d indirectly heard about a female company owner who was encouraging women to drive trucks. That woman was Heather Jones, co-founder of the Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls.

"I didn’t think much of it," Mel says.

However, she eventually went for her heavy rigid licence.

"The very next day Heather gave me a job," Mel recalls. "I had a little eight-wheeler tipper truck. It didn’t do more than 80km/h, and used to cart asphalt all around town.

"I’ve worked with Heather off and on for the last 10 years."

Three months after obtaining her HR licence, Mel applied for an MC permit. Although she would not be able to obtain that licence for another nine months, she was able to hone her skills doing two-up with experienced operators,
such as Heather.

Mel worked for Heather’s business Success Transport for a few years before heading north to the mines, driving a water cart. Then came the big move to Wally Campbell Low Loaders.

"I’d been out of work for a little bit, and I was sitting on my back step," Mel explains.

"Heather rang me up and said ‘Wally Campbell is about to ring and offer you a job’. I was beside myself because I thought, ‘what is she doing?’"

A nervous Mel went for the interview and began driving for Wally Campbell two weeks later, carting heavy haulage machinery.

"The only thing that kept me calm was the fact that Heather would not set me up for something I couldn’t do," she says. "It was the best thing I ever did; it was a really great team."

"I drove Macks, Inters, MANs, Volvos, Kenworths … I was challenged on every level."

Oddly enough, Mel says her favourite truck was an old ex-Army International S-Line: "It was as loud as hell, didn’t look really flash, but it just pulled like a Trojan and did the job."

Nowadays, Mel drives for Qube Energy in a 540hp Volvo FH13.

Qube is a big supporter of the Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls, of which Mel has been involved with since its inception.

"I’m part of it," she says. "I’ll get in there and give a hand if I have a free day. I know how well it worked for me."

Mel travelled across to Melbourne with Heather Jones for the Volvo Group Media (VGA) conference in May, where VGA president Peter Voorhoeve handed over the keys to a 700hp Volvo FH and Mack Super-Liner. Both trucks will take up residence at the Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls’ Driver Training Institute in Karratha.

Mel has maintained her enthusiasm for her truck driving career, and enjoys working for Qube where she recently clocked up three years.

"You do your job, they leave you alone, you get good money, and with the Volvo I get to keep all the same gear.

"I was a bit dubious about driving a Volvo," Mel explains, "because I’d listened to all the banter from the boys in the yard."

"Now you wouldn’t get me out of a Volvo. It’s smarter, not harder.

"You get out of the truck and you’re not flogged out; you can feel the difference."


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