Razorback legend fights to keep his truck licence

Despite over 60 years on the road and a glowing medical report, this trucking legend will soon be forced to re-sit his driving test – due to NSW’s tougher licensing rules for older truck drivers.

Spencer Watling’s whole life has revolved around trucks.

He was one of the five drivers who instigated the Razorback Blockade in 1979, taking a stand to have road taxes abolished, lift freight rates for owner-drivers and gain uniformity of state regulations.

All five drivers were recognised last year, with Watling and his comrades flown to Alice Springs in August to be presented with the History Makers Award.

Along with his role at Razorback he was also inducted into the Shell Rimula Wall of Fame in 2007.

Spencer Watling with Ted ‘Greendog’ Stevens, who are two of the five truckies behind the 1979 Razorback Blockade. Image: Gloria Watling

But Watling will turn 80 on March 28 – and he lives in NSW.

Licensing laws for older drivers differ greatly between states. Currently in NSW, once an MC licensed driver turns 70, they are required to take annual medical assessments, at their own expense. All classes of heavy vehicle drivers are required to do the same from the age of 75.

MC drivers are required to take annual driving tests from the age of 70 and other heavy vehicle licence classes are required to take annual tests from the age of 80.

In South Australia and Western Australia, driving tests aren’t required until the age of 85. And in Victoria, Queensland, Northern Territory, Tasmania and ACT, there are no age-related tests required.

According to Watling, therein lies the issue.

“In NSW, it’s been them against us our whole lives,” said Watling. “If it was any other industry, this wouldn’t happen.

“If I wasn’t in good health and wasn’t capable of driving a truck, I wouldn’t be doing it.”

He argues there are also no ministers willing to listen, with his emails and phone calls to the premier’s and road minister’s office calling for change and uniformity across states, going unanswered.

“That’s why we initiated Razorback years ago, where we blocked the road. We tried to get change for years before we did that. We went to Canberra and did all that beforehand and couldn’t get anyone to listen. We wanted uniform laws across the country – and right up to now, we still haven’t got it!”

Watling began driving trucks professionally in the early 1960s, when he was 18, carting hay, produce and general freight for his step-father. He then went into interstate work soon after, and by 1968 had purchased his first truck and spent the rest of his working life as an owner operator.

Though he officially retired around five years ago, he explained, “I want to keep my truck licence for social things like truck shows and things like that. I’ve got friends with old trucks and sometimes we shift them about.

“Even a lot of the blokes who do the hay runs are older and retired. You see the way they drive and they’re driving better than the new truck drivers.”

His wife Gloria Watling weighed in too, “Spencer has passed all medical requirements and has had cataract surgery. He has a great report and letter from his specialist, stating his eyesight is excellent for truck driving. But nobody will listen or act for older capable truck drivers.

Spencer and his wife Gloria at the Shell Rimula Wall of Fame event in Alice Springs last August, where he was presented with the History Makers Award. Image: Gloria Watling

“As he turns 80 at the end of March, he will have to front Transport for NSW or downgrade the truck licence he has held for all his working life. He is medically fit, has great eyesight and his treatment is so unfair!

“Turning 80 means he has to do a driving test forced on older truck drivers in NSW by a tester, who most likely has never been employed as a truck driver.”

As Watling no longer owns a truck, in order to undergo his licence test, he says he will have to hire one.

“You wouldn’t mind doing the driving test if it was reasonable, but we have to go hire a truck and have it loaded. Some people spend up to $1500 to hire a truck. Then you get people who come in from overseas and they can drive a truck on a car licence,” he said.

“In Sydney, we get trucks getting stuck in the tunnels all the time and that’s alright, but then they’re chasing the experienced drivers out of the industry.

“Everything the authorities do is to make it harder. The things that testers have been knocking back is unbelievable,” he added, pointing to a friend who he claims didn’t pass his driving test because his seatbelt wasn’t adjusted tightly enough.

“You’ve got testers sitting there looking at you with complete contempt and of course you’re a bit nervous. And if you go and hire a truck you’re not used to, it might have the blinker on the other side and things like that. You knock it by mistake, then you’ve got to book in and sit the test all over again, at your own expense.”

Watling plans to sit the driving test to keep his licence but says he just wants to see older truck drivers in NSW given a fair go. “When you’ve had your licence for that long and you’ve fought for it, this means a lot to me so I’ll take the test,” he said.

“But we’re just after a fair go, same as with Razorback, all we wanted was a fair go like the rest of the country and to not be treated like criminals.”


  1. Yea and they let caravan drivers on the road with NO experience, poor eyesight and a brain that doesn’t know what each hand is doing at the same time, often with a caravan as long as a semi trailer oh and there’s the other group that camouflages their head with towels and hair. What this government is doing to us normal professional drivers with these medical tests is appalling.

  2. well if he s got his wits about him can change a road ranger from top to bottom see his way around got Goode heart leave him the fuck alone, give him his license back

  3. A way to over come having to hire a loaded truck would be to contact a nearby transport company and offer to do a delivery for them without pay .
    I am 68 in NSW this year and have just reinstated my MC license a few months ago where I had to pay a doctor $160 to fill out a medical form so if I have to do a driving test I will be in contact with a local company and offer my service as a driver to them to do a delivery somewhere .

  4. You should be able to produce a current work diary and a letter from an employer or company showing that you are still competent.

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