Industry Insights

WOMEN IN TRUCKING: A HIGH-COUNTRY JUGGLE

The vital role of women in rural settings is often under-played or overlooked. In the 60,000 odd years of Australia’s ancient history, women have ensured that societies survive, adapt and thrive.

While times may have changed dramatically, in 2021, the pivotal and multifaceted role of women’s roles in rural and remote communities has not diminished.

Belinda McKimmie didn’t begin her working life as either a farmer or a truck driver, in fact her first taste of working life was in hospitality, where she helped manage her parents’ caravan park business.

It was after meeting her husband Mal, that she was introduced to life on the land, and she now owns and co-manages a Black Angus cattle farm in Victoria’s Snowy Mountains region.

It was from those beginnings that Belinda and her husband also built a successful livestock transport business after investing in an Isuzu FX Series truck.

Constant improvement

“Before I met Mal, I hadn’t done any farm work… I did get thrown in the deep end a bit, but I was willing to learn,” Belinda remembers.

“A few years ago, we were thinking of ways to add value and diversify the farm business and the truck transport idea came up.”

The process in learning both the trucking and farming duties didn’t come without its fair share of ups and downs, admits Belinda. But she remains unfailingly positive about the long, hard hours spent in the cab and working the farm.

“We share the work. Since the devastating bushfires over the 2019/2020 summer, I’ve been taking all the truck driving and Mal has been focusing on bushfire recovery. We also share what’s happening on the farm too, it all compliments each other quite well now.”

On the job

“A lot of things came naturally to Mal—the cattle work out in the yards in the paddock. I had to come in and learn about the business side of the farm, as well as try and learn the practical side that Mal was good at already,” Belinda noted.

“I had a bit of a business background through helping my parents in a small business… but it’s been a big learning curve managing both the farm and the transport.”

While farming or trucking is hard enough work for anyone, being a businesswoman in a regional setting has its own set of unique challenges.

Customer perceptions and the physical rigors of working with animals have, at times, been hurdles for Belinda to overcome.

But the mother of three takes it all in her stride, confident in her ability to think outside the box.

“I know how to work with cattle, get them in the truck safely on my own, and do it well,” she commented.

“I like to think my ability is equal to the guys. I take my time and take fewer risks handling the stock.

“It’s just how you go about things, not putting yourself in a dangerous spot – that can make all the difference.

“As long as we get the job done safely, I don’t see that there’s any difference to being male or female in this line of work.”

Live and learn

Despite perceptions, Belinda says there’s plenty of opportunities in both the farming and trucking fields for women in regional areas—if they go out and grab it by the horns.

“There’s often a lot of dairy farms looking for relief milkers up here, as well as other general farm hand work.

“There’s a lot of great opportunities for females in the trucking area too, especially in and around some of the regional centres. It is all about being willing to learn along the way.

“The most nerve-wracking part for me was stepping over the barrier and getting my heavy combination truck license… it was my biggest fear, but it’s been really rewarding.”

Wheels of change

Dedicated to improving stock wellbeing through her own transport businesses, Belinda notes that the broader industry has benefited from recent changes to the Chain of Responsibility laws surrounding commercial transport vehicles.

“People are thinking more about improving situations so that it’s better for the cattle and safer for everyone in the supply chain. To have some of these processes start to change and improve the status quo is a great thing.

“In our area, people are becoming really conscientious of how they are operating in the yards as well as to and from them.”

Belinda is equally pragmatic about how improved stock-handling practices affect her business as a trusted transporter.

“Cattle are extremely valuable and much loved. Farmers work hard to keep them in top condition, and they want their stock to be looked after, travelled well, so that they get to the other end safely and stress free.

“I feel that people are quite happy to see me pull up in the truck and load their cattle, knowing they’re going to get on and off that truck safely.”

Outside the box

With climate, environmental and market conditions a never-ending wrangle for farmers all over the country, Belinda believes that diversifying income streams to support a core farming operation is more important than ever.

“I would say to any farmer, especially young couples like we once were—be innovative, be resourceful and take some considered risks.

“Look outside the square and think about what else you can do on your farm that will compliment your business.”

Want to read more stories from women in the trucking and transport industry? Have a read of our conversation with Courtney Hodgson, an apprentice service technician.

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