The infamous Razorback Blockade has been referred to as the greatest act of Aussie civil disobedience since the Eureka Stockade.
Legendary stuff, by any measure.
Truck owner drivers were fed up to the back teeth with the many challenges they faced, not least the onerous road taxes which had been foisted upon them by the various state governments in the 1950s in a futile attempt to get more freight onto the railways.
These taxes were quite literally killing their ability to earn a living. At the time of the blockade, the Hume Highway over Razorback Mountain, southwest of Sydney, was the primary route between the NSW capital and Melbourne, so blockading this thoroughfare was bound to have a catastrophic impact on freight movements between Australia’s largest capital cities and beyond.
In early April 1979, fellow truck owner drivers and mates Ted ‘Greendog’ Stevens, Spencer Watling, Col Bird, Barry ‘Brother Sleepy’ Grimson and Jack Hibburt decided enough was enough.
The quintet set about parking their trucks across the highway, thus completely blocking the route and effectively grinding the entire trucking industry, and therefore the country, to a halt.
During the blockade, the men were joined by Carl Goodfellow and close to 200 other like-minded truck owners and drivers on Razorback, gaining widespread community support and starting a huge protest which soon stretched the length and breadth of the country.
The Razorback Blockade held fast for nine days and only ended when the NSW Premier at the time, Neville Wran, reluctantly conceded to scrapping the crippling road tax, effective immediately.
In every respect it was a turbulent time for the road transport industry, but turbulent times often spawn golden opportunities, which is exactly what the then 27-year-old Steve Skinner, Director of Team Transport, recognised as he surveyed the scene.
“I started the business as Team Taxi Trucks & Couriers on the actual day the Razorback blockade ended in mid-April 1979,” Steve recalls.
“I picked that day because I knew there would be a huge backlog of freight needing to be delivered to customers after the trucks started moving again so on that day I had 17 subbies signed up and ready to hit the ground running as soon as the semis started rolling into Brisbane.”
In addition to the 13 subbies at Ansett Freight Express Steve had signed, he had more from Arnott’s Biscuits on the way and it all grew from there.
This was still ten years before the company purchased its first truck — a Ford Louisville LNT8000 body truck. In fact, body trucks were the company’s staple for the first two decades or so, initially a Japanese brand followed by a European marque.
However, after the turn of the century the tables turned in favour of the PACCAR brands, primarily DAFs but also some Kenworths, and the two have remained firm favourites ever since.
The circumstances surrounding the brand switch highlights the critical importance of relationships forged between truck sales reps and truck buyers, which can sometimes even transcend the importance of a particular brand over another to the buyer.
In simple terms, brand loyalty can be supplanted by loyalty to the person selling the product.
“The salesman who was selling us the European brand we were formerly buying decided to join PACCAR dealer Brown and Hurley and that was the start of our long association with the PACCAR brands through the Brown and Hurley dealership,” Steve explains.
“At the time we were expanding so we started buying DAFs and we now have about 60 in the fleet, in addition to about 15 Kenworths.”
Steve expounds that having one truck supplier to deal with was an important strategy to ensure maximum efficiencies across the growing business.
“We run our own workshop and we thought it best to have the same sort of trucks throughout, making it easier for the mechanics due to familiarity with the products and also for our spare parts inventory through not having to stock parts for a number of different brands,” he says.
Another big change to the business came several years ago when the name was changed to Team Transport & Logistics (TT&L) to better reflect the far more diverse range of services the company offers nowadays. Today, according to Steve, the fleet comprises almost 100 trucks, 140 trailers and 100 subcontractors with a complete range of vehicles from one-tonne taxi trucks through to heavy haulage prime movers.
TT&L is based at Acacia Ridge in outer western Brisbane and operates mainly in Queensland, meaning most of the trucks don’t rack up huge kilometres. It’s for this reason, Steve says, that the company generally keeps each truck for around ten years.
“On average, most of our trucks when they reach ten years old have travelled at least 600,000km but they’ve done a lot more gearchanges and stops and starts compared with linehaul trucks with a similar mileage,” Steve says.
The company does, however, operate a few DAFs as linehaul B-double haulers including CF85 and XF105 models.
“The newest DAF we have is a B-double rated Euro 6 CF 530 which is a really good bit of gear. It has all the bells and whistles including safety features like Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Lane Departure Warning (LDW) and Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) which is a great thing because safety has always been a high priority for us, along with reliability,” he says.
The inherent safety and reliability of the DAF products and the solid partnership Team Transport has with Brown and Hurley at Yatala have cemented the brand as the number one choice for many roles, along with Kenworth for the heavy-duty work such as float haulage. Insofar as TT&L offers an expansive range of transport and warehousing services now makes it a one-stop-shop for its clients.
“We have 17 trucks carting containers to and from the port and three trucks doing project work into central Queensland for customers in the mining, gas and agricultural industries,” Steve says. “The rest are around town trucks – some on permanent hire hauling roof trusses and a number of specialised units fitted with cranes that are permanently with Liberty OneSteel. The remainder are generally on hourly hire doing taxi truck work for the likes of structural engineering firms hauling products including plasterboard and scaffolding.”
Steve emphasises that the key to success of the company is specialisation, with most of the body trucks having either a crane or a rear-mounted Manitou forklift. Of the prime movers, outside of the container work there are about ten units with truck-mounted cranes and he says the specialised nature of the work requires the company to have its own equipment to make sure the work is done safely and, ultimately, to the satisfaction of its clients.
“With a lot of the work we do our clients want every ‘i’ dotted and every ‘t’ crossed as far as compliance goes,” he says. “With crane trucks you have to have the service history of both the crane and truck fully documented, while drivers also need to be inducted into the customers’ sites. We work hard at maintaining compliance which enables us to keep a safe workplace and also maximises our options in terms of work opportunities.”
The company has been pushing hard in the areas of documented compliance and accountability to its customers over the last 15 to 20 years and this has paid dividends in substantial growth of its customer base over that time. As such it has enabled the business to tick boxes that other carriers haven’t been able to.
Another growth strategy implemented by the company several years ago involved changing its name and logo to TT&L and initiating the use of vinyl wrapping on its trucks to make them stand out from the crowd. According to Steve, around 75 per cent of the fleet is now wrapped with the striking TT&L livery.
“This definitely broadened our horizons as far as work went and we were able to expand into warehousing and distribution work, offering customers a complete end-to-end service from wharf to warehouse to end user,” Steve says. “We follow every job through to the end and make sure every job is done to the best of our abilities and we genuinely care about our customers’ bottom lines.”
Echoing the sentiments of Steve in regard to the new Euro 6 DAFs in the fleet is Operations Manager, Heath Skinner, who is particularly impressed with the fuel economy.
“It’s early days and we’ve only had the Euro 6 DAFs for a few months, but already we’re seeing fuel economy improvements of between five and ten per cent over our Euro 5 DAFs,” Heath says. “The additional safety features including side view cameras, Lane Departure Warning and Adaptive Cruise Control are also a big benefit and make life a lot easier for our drivers.”
Heath mentions that the newest Euro 6 DAF in the fleet – a CF 530 rated at 530hp – is performing faultlessly hauling B-doubles grossing between 55 and 60 tonnes out to the mines in central Queensland and up north to Rockhampton.
“We’ve had a long and successful association with Brown and Hurley and DAF and Kenworth trucks and we just can’t fault them,” Heath says. “Running the trucks for around ten years and up to 700,000km we haven’t had any major issues at all — and we expect the new Euro 6 DAFs to be even better in this regard.”
In sum, the growth and success of TT&L have been made possible by a single-minded approach to providing top-shelf service to customers utilising a team of skilled and professional drivers operating a diverse and specialised range of reliable and durable equipment.
Just like the five truck owner drivers who successfully achieved the objective of saving their livelihoods by initiating the Razorback blockade all those years ago, TT&L has proven its resolve to stay the course since that time, continually raising the bar to enable its clients to achieve their aspirations.