When MC driver Corrina Riley put the call out for a truckie to join her on a 3400km trip from Brisbane to Cairns, she found a perfect match in Kerri Avern, 64.
Riley, 44, works for Gaffs Heavy Diesel and Haulage, carting general freight throughout Queensland; from behind the wheel of a flashy 2012 Peterbilt 388, which she’s nicknamed ‘Salacious Pete’. “The truck is just beautiful. If I could marry a truck, this would be the one,” she joked.
“We have a Cairns run so I rang the boss and said we should take a young sheila and get them a bit of experience, which he thought was a really great idea,” Riley said.
So with her boss’s blessing, she contacted Women in Trucking Australia (WiTA) Ltd CEO Lyndal Denny, who put a post up on the group’s Facebook page – and it was Kerri Avern, 64, who answered the call.
“Kerri contacted Lyndal and said ‘pick me!’ so I told her to come and meet me and off we went,” said Riley.
The duo set off on October 25 and spoke with Big Rigs from inside the cab, while on the home stretch.
Their hilarious antics were shared on WiTA’s social media along the way, including Avern’s failed initial attempts at throwing straps over the load.
“It’s definitely been a girl’s trip but she’s learnt a lot too. She can throw a strap now – she’s come a long way,” laughed Riley.
“I hope that if one person can have this experience and have it broadcasted on social media, then the younger girls can see that if we can do it, they can do it too. That’s why when I spoke to my boss, he thought it was such a great idea. It means someone can gain experience and get a little more confident.”
Proving that age is no barrier, the trip held extra significance for Avern, who has dabbled in and out of trucking as life led her down various paths. Most recently, it was an injury that put her on the sidelines.
“I fell off the roof and broke my back and a rib or two around six weeks ago. I’m literally just back on deck, so I was able to sneak this trip in just before I’m officially back at work,” said Avern.
Though she wanted to get into trucks from a young age, Avern was encouraged to go down a different path. “I was born and raised on a dairy farm so there was always various farm equipment hanging around. My brothers got to drive the farm trucks and I was delegated to the kitchen and laundry. I really wanted to drive too so I would steal the trucks at night. My dad would always find out in the morning though because I never remembered to put the seat back,” she said.
“If I hadn’t of done that, I wouldn’t have got the knowledge and experience that led me to go on that tangent. I went and did other things too including studying early childcare and opening my own childcare centre and I really loved that but I was always attracted back to the trucks. The trucks seemed to give me some degree of self-esteem. I felt good about myself when I was driving trucks because that’s what I really wanted to do.”
Avern got her truck licence nearly 20 years ago. She started driving school buses, then rigids, then went on to get her HC and then her MC licence.
“Being a single mum and being a female, life can take you in your family’s direction. I had kids I had to look out for and then my father became ill and needed care. That meant, with truck driving, I had to stop and start a lot,” Avern said.
In putting her hand up for the trip, Avern says she wanted to experience long distance work and get some load restraint practice in as well. “I’m having a blast, it’s been wonderful. We’re getting really filthy. It’s a bit exhausting but that’s what it’s all about. I also stink because I didn’t get a shower yesterday – it’s not all roses out here! You’ve got to be happy with that and got to be willing to get your hands dirty and do the miles.”
While Riley has been a fantastic trainer, Avern has been an amazing student too. “When I initially spoke to Kerri, I knew she had experience driving but she didn’t have any experience with the dogs and chains, and the straps, so I thought, let’s do it. It’s been an adventure and she has learnt heaps and she hogs the steering wheel – it’s been really fun. We sleep head to toe in the bunk too,” Riley said.
The ladies were able to make a few extra stops along the way including some photos with the Big Mango at Bowen, and a stop at Cardwell (known as Croc Country) to admire the views.
Avern hopes that sharing her story might motivate other women with a passion for trucks to have a go too. “There’s been times I’ve gone for a job and told them how old I am and it doesn’t even get past the phone conversation. They just shut the door. But if you just rock up with your boots on and ready to go, then they’re okay. I’m female, I’m 5ft and in my sixties, but I’m still here having a go. I hope that can encourage other women to follow their passion too,” she said.
Of the trip, Avern added, “I did expect Corrina to know her stuff, but I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into. It’s full on being stuck in a truck with someone 24/7 but she’s the real deal. She’s extremely capable and very gifted in what she’s doing. For me, I grew up being told I shouldn’t be in a truck. With the support of other women in the industry and organisations like WiTA, it can help women overcome many of the barriers – because women can do this job and be extremely capable, confident and useful. It’s been an absolute honour to be in this truck with Corrina.”
Looking ahead, Riley is planning to do it all over again. “I’m absolutely planning to have someone come on another trip with me. There are lots of people who’ve already put their hands up,” she said.
Keep an eye out on the Women in Trucking Australia Ltd Facebook page for upcoming opportunities.