Inspirational truckie defies the odds to realise dream

Lyndal Denny is in awe of her fellow truckie Candice Lureman, who along with Denny co-founded the highly-acclaimed Women in Trucking Australia movement.

Not only does Lureman run “rings around her” when it comes to all things trucking, Denny says Australia’s only profoundly deaf female road train driver has an inner-strength and determination that is second-to-none.

“Discrimination and ignorance have seen her overlooked time-and-time again, but I’d actually put her in the top 40 per cent of drivers out there. She’s just THAT good,” said Denny who trained and worked with Lureman in the Pilbara in 2013.

Today, the tireless campaigner for diversity in the road transport sector is also the star of a new short film Breaking the Sound Barrier, a category favourite at the Focus on Ability Film Festival, which aims to promote awareness of the ability of people with a disability.

To commemorate its release, we fired off a few questions to Lureman to find out more about how she got involved, and to learn more about the many challenges she’s overcome in her career.

Lyndal Denny with Lureman on the set of the inspirational new film.

Congratulations on the new film. How did the opportunity come about?

Women in Trucking Australia (WiTA) has worked with award winning film and production agency, Beyond Content in Adelaide on two NHVR funded heavy vehicle road safety campaigns. Lyndal Denny (WiTA CEO) approached production manager Chloe Gardner re the possibility of getting the Beyond Content crew behind the production of a short film for the festival. 

They stepped up to work with me at no cost. They’re the special people that change lives, lift people up, and makes the world a better place. The message here is that employers need to focus on abilities – not disabilities. 

I would like to thank every single person who has ever been unkind to me. You taught me to be even kinder to others and to use my experience as a deaf female to drive attitudinal change around true diversity in the road transport sector. 

It cannot have been easy with so many barriers in the way

At one particular place of employment, I was continually allocated the oldest truck in the fleet. When another driver’s truck broke down, my truck was given to that driver and I was put to work in the yard doing bins, cleaning up and repairing pallets. 

Even though I had my forklift ticket, I was not allowed the luxury of loading the trucks – a coveted job not one of the operators would swap to pick up rubbish around the yard. The day came when all the drivers except me – attended in Driving Operations and Warehousing operations. I was the only driver left out. Despite the fact my work was always of a high standard, more salt was rubbed into my one wounds when a new male trainee started work and was given one-on-one training and assistance. 

My request for the same level of training was ignored with the manager instead asking me to go pick up cigarette butts, tasking me with the job of making sure the smoking area was kept clean. I received a warning letter. The letter said that a deaf woman is not suitable person to drive a truck. 

This is the same company who I spoke about in my short film. Management didn’t ask if they could nominate me for an award, they didn’t tell me I’d been nominated or that I was a finalist and they didn’t invite me to the awards dinner. 

The GM accepted my award on my behalf and left it on the food table at the BBQ. When I questioned them as to why they’d not invited me to the awards evening, management told me it was a “last minute” thing and they didn’t know I was a finalist.  I then discovered they’d put stories about their culture of diversity and inclusion on the company Facebook page with details of my award and a photo of me.

The award was the 2019 Road Freight NSW Transport Woman of the Year. Lyndal Denny phoned CEO Simon O’Hara and he immediately offered to fly me to Sydney to re-present my award. Wonderful man

On another occasion, after work walking to my car I noticed what looked like hailstone dents all over the bonnet. I knew we hadn’t had a storm then I noticed the cars on either side if mine had no dents. 

Looking closely, I realised the damage was man-made and according to the local panelbeater – done with a car key. I took the photos of the damage and reported the incident. I knew the area was under CCTV surveillance and asked management to view the footage and find the perpetrator. Their response was simple – the camera wasn’t working and there was nothing they could do. I was sad and very angry at their disinterest and lack of action. 

On another occasion, one of the yard workers who had a brother who wanted a job driving told management I was taking drugs in the bathroom. Management called an ambulance and walked me to the ambulance in front of my colleagues. I was humiliated, angry and crying. I was also the only female driver. I went to the hospital for blood tests. The result came back negative. No one apologised.

What drives you to overcome attitudes like that?

My dream to become a truck driver keeps me going.  

I believe anything is possible with commitment, heart and soul. I want young girls to look at trucks and have a personal relationship with them.  I tell them to keep going – to never give up and to never stop dreaming.  

It is very rare for women with disabilities to get work driving trucks.  I hope to see other disadvantage females follow in my footsteps. I know working in dominated trucking was going to be a bit daunting, but I’ve always had a positive attitude and believed if you have a passion for something then you can achieve whatever you want with right attitude, anything is possible. 

Stay humble and be kind. I’ve also learned that a friendly smile can go a long way. 

Tell us more about the licensing rules that you have to work with 

OH&S is increasingly used as an argument not to employ deaf people. One example of ‘over the top’ OH&S regimes is the deaf truck driver with many years’ experience and an accident-free record, who lost his truck licence and was put on lower paid duties because of a new safety standard that required deaf truckies to pass a medical examination which disqualified anyone with a hearing loss beyond an arbitrarily imposed specific decibel level. 

Doctors and audiologists surely are not qualified to assess a person’s abilities to undertake a whole range of occupations. These are just some of the issues we face. Deafness is not a disease. 

The law was changed in 2016. I was born deaf and I’m allowed to drive a truck. People have a lot of perception about hearing aids. They think that it’s a ‘cure’. It makes you hear like a normal hearing person and because of that lack of awareness, it can be quite difficult or exhausting or just not even possible to explain to people that hearing aids are not a cure. 

We have to explain all the reasons or all the points behind it. And even through all that, you still can’t get that message through, which then becomes very exhausting and tiring. Hearing aids are very uncomfortable.

Imagine if hearing people had to wear earphones all day every day – without hearing anything coming out of them.  For me, hearing aids make sound louder but no clearer – it’s all just distracting noise. And very uncomfortable. It just becomes a bit uncomfortable. They give me headaches. Hearing aids also pick up the ‘wrong’ sounds.  

I absolutely hate wearing them when it’s windy or when opening the truck windows because it creates like a loud screeching sound when that wind goes into the tiny microphone. It’s very, very annoying. The other thing as well is when you are eating food, you can hear munching extra loud. And if you’re eating something crunchy, like  popcorn or some crisps, then it becomes very annoying and becomes uncomfortable. So, I just take it off. 

Unfortunately, with an MC licence, I must wear my hearing aids or I get six demerits and a $3000 infringement ticket. 

Lureman opens up about her struggles while filming Breaking the Sound Barrier.

What do you say to drivers who think deafness is still a barrier?

Let’s work together. This barrier needs to be removed because it’s ridiculous.  My lack of hearing in no way affects my ability to drive competently. People who made these comments have no knowledge of deaf life or no experience with deaf people. 

Deaf people are healthier and happier because they are doing what they enjoy and they’re willing to work hard to get there so they can live their dream. 

You’re at Toll now. Tell us more about your role

The team I work with at Toll are extremely supportive and training is provided in most cases. The drivers I work with are gold!  I drive the only K200 in the fleet with a super B-double set of trailers with quad axles on both trailers that can manage up to 110 tonnes. 

Tell us how you got involved with WiTA and what difference the group has made to you 

I was the finalist for the 2019 Women in Industry ‘Excellence in Road Transport’ Awards. This night, I don’t fit in at the conference along with all the white collars. I just said, ‘enough is enough. I want to start our own female heavy vehicle driver awards’. Lyndal Denny loved this brilliant idea and two years later we did it, held the WiTA International Women’s Day Awards. 

We have also just finished filming our latest round of heavy vehicle road safety ads and are set to release a report in early September to coincide with the campaign launch.

I was fortunate enough to feature in one of the ads which I ‘signed’.

I understand my ad is the only heavy vehicle road safety ad in the world to be signed by a deaf female truckie so I’m pretty proud of that.

How does being a mum impact on your driving career? 

To work and parent is never about a balance, but rather a frantic juggle. I worked hard to build a career for myself in the trucking industry that I find to be rewarding and enjoyable. It’s very important for women to believe that they can have a vision. When my children look at me, I want them to see a woman who wouldn’t accept that there were limits to what she could do. 

I can have many roles in my life and I will give whatever it takes. One of the things that kept me going is the fact I would like to be a role model to them. At times, it has been tough, we are still adjusting, and I believe we’re becoming stronger because they see that I’m happier because I’m doing what I’m called to do with my life. I’m really proud of my kids that they’ve stepped up to the plate. Everyone understands how important it is to pull their own weight.  

Any last messages? 

If you’re a woman considering a truck driving career do research what options are out there for you. Truck driving is not a sightseeing tour. It’s hard work. Make sure you’re doing something you love. 

Plus, choose a company to drive for with a proven track record of performance and safety. I’ve never had a perfect load or a perfect day, but if you’re willing to learn, be flexible, be safe and efficient, truck driving could be the best career you ever have. 

It’s very important to understand how men think. You do know you can ask questions during training. 

It’s your job to learn how to do your job right. You, and only you are responsible for you and your training. Having the right personality is far more important. 

My life has been severely damaged by the bullying and discrimination experiences. But I have to forget what bullies deserve, and think about what I deserve, about what I need. 

When someone has tried to destroy my reputation, my income, my self-worth I need positive emotions to build myself back up again. 

The truckies at WiTA are great role models. They listen to their dreams, not their fears.

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