No one in Helen Dann's family was involved with trucks but after she got her drivers' licence at 17 she could not wait to get her truck licence.
The sound of trucks grinding through the gears as they struggled over the Bargo Bridge south of Tahmoor New South Wales and up the winding old Hume Highway had ignited Helen's fascination with trucks. During her childhood and early teens she spent some holidays with her favorite Aunt whose property faced the old highway.
After working in offices when she left school in Sydney at 15, Helen moved to Melbourne to work at Ansett ANA. In Victoria, because she had a New South Wales licence, Helen changed it to a Victorian and still 17 went to a semi driving school in Nicholson St and obtained her semi licence. She got her photo in the paper but put her age up two years as she thought that people would think here too young to drive.
Now, to get a job driving! First, Helen asked someone where she used to watch mechanical work and they suggested she ask Eddie Smith Livestock in Niddrie. She charged around there and asked if he wanted another driver? Don't know whether he'd been drinking but he said start Monday. An old Ford long wheelbase semi and Helen headed off to Dandenong stock market to pick up her first load of cattle..
Helen had nothing to do with livestock before that but seemed to have a natural instinct and really enjoyed her year or so there. She moved up to a TK Bedford and used to take some of Eddies kids, piled in (no seat belts then), on some of the trips to South Melbourne abattoirs. There were cops on traffic duty in those days and a particular one used to see her coming and stop all the traffic for me to keep flying down Spencer St.
Helen wore her hair in plaits and she heard many funny comments such as ' never seen a guy with plaits like that before' and articles seemed to follow her from cartoons to 'in black and white' and her boss's wife would show them to her.
After a short return to teleprinter operator at a stock and share broker's office Helen's longing for driving again caused her to look for truck driving work. Following an advert in the paper she applied to AR Neals who sub-contracted for Australian Paper Mills. After some hesitation by his sons, AR himself said to give her a go. Helen drove a White tanker to pick up clay out Essendon way.
Helen was now 19 and was saving for her own truck, and in 1964/1965 picked up her first TK Bedford from GMH in Dandenong. She was asked while driving the prime mover out by some old guy on the gate, what she was doing, and she didn't think he believed her when she said it was her truck.
She started a livestock cartage business and during this time she had a monkey called Terry who travelled with her. He was a bit of a terror and once caused all the big guys at Beaurepaires Tyres to fall over as one saw him and said 'look she's got a monkey' whereupon they all crowded round to look and he flew out the west coast mirror and huffed at them!
After a while decided Helen wanted a bit more excitement and began interstate work. She bought another bigger truck and began sub-contracting for Hartridge Transport, doing a bit of other independent work.
Helen traveled to Brisbane, Adelaide, Sydney and Perth. Going to Perth she had to put my truck of the train from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie and she used to be furious that she wasn't allowed on the truckies train and had to go on the passenger train. In Brisbane, all she wanted for her 21stbirthday was a load of watermelons out of the Glasshouse Mountains to Melbourne but instead got a load of pumpkins to Newcastle out of Brisbane!
She used to knock back any assistance offered as she was very independent and wanting to prove she was capable. How indignant she was once, when she went to get a load of coal black and they said that their driver would have to drive in the yard. Helen met many interesting people and had heaps of funny and valuable experiences. She met some who thought women shouldn't be doing a 'man's' job but most have been accepting and friendly.
After a wonderful marriage and three beautiful daughters, Helen went off to university to become a teacher. She taught Indonesian for seven years and then after another stint at University for a Masters in Special Education, worked with vision impaired students and is currently a classroom teacher. Helen decided she wanted to get her B-double licence and in 2006 headed over to DECCA in Shepparton for three days and obtained her endorsement. She was offered a part time job driving a Kenworth (50 years after she first drove) carting logs which she did in 2014.
Not related to trucks, but Helen obtained her private pilot restricted licence in her twenties and her brown belt in judo in her 40s, have run a dairy for my husband, and is currently breeding horses but trucks stay in the blood.