Operations manager, sales manager and now fuel truck driver, Melissa Riley is kicking goals in her mother’s business and hopes her young daughters can one day continue the family tradition too.
At a time where females still make up less than 2 per cent of Australia’s truck driving workforce, and women running their own transport businesses are few and far between, West Tankers is breaking the mould.
Melissa Riley, 27, says her parents started the Newcastle based business in 2002. “My dad worked on the rails. He was working out west and they found it hard to get fuel deliveries, so he spoke to mum and they decided to import a fuel tanker from Japan and that’s how it started,” she recalled.
“My mum Bronwyn Wilson got her licence 20 years ago and she would cart fuel there. It wasn’t as common then for women to be driving trucks. She was an owner operator and later converted to a Pty Ltd.”
Riley grew up in and around trucks and recalls how she would get up very early in the morning and jump in the truck with her mother or pop. “And that was all before we went to school in the morning. We’d sleep in the truck and then come back and get ready for school. Ever since I was little, I was around the trucks.”
After school and on weekends, she would help wash, clean and service the trucks and tankers, and travel in the passenger seat to deliver fuel all over NSW.
After finishing year 10, Riley went straight to work in the West Tankers office, where she began learning all there was to know about running the business, including studying her Diploma in Business Administration.
Working by her mother’s side, Riley has helped to grow the family business, which now employs 15 people and runs a fleet of 14 rigid fuel tankers. While working full time scheduling the company’s fleet, Riley also welcomed two daughters Leah (7) and Asha (4).
“It’s definitely hard to be a full-time working mum. It’s had its challenges but thankfully they will grow up to be a part of the business with me,” Riley said.
In October 2020, she decided she wanted to take the next step in her career and got her HR licence and plans to upgrade again in the future.
“Because my mum owns the business I work for, I’m definitely trying to follow on in her footsteps. It took me a few years to do it. I get into the truck three days a week, helping out and grabbing fuel, and managing everything else at the same time.”
Riley is now one of only three women who loads diesel for the company’s trucks at the Park Fuel’s Kooragang terminal.
“As a young woman, I am passionate about women in the fuel and transport industry and I love getting people involved and letting them see what we do and how we do it. The main thing I hope is that I can teach my two little girls that they can do anything in any industry – and hopefully they will follow on in the family business as well,” Riley added.
“I absolutely love being out on the road. With the sales side of my job, I’m out in a car travelling around, but it’s when I’m in the truck that it feels like a great accomplishment that I’m able to be involved in all aspects of the business. Being a female owned and operated company, we very much support women in transport.
“I’ve grown up in a family business and I’m working my way to start taking over the business so Mum can semi retire. She loves being a Nan and looking after the grandkids but she’ll still get behind the wheel when she has to. What she used to do, she’s now passed on to me. I very much hope my daughters will be in the business too, and that it will eventually keep getting passed down the line.”
Recognised for her strong work ethic, Riley was awarded a Driving the Difference scholarship late last year by Transport Women Australia Limited (TWAL) and Daimler Truck and Bus Australia Pacific. She will now undertake Certificate IV in training and assessment.
West Tankers has also celebrated its 20th anniversary with a new pink fuel tanker that was added to the fleet in December. “The truck was to celebrate our 20 years in business and the colour is to represent women in the industry. We all wear pink polos at work, have pink hard hats and high vis. The truck is a statement piece as well, about supporting women.”