Trail Blazer

Hailing from New Zealand, Hannah Hughes has always had a passion for driving trucks. Since making the big move across the ditch she has achieved her ultimate goal of driving roadtrains in the vast outback of Western Australia.

“You never run out of road in WA,” Hannah Hughes explains when asked about her favourite place in Australia.

“There is just so much beautiful country to drive through.”

Heavy machinery is definitely in the blood of the Hughes family, with Hannah’s grandfather having driven trucks and two of her uncles owning earthmoving businesses in New Zealand.

“It’s just something I’ve been around all my life and I really took a liking to it,” she says. “As a little tacker, if there was a machine around, I’d be on it.”

Hannah gained her rigid truck licence in New Zealand at the age of 18 and a year later, on her lonesome, moved to New South Wales to further her driving career.

“I was fascinated by the roadtrains in Australia and realised that was what I wanted to do,” she says. “That’s what drove me to move over here.”

Hannah’s first job was on a farm at Canowindra in the NSW central west where she was involved with horses and carting livestock. She did this for about a year and then moved to a farm at Canungra in southeast Queensland doing similar work – carting cattle and hay on rigid trucks.

However, her underlying ambition lay on the western side of the country. In 2016, a year later, she made the trans-continental shift and scored a position in Perth hauling mineral freight locally and regionally, as well as chemicals in intermediate bulk containers (IBC) out to farms.

It was here that Hannah gained her Heavy Combination licence, bringing her a step closer to her dream job driving roadtrains.

“There are a lot more opportunities for roadtrain driving in the west,” Hannah explains. “After I’d been in Perth for a couple of years I jumped onboard with McColl’s and got my MC licence pretty much straight away.” Prior to this she had been driving multi-combinations around the yard and already had a good grasp on how it was done.

Hannah passed her MC licence test in a Kenworth, and she says Australia’s leading heavy-duty truck brand is her favourite. She currently drives a T609 for McColl’s Transport Bulk Chemicals Division in WA.

Hannah Hughes proudly displays her WiTA Driver of the Year award.

“I love the look of the Kenworths and the way they’re set up and the space inside the cab,” she says. “I enjoy spending time in them and am happy to be away in them for days on end because they are so comfortable to live in.”

Hannah says she has done some big weeks in the T609 during the busy season of the summer months.

“One of the biggest was when I drove from Perth to Karratha, back to Perth, out to Kalgoorlie and then up to Marble Bar. By the time I got back to Perth I’d done just over 8,000km and was very happy to have a couple of days off,” she says.

Hannah explains that WA regulations allow truck drivers to drive for up to 17 hours per day provided they have a continuous break for the remainder of the 24-hour period. The maximum allowable driving hours in a fortnight is 168.

“That’s what I like about driving over here – you can knock out some serious kilometres in a day,” Hannah says – adding that she prefers to start at three or four in the morning so she can start her rest break well before midnight.

Her work includes hauling double roadtrain loads of acid to mine sites which is a steady process all year round.

On the other hand, delivering chemicals to farms is more seasonal, with the work getting really busy in the summer months and quietening down over winter.

Hannah says she is proud to be a female truckie and is very grateful for the assistance of fellow female truckie Nicole Trounson, who later become Operations Manager at McColl’s Bulk Chemical Division in Western Australia.

“Nicole actually helped me to get the job at McColls – she was very keen to have me onboard and to have another female driver in the industry,” Hannah says.

Being in a male-dominated industry, according to Hannah, doesn’t faze her in the slightest. In fact she enjoys the challenges the job brings.

“There’s definitely a lot of doubt out there so you just have to work hard and show them that you can punch above your weight,” she says.

Hannah’s hard work was rewarded in March this year when she took out the Women in Transport Australia (WiTA) inaugural Driver of the Year award. “I hope to see more women truck drivers coming through in the future so that it’s not such a rare thing in the industry,” she says.

As for her own future, Hannah says she sees herself happily driving roadtrains for many years to come, with perhaps a role in transport operations management thrown in for good measure somewhere down the track. “Whatever I do, it will never be anything too far away from the transport industry,” she says.