Like most teenagers, Chantelle couldn’t wait to get her licence, taking her L’s test as soon as she turned 16.
She had some extra motivation to learn to drive: the oldest of seven siblings, she wanted to help out her mum, Melissa, by taking on some of the workload of getting everyone to and from school and work.
Now 17, Chantelle and her family live in Nowra, on the south-coast of NSW. Just like in many regional areas around Australia, public transport there isn’t very reliable. Without a licence and a car, it’s difficult to access work, school and health and community services.
With three of the older children working as well as going to school, Melissa was constantly driving all over town juggling everyone’s schedules.
Chantelle started learning to drive with her grandmother, working towards her 120 hours. She made good progress, but with her grandmother being older and Melissa busy with the other kids, she needed some extra support to get her over the line.
Red Cross runs the Learner Driver Program in regional areas around the country for First Nations persons in the community, helping with everything from access to a computer to complete the online L’s test, to access to a car and driving lessons, to moral and mental health support.
Melissa knew about the Learner Driver Program from having recommended it to a few families years ago in her previous job. She reached out, and got in touch with Toni, a Red Cross Community Program Officer.
“We put Chantelle through a Safer Driver course which gets her some extra hours as well as teaching her some safe skills while she’s driving. And then from there I coached Chantelle through practice with her Hazard Perception Test,” says Toni.
“I first met Chantelle about three months before she went for her licence. And she'd done a lot of hours with her grandmother, and it was just needing about 30 or 40 more hours to get her through,” says Leanne, Red Cross volunteer and Chantelle’s learner driver mentor. “We would just practice, practice, practice where she was up to.”
An important part of the Learner Driver Program is offering support when and where it’s needed. Toni would meet with Chantelle in her school breaks, and Leanne would take her driving around her work schedule.
Melissa says that Leanne’s support made all the difference. “I couldn't ask for a nicer person to take their own time out to come to the house to pick her up, to just arrange different things in school time, or even drop her at work. So it was great to have someone outside to help.”
Chantelle passed her test in January, and is loving her new freedom (and playing Uber driver for her other siblings!).
She now drives the oldest four to and from school, and helps take some of them to and from work. She’s also picked up a second part-time job, which she works at on top of completing year 12 and TAFE.
Things are less stressful for Melissa, and the family have more free time to spend together. “It’s really good helping mum out,” says Chantelle. “It puts a smile on her face when she gets to sit back and relax for a little bit while I take the kids different places.”