Careers & Training, Features

Domestic violence victim says: ‘I’ve created my own freedom’

A victim of domestic violence, Kathy Graham says participating in the Iron Women driver training program gave her an opportunity to take control and build her new life.

When she first came across an ad for Volvo’s pilot Iron Women driver training program, she admits she was a little hesitant.

Having never driven a truck before – let alone sat in the driver’s seat – Graham was understandably apprehensive.

Based in Larapinta in Queensland, she had spent the previous 14 years working as a baker at Woolworths; but driving a truck was something that had been in the back of her mind for some time.

“Back in November, I came across an ad for Volvo’s driver training program on my DV group’s Facebook page but as a baker, I thought it was totally out of my league,” revealed Graham. Though once she got the ball rolling, it all happened so quickly.

“I saw the ad on the Tuesday and the closing date was the Thursday – so that morning I gave them a call and they asked me to come in for an interview. I started the program on the Monday, after doing night shift in the bakery the day before.”

Graham was one of 11 women to take part in the Iron Women program, which is run by Volvo Trucks Australia together with Wodonga TAFE. It combines two weeks of theory-based training followed by hands-on training.

The Iron Woman Class of 2023, which saw 11 people graduate with their HR licence. Image: Volvo Group Australia

The three-module course covers a variety of aspects including compliance, fatigue management, load restraint and how to complete a thorough truck check, through to obtaining a Heavy Rigid (HR) licence.

“I thought it would be easy but I found the first week hard because they teach you everything so you can then go into scheduling or logistics later on. There’s a lot to take in,” Graham added.

“We did two weeks at Volvo’s Wacol facility and then went down to Wodonga TAFE in Victoria, doing track and on-road training behind the wheel. After doing some highway driving, I thought this isn’t too bad.

“I took a week of leave from the bakery to participate in the track and road training and then passed my licence. It was an introduction to help boost your confidence and ensure you can drive the truck.

“Then I came back and wasn’t sure what to do with it. I had two options: go back to the bakery or drive a truck.”

She chose the latter and secured a job working with Linfox. It’s five days a week and though the days can be long, she says it’s given her the opportunity to gain meaningful employment and set herself up, adding that her financial stability has also improved.

Graham is based out of the Larapinta depot and drives a heavy rigid, delivering to Woolworths stores within a 40-kilometre radius.

Participants undertook track and on-road training behind the wheel. Image: Volvo Group Australia

For women in her situation, Graham says that if you stay in the same place, you can remain a victim. And that’s what motivated her to take the plunge into the unknown.

Her experience with domestic violence was extremely serious. It was about 14 years ago when, during a siege situation, Graham was shot in the hip.

“Because of that injury, I have osteoarthritis in my hip, so being on my feet for so many hours in the bakery every day wasn’t helping.

“The trauma from my DV is pretty dramatic as you can imagine, even all these years later. One thing they teach you about overcoming domestic violence is that you need to change your routine. You can’t keep doing what you used to do. I feel a lot safer now because of this program, because now I can drive a truck, which is so empowering.

“I had the opportunity to remain stagnant in a store or to be on the road where I know I’m not being followed or stalked. Yes, there are dangers on the road, but I don’t have to worry about some guy trying to hurt me or trying to shoot me – I’ve created my own freedom, my own life.”

On a personal level, Graham says the opportunity to take part in the program has meant the world. “My mental health has greatly improved – and it’s also that freedom of the mind that comes with that. I’ve become more confident, and my self-esteem has improved. I also have mentors around me to take my career further, so I can progress onto other things in the future.”

Behind the wheel during training at Wodonga TAFE in Victoria. Image: Volvo Group Australia

Along with the training offered by Volvo and Wodonga TAFE, Graham has received ongoing training and support through Linfox. This includes a buddy system. “I’ve had four weeks of one-on-one training with someone in the truck with me. That’s helped me learn things like how to dock the truck, because we’re pulling into confined spaces, along with teaching us all of the truck’s capabilities.

“Linfox has given me the training and support I need – and the comradery has been great too.”

Graham added, “Volvo gave me the direct contact with Linfox and they were more than happy to take me on and give me a go – and I’m grateful for that. It’s a great company to work for and the older guys who’ve been doing this for over 20 years are willing to help you out and impart their knowledge. When we get to the depot in the morning, we also have a chat and there’s a bit of banter.

“You have job stability, flexibility in the hours you work and I know I can knock on the boss’s door at any time.”

Linfox’s buddy system will continue for up to six months, until Graham returns to Volvo to graduate from her training and hopefully upgrade her licence.

“My goal is to become a confident and competent driver; and to encourage other women to look to trucking and transport, especially those who’ve been through domestic violence,” Graham explained.

“They’re calling out for drivers. It’s good money and there are so many options, whether you choose day or night shift; if you want to travel local or further from home.

“For those who’ve been in a similar situation to me, I find that while you’re stagnant, you’re still a target if you have a stalking partner or ex-partner. All it takes is for someone to tell the wrong person and you’re back to square one. I think this could be an option for some of these women to help keep them safe.”

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