In Good On Ya Mate, June 20215 MinutesBy Gavin MyersJuly 6, 2021

Kiwi Hannah Hughes has won the inaugural Women in Trucking Australia Driver of the Year competition. A staunch advocate for women in the trucking industry, she’s come a long way from rural New Zealand to making her mark on the outback roadtrain scene.

Hannah is on her way back to Perth from Karratha in Western Australia when we manage to get her on the line. This busy, New Zealand- born truckie carts dangerous goods for McColl’s Transport Chemical Division and just this week, she’s moving her way through an 8500km schedule that’s taken her from Perth to the Pilbara and back, then up to the goldfields in Kalgoorlie and beyond.

These routes are pretty much as hard as they get – with 45-degree heat and no phone coverage. And Hannah relishes every minute of it.

“I love being out on the country roads and seeing some of the stuff you see. This is a beautiful country, and I love it when it’s just me, my rig and the road pretty much,” she says.

Taking after the generations of truck drivers in her family, Hannah started driving rigids in New Zealand. But driving outback road trains has always been her No.1 goal, and in 2011 at the age of 19, she leapt across the ditch.

She started with horses and hay and – chasing better opportunities – moved through the classes into general freight, then bulk liquids. Her road-train career took off when she moved to McColl’s four years ago.

“Road trains were just something I wanted to do since a very young age. I visualised it for a very long time,” says Hannah. “I like the tanker work – unloading’s a lot easier, and I haven’t got bored of the chemicals yet.”

Life on the road in a roadtrain – Hannah’s fulfilment of a dream.

McColl’s helped her get her DG licence and trained her to deal with spills and emergencies. “The company is really good,” she says. “We take satellite phones with us, and there’s a 24-hour hotline if anything goes wrong. Luckily, I haven’t yet had to use it. The trucks are also tracked so they can send help if a truck is stopped for longer than expected.”

It’s the type of challenging environment many of us would shy from, but Hannah says many more women are now carting chemicals.

“There are quite a few in WA, and the majority of them are Kiwi women, which is great,” she says. “We’re seeing more and more women in the industry. It used to be a rare sight to see a woman in a truck, but it’s now a lot more common.”

For Hannah, this is something she feels strongly about and one of the reasons she got onboard with WiTA. But it’s not always been easy…

“There have been days where I’ve struggled and wanted to chuck it in,” she says. “But when I won that award, I was so glad I didn’t. When I look back on those moments, I was so glad I pushed past them and didn’t let them get the better of me.”

Hannah says that women in the industry do feel they have to work quite a bit harder to prove themselves. “There’s so much doubt out there, but with more and more women coming through, that’s going away.”

Hannah Hughes – a Kiwi making big moves across the ditch.

Not being put off is one of the biggest lessons she can share with women contemplating getting behind the wheel. “It’s going to be rough because the industry is male-dominated. There are some out there who will try to break you down. But at the same time, they are freaking out that we’re doing what they’re doing.

“There’s a bigger reward at the end.”