From an early age it was evident to those close to her that Debra Hollingsworth would likely pursue a career in the trucking industry. After all, she has been around them her entire life.
Her parents had trucks and from a young age she accompanied her father in the truck to the wharves when the Painters and Dockers union strife was at its turbulent peak in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
“I got to see a lot of things,” she recalls. “As a subbie Dad would be hauling scrap metal one day and Coca-Cola or huge rolls of paper the next.”
It was her job to tarp the rolls of paper which were sitting on their ends on the trailer.
“There were gaps between each of the rolls and as I was rolling out the tarp I slipped down into one of the gaps and I remember the forklift driver saying, ‘Geoff, your daughter’s just disappeared’.”
Debra’s father, Geoff, passed away last year, and the memories she has of spending time riding in the truck with him in her youth will remain with her always.
Her first job after leaving school at age 17 was at a truck accessories shop called Truck Bits Australia in Dandenong.
She took to the work with gusto and recalls an enjoyable challenge of finding a replacement air filter when there was no part number on the original, simply by cross referencing dimensions.
“I worked there for 11 years and left because I needed more of a challenge, taking up a position with Truckline where I became involved with selling what are known in the business as ‘hard parts’ — components like diffs, gearboxes, bearing kits and brake parts,” she says.
Some years later she made the large leap into selling trucks at the Melbourne International dealership, starting in the parts department and then moving across to sales of UD trucks.
This lasted for eight months then in early 2003 she was promptly poached by Patterson Cheney Isuzu at Dandenong, which became the starting point for a long career selling Isuzu trucks.
Following a lengthy stint with ‘Pattos’ at Dandenong, she spent some time with an Isuzu dealership in northeast country Victoria before settling at Westar in Campbellfield three years ago.
“I was with Patterson Cheney Dandenong for 11 years then made a ‘tree change’ move to Euroa and was working for Taig Bros now known as North East Isuzu at Shepparton,” Debra says.
“During these early years I was also driving semis at night, delivering live chickens and doing loads for my Dad on weekends delivering concrete panels into the city.”
Notwithstanding what appears to be an insatiable appetite for challenges, Debra says she very much enjoys spec’ing trucks for unusual applications.
“It comes down to attention to detail,” she says.
“Over the years I’ve been involved with some quite unusual trucks that have been ordered. Probably one of the weirdest trucks I’ve ever sold was a ‘fish feeder’ to a trout farming operation in Alexandra.
It was a little Isuzu with a hopper on the back and nozzles that would shoot the feed pellets out across the pond.
Another memorable one was a vacuum excavation truck with the body imported from the USA — meaning I had to spend hours converting all the US measurements and weights to metric. When the body came out and we installed it to the truck I discovered I was 80kg under with the weight.
Then I realised it had a water tank that held 80 litres so it turned out I was right on the money which I was pretty chuffed about.”
Debra says she has built a database of information in terms of dimensions and weights of every truck she has sold which she updated every six months.
This, she explains, has helped her with subsequent builds because it enables accurate determination of the weights of the bodies on a per metre basis.
“When you get to the end of a build and you’re only out by 20 or 30kg it’s awesome because a weighbridge can be out by those amounts anyway. It’s great to be able to deliver what you promise — or even better,” she says.
Seeing the buyer chuffed with the end result is the part of the job she enjoys the most.
Upon reflection, Debra says her career is not something for which she made a conscious decision to pursue, but rather a gradual evolution that has been unfolding since her childhood.
Her desire to surmount new frontiers and challenges has led, no matter the job at hand, to an organic career progression.
“I remember while I was selling ‘S&G’ at Truck Bits making the comment, ‘One day I would like to sell the whole truck and not just bits of it’,” she says. “It was just a fleeting line and at the time I probably thought it wouldn’t actually happen, but it did happen!”
There’s a sense of pride she feels as a woman, making it in an industry that was very much male dominated when she started.
“I’ve done the hard yards, having started out in the late ‘80s when women in the transport industry were just unheard of,” she says.
“I had to stand my ground at times and have worked hard to earn the respect of others, but through it all I’m proud of what I’ve achieved and happy to have been something of a trailblazer to show other women what can be achieved if you have the passion and commitment to follow your dreams.”