Toots inspires special event

With International Women’s Day sailing over the horizon, I cast my mind back 12 months to WiTA festivities celebrating the work, grit and determination of Australian female truck drivers and the arrival of a post that quietly landed on the WiTA Facebook page.

In it, the writer expressed his belief that the REAL heroes of the industry are the wives – the women who keep the home fires burning – the women who keep the kids in school, who get the bills paid and keep family life on track.

Whilst we wholeheartedly applaud these dedicated women who farewell their partners each week before turning their focus to assuming the role of single parent while their men are out on the road – let’s pause for a moment to consider the fact that – as well as driving heavy vehicles, female truckies face the added challenges of managing work and family life from behind the wheel. We are the wives, the partners and the primary caregivers and more often than not – don’t have that added layer of critical support others enjoy.

It was not uncommon during the pandemic for us to hear from female drivers seeking advice on how to home-school their children in their trucks – or from sisters, daughters and grandmothers – primary caregivers involuntarily parked up or locked out of their home states for extended periods of time – while authorities navigated issues previously only imagined in the pages of science fiction novels.

That simple post spoke volumes to the harsh reality that the efforts of these incredible women go largely unnoticed.  Often, female drivers are unseen and unheard in the workplace. Many are taken for granted or overlooked for the enormous sacrifices they make to earn a living and support their families.  

One of WiTA’s core projects was to establish a networking platform for female drivers, and as a result, today thousands of women now come together to share ideas and to support and uplift each other on the organisation’s Facebook page.

WiTA was also established to empower these women, to capture their authenticity, strength and diversity and to shine a light on the work being done out there on the nation’s roads in the hope that their inspiring stories will encourage more Australian women to consider trucking as the viable and rewarding career path it is.

Across a busy and challenging three years, these women have spoken volumes about their capabilities, skills and resourcefulness in seeking to establish successful careers in one of the nation’s most colourful and challenging vocations.

In the spirit of continuing to honour and recognise the exceptional women, WiTA has a number of major initiatives to announce on International Women’s Day 2023.

One of those is the establishment of a National Female Heavy Vehicle Drivers’ Day – set down for July 5 each year – the birthdate of legendary Australian female truckie Toots Holzheimer.

Toots’ family have given their blessing and say they are honoured by her appointment as the inspiration and luminary of this special annual event.   

“Whilst she didn’t like being in the limelight, Mum had all the time in the world for everyone – particularly women willing to get the job done,” said Toots’ daughter Donna Vawdrey.

Author of ‘Toots – Woman in a Man’s World’, Vawdrey said her mum always led by example, conducting herself at all times with dignity and integrity. 

“Mum believed women could succeed in non-traditional roles but also recognised the enormous amount of grit and determination it took – particularly 50 years ago – to be acknowledged and accepted as a female truck driver.   She was a person who did not allow the norms of her day to govern what she could or couldn’t do.”

Moving forward, National Female Heavy Vehicle Drivers’ Day will celebrate the work being done by every woman out there driving, because each is doing a job that historically we’ve been told we can’t.  

It’s a day where female drivers will stand together to tell the world, “This is who we are and this is what we do” and, in doing that, encourage other women to join and swell our ranks out on the nation’s roads.   

This is a day where together, we will continue to work as one to smash the glass bullbar, to showcase the nuts and bolts of the industry and all its diversity from a female perspective, and to show women considering trucking careers that it’s not about winning but rather about not giving up. 

  • Lyndal Denny is CEO, Women in Trucking Australia

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