As she parks up her beloved Mack Trident for the last time, log truck driver Debbie Parr says she’s been lucky to enjoy the career she’s had.
At 66 years of age and following previous heart surgeries, Debbie Parr knew the time was right for retirement, officially finishing up in mid-April. She admits, however, that she already misses her truck and all of the wonderful people she’s met along the way.
It was actually horses, not trucks, that led her towards her chosen career path.
“I started in horse racing when I was 16 and I always went to the track in a truck and thought gee, I’d like to drive one of them one day,” said Parr.
“I had race horses and was training them on 500 acres in Albury. I needed a truck so I could get the horses to the tracks and to the races. So I bought my first truck in 1979, a medium rigid, and then upgraded to a heavy rigid in 1985.”
Parr was born on Christmas Island, off the coast of Western Australia. It was when she came to the mainland that she fell in love with horses – from ponies, she went to show jumping and then into racing.
“In the 1970s, they were trying to get more women into being jockeys. The last ride I did in a race, I was 51kg so it was too hard for me to be a jockey. I was too heavy so I got into horse racing,” Parr said.
“I’ve been driving trucks since 1979 and I love it. In some ways, trucks are the same as a race horse. You can feel if the truck isn’t right in your seat and then you can fix it.”
Parr had her own trucks until 1998 and then gave racing away in 2001. She got back into trucks in 2009 when she moved to Leongatha, Victoria, and began working for Brown’s Fertiliser, driving a front-end loader. “They let me drive a small truck there at first. Then they would let me back out the heavy combination trucks from the sheds.”
She then applied for a job as a milk tanker driver at Peter Stoitse Transport, where she stayed for seven years, up until 2018.
“Peter Stoitse was a brilliant company and all the co-workers were great too. I never had any trouble, everyone has always been helpful and supportive, so I’ve been really lucky. But I was getting tired at that stage and didn’t realise I had a heart problem. I moved to Queensland to transport sugar cane in Maryborough – but that wasn’t for very long due to the issues with my heart. They stopped me driving in July and I had open heart surgery in December.”
For a short amount of time, Parr worked driving a bus as a tour guide on Fraser Island. “I was lifting things I shouldn’t have and I over did it and ended up having to have another operation,” she said.
Parr is now based in Harvey Bay, Queensland, where up until recently she was working as a log truck driver at Cornwall Logging.
“When I applied for the log truck job, Cornwall said they’d give me a go because I had driven off-road in the milk tankers. I started there in 2020. Driving off-road is a great experience for any driver. Cornwells Logging gave me a go too, to put me on at my age,” she said.
New to the logging industry, Parr reached out to fellow log truck driver Michelle for advice. “She worked in the Snowy Mountains and when I rang her, she helped me a great deal. The women in the industry were so supportive when I had my heart problems as well. Horse racing was like that too. There are so many women doing well in this industry now. They’ve proven themselves. Once you prove that you can do it, that’s when people are there to support you. You don’t have to be tough, you just have to be a good driver. It’s great to see the girls are out there showing they can do it.”
At Cornwells, Parr would transport logs through the forests and into timber yards in Maryborough, as well as trips to Gladstone and down to Caboolture.
“I loved driving through the forest. There are dingoes, kangaroos and wild horses and the sun comes in through the trees. The people who loaded up the trucks were all friendly too, it didn’t matter which company it was, everyone was so kind and friendly and it made it hard for me to leave. It was sad to say goodbye – and sad to say goodbye to my truck too.”