Truck Features

Ted Greendog Stevens and the Razorback Blockade

 

On April 2, 1979, five courageous truck drivers blocked the Hume Highway, between Sydney and Melbourne, near the top of the famous Razorback Range, 50 kilometres south west of Sydney.

The famous five were led by ted ‘Greendog’ Stevens. Love him or hate him, there was no denying the man’s influence on subsequent road transport legislation, Jim Gibson says.

 

Joining Greendog in this desperate act of defiance against odious working conditions were Spencer Watling, Barry Grimson, Jack Hibbert and Colin Bird. Ted Stevens had made the commitment shortly before the blockade began:

“I’ve had it,” said Greendog. “I’ll either burn my bloody truck outside Parliament House, or block the friggin’ Highway, but I’m going to do something that’ll make ‘em sit up and take notice!”

That something was the Razorback Blockade that led to similar road blocks by trucks all over Australia. State and Commonwealth governments finally had to take notice. After years of complaint by owner-drivers about their parlous financial conditions and necessarily dangerous working conditions, governments all around Australia were forced to agree on radical changes to taxation and truck operation.

 

 

The Razorback Blockade was indeed the last resort by owner drivers who had been ignored by the Transport Workers Union, on the basis that they were sole traders and by governments who used punitive road taxes in an effort to force freight onto their hopelessly inefficient rail networks.

The famous Hughes & Vale case of 1954 had confirmed that trade between the states had to be free, so state legislatures adopted a ton/mile road tax as a source of revenue, while they struggled with a railway system that ‘was bleeding the state white’, according to NSW Parliament Hansard. Truck owners were subsidising loss-making railways.

Truckies were required to fill in tax returns and make regular payments, while agents in unmarked cars policed the truck routes, to make sure none could escape paying up. Many truckies did stints in jail for tax evasion. 

There were many in Greendog’s situation, which is why the initial five-truck road block turned into thousands of blockages, all around the country. Owner drivers wanted the road tax to be lifted; a nationwide minimum gross mass of 38 tonnes, instead of the discriminatory multi-weight, individual-state regime that prevailed in the late 1970s; and equitable freight rates.

 

Ted Stevens addresses the assembled drivers at Razorback, April 7, 1979 – George Lipman photo.

 

Ted Stevens met several times with then NSW Premier, Neville ‘Nifty’ Warn. Greendog was unimpressed by the premier’s weak handshake and also by the offer from a prominent freight forwarder, who offered him a secure future if he ended the Blockade immediately.

In a prophetic threat this executive said: “Stay and it doesn’t matter how long it takes: we’ll destroy you.”

On the 25th Anniversary of the Razorback Blockade, after unveiling a commemorative plaque at the NSW site, Ted Stevens told Jim Gibson:

“Although it took a few years, they did manage to destroy me, eventually.”

When the Blockade issues had been finally resolved, after nine days of greatly reduced interstate and local transport, Ted Sevens was told his 10-year-long haulage contract would be extended, but it wasn’t. He also found it impossible to get work for his two trucks.

The bank moved on his 1.7-hectare property and sold it off for around half its market value. Ted Stevens was declared bankrupt and his wife left him.

He left Sydney and went to Melbourne, to start a new life somehow, but no one in road transport would employ him, because they saw him as a troublemaker. The very industry he’d championed had ostracised him. 

So, he became a musician and formed a band, playing in gigs around Melbourne. Success was unfortunately short lived, as the band’s music genre didn’t sit with the pub scene groupies of the day. Later he finally got a job driving a truck.

Ted Greendog Stevens passed away in 2018 and Jim Gibson penned this obituary:

 

 

The extreme pain he had suffered from his illness has now gone and along with it so has the man: a man of principle; a man whose word was his bond; a man I knew as a friend and I had great respect for.

Ted was a true-blue Aussie. Rough around the edges he may have been, with a 90-decibel gravel voice, which paradoxically could knockout quite a melodious song from his favourite era – the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s.

We first met in the very early 1970s at Vaughan Transport in Sydney and I will always hold a vision of this fit 25-year-old, dressed in football shorts, a shirt with the sleeves cut off at the shoulders and football socks rolled down to meet the top of his work boots – this was quintessential Ted Stevens. 

He was our local prime mover driver, loading and unloading company trailers. He worked hard, was good with the customers and did all that was asked of him.      

After the 1979 blockade Ted was let down by many in the road transport industry, even though he achieved what he and the others had set out to do: fight for their rights receive a fair go. He sacrificed greatly for the industry, losing his business, family and house. 

I’d rung on the Friday evening prior to his passing and was told he was too sick to talk and then the sad news broke the following Sunday, 11th February 2018. 

I spoke to many people about Ted, including Spencer Watling, who was one of the five who’d supported Greendog for those nine days in April 1979. Spencer and his wife, Gloria, had also helped in getting the Razorback – the Real Story book published and had helped in handling the distribution. 

 

 

Spencer said that on Monday the 12th February, he and Gloria bought a couple of meat pies and a beer, then headed up Razorback, to the spot where it all took place 39 years ago. He said: “We ate lunch and drank a beer with Ted and I’m sure the old bugger was watching us.”    

After it was published, Ted sent me a copy of his book with an inscription inside the front cover,  which read: “To a special friend”. I will treasure that book all my life.   

Of all the tributes to Ted, I think that colleague and respected road transport journalist, Bruce Honeywill, said it all, in his tribute in the Queensland Times:

Greendog has stood as a man amongst men.”

That phrase should be the epitaph on his gravestone, because Ted achieved more at age 34 than most of us will in a lifetime.    

Godspeed old mate – Jim Gibson. 

 

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