It was back in 2014, after moving to Australia from the other side of the world that Prakaash ‘Pats’ Karuppanasamy, 40, and his wife Kokilavani ‘Koke’ Prakaash Devan, 37, began their journey into the transport industry.
Originally from India, they first arrived in the ACT – with a 10-month-old baby in tow – and spent several years there, but eventually realised, the west was calling.
Shortly after their arrival down under, they began working together as contractors, delivering for Australia Post and building up their own little fleet. “We started out with one van, then made it two when Koke got her driver’s licence here and we grew that to five vans. We still have those vans, with people driving them for us,” Pats explained.
They continued delivering parcels until Covid hit in 2020, at which point they both went for their HR licence. “I got it first and Koke was a little hesitant at first but then went for it and got it,” Pats said.
“The driving instructor said he had seen many women coming in for their HR licence but he had never seen an Indian woman going for her HR.”
They decided to move to Queensland in the hope of finding greater opportunity to further their trucking skills – and they did just that, with the two of them eventually securing their MC licences.
For the past six months, they’ve called Perth home, juggling parenthood, with two boys aged eight and 10, and their transport careers.
The couple works for Rudhran Holdings, which sub-contracts to Team Global Express, and is owned by Ramkumar and Valentina Sivanandam. They cart general freight, refrigerated goods and mining machinery from behind the wheel of a Mercedes Benz Actros or a Freightliner Cascadia. “My wife loves the Benz, because of the manoeuvrability and turning circle,” Pats said.
They typically travel to the Kalgoorlie/Coolgardie area or to Port Hedland; heading up the Great Northern Highway or the Great Eastern Highway.
“We love seeing the different terrain. Driving down a two-way road with one lane each way and having road trains crossing each other, it’s just unbelievable to see that in real life – that’s what keeps us going,” said Pats.
“We moved to Queensland because we wanted to drive road trains and enjoy the outback life. Then all this happened when we moved to Perth because Rudhran Holdings believed in us. They’ve provided a great deal of training and helped us to evolve as linehaul drivers,” added Pats.
And though he can’t be completely certain, he believes his wife Koke could be the first Indian woman driving triple road trains in Australia.
“I’ve checked with many available resources if there are any predecessors to her in this domain and I ended up finding no one else so far. I was told verbally of some Punjabi women driving HR and up to B-doubles, but not a triple road train,” said Pats, who is immensely proud of how far his wife has come.
“Wherever we go, people turn their heads or raise their eyebrows. At every roadhouse we go to, we’ve been told that they’ve never seen an Indian woman driving triple road trains.”
Koke added, “Going from Perth to Port Hedland, there’s been a couple of roadhouses where I’ve asked for the shower key and they’d try and charge me, not realising I was a truckie.
“I’m proud to be in the triple road trains. My boss’ wife, who is originally from Romania, is also friendly and calls to tell me how proud she is of me being a female truckie – she’s proud to have a female driver at the company too. Without farmers, there’s no food, but without trucks, Australia stops. I’m very proud to be a part of that.”
When asked how they find being in the truck together 24/7, Pats answers without hesitation. “Koke is my rock. Yes, sometimes we might get annoyed at each other, but we complement each other and love to travel together.”
And Koke echoes that same sentiment. “Everywhere he goes, he says she’s my rock, but I never tell them he’s also my strength and my everything.”
Though they’re both loving their current work, their big dream is to eventually buy a truck and go out on their own. “We hope we can buy our own truck and then expand with a second truck,” said Pats.
Koke added, “I like going into the mine sites, they’re always very respectful there and we get to travel lots of different roads.
“In the future, I’d like to move into quads, but I love oversize as well, as it’s a bit out of the ordinary.”
While her dream is to drive quads, Pats’ hope is to move into interstate work. Though he admits, “I’d like to drive interstate, but she wants to get into oversize or quads, so I’d prefer to go her way,” he said.
“We might look to establish an oversize family transport business or if we get a breakthrough in interstate driving, we could go that way, because we love driving and love travelling and that gives us an opportunity to explore the entire continent.
“For the moment, we are really enjoying it. I hope once we get a chance, we can let our kids be a part of the trucking journey too as a family business.”
Pats continued, “We already know that trucking will be our life. But we’ll try to explore different domains in trucking, like carrying ammonium nitrate and dangerous goods.
“I have a lot of friends who are in IT and at 40, they are already looking to start taking it easier. I don’t want that.
“We chose this life and at the end of it all, I want to have a life that’s been well lived, and more memories to cherish.”
And for Koke, she hopes she can inspire other immigrant women to give road trains a go. “I want to prove that Indian women can also be part of Australia’s truck industry. I hope my story can help inspire other women from different cultures to be part of this industry and represent it.”