The radio cracks in. “The paraglider is on the road, can you pick him up?” Adrenalin is pumping as the truck travels along the steep Dinaric Alps in Croatia. This is her first job as a stunt person. “Ok let’s do it”. The test: maintain speed to keep paraglider in flight. She checks her mirror; the parachute unfolds and the paragliding passenger’s feet leave the gravel ground up into the sky. His fate is in her hands. The road steepens and his feet begin to drag along the concrete. The radio comes to life. “I’m too close to the ground! Faster!” A tunnel comes into view…
Meet the hero behind the wheel of Volvo's gravity-defying paragliding stunt, The Flying Passenger, stuntwoman Louise Marriot. Female stunt performers work in a male-dominated world, where a man can just as easily play a woman’s stunt role, if the wig and body shape is right.
Being a woman in the stunt world is about as common as being a female truck driver. While women make up around half of the Australian workforce, according to the Professional Truck Driver Shortage report, they only account for three per cent of the transport industry’s driving workforce.
It just so happens that Louise Marriott is both a stunt person and a truck driver. Despite the odds put in front of her, the world of work is changing. An industry that was traditionally ‘of men and for men’ is being revolutionised. Louise represents a growing number of female truck drivers in Australia and New Zealand and around the world. According to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Emowerment of Women, it’s a fitting title and goal: ‘Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030’.
In 2015 Louise became the first female driver to win the Volvo Trucks Asia Pacific Fuelwatch Challenge, beating 16 other international competitors, and becoming the first woman to ever qualify for the Volvo Trucks Fuelwatch Challenge global final.
Louise set a fuel consumption record, using 17.5 per cent less fuel compared with the highest amount of fuel used.
“While our industry is often thought of as being male dominated, the Fuelwatch Challenge has been a great platform for us to show that all drivers, regardless of gender, can perform at the highest level while being fuel-efficient,” said Louise.
That ‘highest level’ came for Louise when Volvo Trucks asked her to follow in the footsteps of Jean Claude Van Damme in The Epic Split video, as a stunt performer in Volvo Trucks’ new live action test, The Flying Passenger.
“It was about working out the finer details around speed and what I needed to do to keep the paraglider at the right height. My speed was very dependent on the wind; even just a minimal change made a big difference, so sometimes 30 kilometres per hour was enough, but sometimes we needed to get up to 60.”
Despite it being an incredible experience, Louise said she would be sticking to her day job, which is actually a nighttime long haul route, covering around 600 kilometres.
“I’ve been a truck driver for about 12 years now. I drive a Volvo FH540 for JPM Holdings. I think I’m quite careful and sympathetic to the vehicle. You sort of adopt a relationship with them; I guess like a pair of old jeans. Yeah, I like my truck,” said Louise.
“Truck driving is not exactly something people aspire to when they leave school, but I was very much raised with the idea that whatever I wanted to do, I could do. It’s certainly better than an office job.”
Her long haul run involves hilly terrain, towing a six-axle b-double loaded to a maximum of 50 tonnes.
“I’ve been doing this run for four years and all the truck drivers know who’s driving which truck. When I first started, I used to get that ‘Oh, look, a female truckie’ reaction all the time, but it’s much more accepted these days.”
Modern transport companies such as Volvo Trucks are overriding the historical barriers that have made truck driving less appealing to women, through features like automated transmission and dynamic steering.
In an industry under pressure from severe driver shortages, Volvo Group Australia President Peter Voorhoeve says transport leaders needs to do more to improve society’s perception of truck drivers.
“It’s an issue that will ultimately affect Australian society at large. The Professional Truck Driver Shortage report indicates that the rate of recruitment needs to increase by 150 per cent, in order to account for the simultaneous pressures of increased road freight services demand and the loss of retiring drivers,” said Peter.
Stronger support of current female truck drivers, in addition to providing easier industry access to the youth, female and indigenous Australian workforce is one way to alleviate the pressure, with further solutions discussed in the report.
“Collectively we can change the way professional truck drivers are perceived by society, hopefully resulting in more professional truck drivers like Louise Marriott entering our progressive and dynamic industry and driving women in transport.”