Big Rigs celebrates 30 years

To celebrate Big Rigs’ 30th birthday this week, we take a look back at how the title began, and what’s happened in trucking and road transport over the past three decades.

Timing is everything in publishing, and the launch of Big Rigs couldn’t have come at a more opportune date for trucking.

The industry was doing it tough amid a slew of sweeping changes and uncertainty.

What better way to unify factions, lobby for change and share vital information than kick off the nation’s first dedicated independent road freight publication.

The first edition of Big Rigs came into truckies hands on February 7, 1992.

The first edition of Big Rigs came into truckies’ hands on February 7, 1992, led by founding editor Bruce Honeywill.

The publishers originally had someone else in the seat, but he’d left them in the lurch after only a few weeks and a hesitant Honeywill, who was back on the road driving trucks at the time, had to step in at the 11th hour.

He did a magnificent job to pull the first 22-page issue together in a week, working day and night.

The newspaper was officially launched during a night out at Albion Park Raceway, with Queensland Transport Minister David Hamill there to cut the cake.

“The trucks did a turn around the track, lumbering a little slower than the trotters of the night before, but no less impressive, Big Rigs reported.

“You could hear the crunch of gears and the groan of the fastest trucks towing the heaviest loads as truck operators, drivers, manufacturers, service operators and government folk all swapped yarns on the neutral turf of Pacesetter’s Bar.”

The first front page was dedicated to a national round-up of logbook laws, highlighting the unfair prosecutions that often ended in huge fines for truckies.

Honeywill’s first editorial featured a call for action from the Keating government that had been elected less than two months before.

“What is Big Rigs all about? The brief is simple, a newsy paper for truck operators, drivers and everyone with an interest in the transport industry in Queensland and northern New South Wales.”

There were plenty of changes sweeping the industry that grabbed those first headlines.

B-doubles had only been used in Queensland for a few years when Big Rigs launched, and that first edition also took an in-depth look at the latest routes and increasing acceptance.

The first ever B-double to hit Australia’s roads, with Canadian B-train design and equal length trailers.

First trialled in Australia in 1984, there were only about 400 B-doubles on the roads across the country at the time of the first issue in 1992.

“It wasn’t until August ’91 that Victoria opened its highways to B-doubles, and in a move as unpredictable as Melbourne weather, Victoria has become one of the most common-sense states as far as the usage of these vehicles go,” Big Rigs reported.

“As Australia looks to the future with dual carriageway highways, modern pavement construction methods, town and city by-passes, should we overlook our own heritage or should there be certain corridors where road trains mingle with B-doubles?”

Honeywill would depart a few weeks after the launch to focus on other projects, but returned to the editor’s chair again after a 25-year break in 2016.

By then, of course, the all-night haul of cutting long strips of type, waxing them and sticking them in place, and making up each page by hand, was long behind him.

Digitisation, the paper’s growth as a true national voice, rather than one that was initially Queensland-focused, along with the readership’s embrace of the corresponding website bigrigs.com.au, has taken the masthead to a whole new level.

“The best transport publication in this nation is Big Rigs,” said former truckie, now WA Labor Senator Glenn Sterle in a speech to the Senate in June, 2021, while highlighting an issue covered in the paper.

“If you want to know what’s going on in the trucking industry, just get hold of James Graham at Big Rigs [editor since 2018]. He’ll tell you.”

1990s: Rego fee hikes, speed cameras and road trains

It didn’t take long for the publishers to realise they were tapping into a rich vein of trucking stories with the launch of Big Rigs in 1992.

The first decade would see a raft of industry changes and quickly establish the paper as an indispensable voice for truckies, particularly in those pre-internet days.

Just a few months after its launch, Big Rigs went national due to the overwhelming demand.

That same year was one of turmoil for the industry as it faced potential registration hikes across the country.

The states proposed a uniform set of registration fees and regulations that would have in some cases hiked fees by 200 per cent.

The National Road Transport Commission, which was tasked with overhauling the industry, recommended a uniform registration charge of $4000 for a six-axle articulated truck, with varying fees for smaller or larger vehicles.

A subsequent meeting between state heads failed to reach a consensus on fee charges.

In 1993 speed cameras became the issue of the year after a record low death in Victoria, the first state to introduce them.

The use of road trains also attracted plenty of debate that same year, across all states. A 12-month trial extending their use in NSW came to an end in July and in November road trains carrying livestock were granted access to travel through Dubbo.

In 1994, news that TNT and Ansett Transport had played a part in a cartel that had been price-fixing and rigging market shares since at least 1987, dominated headlines.

The following year saw the launch of the National Road Transport Hall of Fame.

In 1996 petrol price caps started to loosen, while in 1997 the option to use electronic logbooks was touted as part of sweeping legislation changes governing the amount of time truckies worked and rested.

Big issues towards the end of the decade included the appearance of Australia’s first B-triple in 1998, a Ford making runs between Ford factories in Geelong and Broadmeadows, and fears that the industry would be caught up in the millennium bug.

2000s: GST, blockades and shining a light on truckies

The first year of the third millennium kicked off with a major new issue for truckies: the introduction of the 10 per cent tax to goods and services (GST).

Truckies protested against many elements of the new tax system, especially a prediction that tax costs on beer would rise by a whopping 25 per cent.

Big Rigs dubbed it the ‘GST nightmare’ in the June 30 edition and published a major guide to help truckies make sense of the new rules.

In 2000, Big Rigs also reminded truck drivers of a new law coming into effect across many states that required truckies to now wear a seat belt, if their vehicle was fitted with one.

The following year a new era begins for Mack Trucks with a sod-turning at the location of its HQ in Wacol, Brisbane, while Mercedes Benz celebrated its 200,000th Actros rolling off the assembly line in Germany.

In 2002, Big Rigs’ 10th year anniversary, the National Road Transport Commission releases the proposed details of new laws it wants to see enacted across the country, and Volvo announces the FH and FM are coming to the Australian market.

The following year Linfox expands its hold on the Australian market with the takeover of Mayne Logistics and Armaguard, and safety takes major headlines with the introduction of Australia’s first national safety plan for heavy vehicles.

In 2004, a peak hour Brisbane highway blockade by a dozen, or so, semi-trailers was one of the biggest stories, and the start of more unrest, which would continue through to 2005.

One of the drivers arrested, Frank Black, explained the reason for the growing discontent among the ranks: “Drivers are being paid a kilometre rate and are busting their butts to do more work.”

That same year the first Lights on the Hill memorial service is held at Gatton with 185 trucks taking part.

In 2006, Brisbane truckie John Atkinson sets a new world record for the longest road train (112 trailers) pulled by a single prime mover.

Big Rigs first reported on driver shortages as far back as 2007.

A year later Big Rigs investigates the lack of drivers coming into the industry and also reports on calls to introduce an apprenticeship system. 

It would take another 15 years before the latter would become a reality.

Transport ministers also approve reforms to allow B-doubles fitted with quad axle groups to carry heavy loads on specific roads, and the network for B-triples is expanded.

In 2008, many drivers slammed on the brakes for two weeks from July 28 to call for higher rates for owner-drivers and to protest against recent cost increases to truck registration and increases to logbook fines.

The decade rounds out with the release of a consultation paper on the proposed national trucking laws and Isuzu celebrating 20 straight years as Australia’s biggest truck seller.

2010s: Devastating floods, RSRT and NHVR launch 

Record rain and floods as a result of Cyclone Yasi wreaked havoc across Queensland from the end of 2010.

Big Rigs reported how many road transport operators had to shut up shop for weeks at a time. Livestock transporters, in particular, were hit hard, with one operator telling the paper he had to close for a month.

In 2011 there was another blow for the livestock sector when there was a month-long ban on live exports in the aftermath of an investigation revealing horrific conditions in Indonesian abattoirs.

The same year Big Rigs celebrated another milestone after being named Australia’s most-read road transport publication, an honour it holds today by an even wider margin.

Later in the year, truckies converge on Canberra for the Convoy of No Confidence to protest of the Labor government’s planned carbon tax and changes to the diesel fuel rebate.

Big Rigs kicked off its 20th anniversary in 2012 with more major news, including the announcement that federal government is launching the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT).

Another event-packed decade cemented the title as Australia’s most popular trucking publication.

Two months later major funding is revealed in the 2012-13 federal budget to abolish 23 state and federal regulators across the industry to be replaced with just three in the heavy vehicle, rail and maritime transport sectors.

In 2014 a chronic shortage of truckies prompts the Australian Trucking Association to call for the industry to be added to the skilled occupation list to allow workers from foreign countries to gain a 457 visa.

The debate was several years old by then – the industry made a similar push in 2007 – but dominated headlines for much of the year before the bid failed, yet again.

In 2014 the ill-fated RSRT set the tone for its much-maligned existence by proposing conditions that didn’t allow for paid waiting time and included a 30-day payment period rather than the original 14-days.

Without doubt, the story that most Big Rigs readers enjoyed in 2016 was the news that the RSRT had been abolished after creating mass dissent amongst owner-drivers culminating on a protest convoy to Canberra.

Earlier that same year truckies turned out in force to support the Burrumbuttock Hay Runners carting more than 5000 bales of hay to 265 properties across 1820km.

In 2018, Big Rigs went to Dallas to report on the Great American Trucking Show, thanks to Shell Rimula, and also reported on the extensive chain of responsibility changes that were coming our way.

Early the following year highlights included a Q and A with then transport ministers Michael McCormack and Anthony Albanese in the lead-up to the General Election, illustrated with a cover reference to the classic 1971 Steven Spielberg trucking thriller Duel.

Big Rigs also produced another bumper bonus issue in May previewing the Brisbane Truck Show. 

Highlights toward the end of the decade included news of the launch of the ATA’s SafeT360 Volvo safety truck, and the paper’s extensive coverage of the peak body’s 30th anniversary event in Canberra.

Big Rigs also shared with readers the news of the Glenn Sterle-led Senate inquiry into road safety, and partnered with the ATA in a campaign to give drivers more of a say in the long-running overhaul of the heavy vehicle national law.

2020s: Covid hits, AdBlue crisis and Big Rigs is back

The first inkling of the impact the pandemic would have on the industry in 2020 arrived in March of that year.

A slew of industry events were cancelled at the 11th hour, including the ATA’s Trucking Australia conference scheduled for Cairns, as wide-spread panic took hold amongst the toilet-roll hoarding public.

Initial reports from operators, however, was that they had never been busier keeping up with the feverish demands from shoppers now bunkering down in their home offices.

But that message counted for little when the News Corp accountants came calling in June, unceremoniously dumping the title along with dozens of others in its regional APN stable.

Our first issue from the Prime Creative Media depot, based in Melbourne.

More than 28 years of fighting for truckies’ rights hung in the balance for five or so nerve-racking weeks before Prime Creative Media swooped in to save the day.

“We are so humbled to be able to build upon the great work of this publication,” said John Murphy, CEO Prime Creative Media, in our relaunch issue in September, 2020.

“It has served as a trusted source for the transport industry for almost three decades, and fits ideally with our purpose of growing individuals, organisations, and industries.”

If ever there was a need for an independent publication for truckies it was now with the head-spinning flurry of border closures, lockdowns and ever-changing testing rules.

“Things were moving so fast we often couldn’t risk publishing it in the paper because it would be old in a matter of days,” said current editor James Graham.

A classic example of this was around the AdBlue ‘crisis’ that surfaced late last year which mostly played out on bigrigs.com.au, often with multiple posts each day.

“That’s been one of most satisfying elements of my four years in the role, the phenomenal growth and engagement of our online audience,” added Graham.

“The post reach on our Facebook page alone now exceeds 2 million a month, with a consistent 40 per cent engagement rate – those numbers would be the envy of a much larger daily regional newspaper.” 

Our long-time cartoonist Ryan Lee-Taylor brilliantly captures the sentiment of our return in our relaunch drawing.

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