Mini - Melbourne to Bundaberg

Here's the tale of a trip I did from Melbourne to Bundaberg, in Queensland, back in May 2003.

The trip didn't begin well. Travelling on back roads, in preference to the Hume Fwy, a dog ran out in front of me and, braking very hard, I narrowly missed it. That was okay, except from then on the brake pedal refused to return properly. The brakes still worked, but I had to put my foot under the pedal and pull it up every time I used it. This was just day one of a three-week trip.

I spent the night as planned at a mate's place in the sleepy hamlet of El Dorado, then headed off into the cold morning mists over the mountains to the New South Wales border. The dirt road took me through the area where only a few months before fires had ravaged the bush.

The rest of the day's run was fairly uneventful and found me in the New South Wales mountain settlement of Crookwell for the first of fifteen planned photo shoots. The brake problems remained, however, so the next morning it was straight to Sydney, about two hours North, to get it sorted out. At Mini Spares Centre (Australia) in Revesby it was soon discovered the problem was the rust and muck on the pedal pivot-pin had caused the pedal to virtually seize. After grabbing all the bits I thought I'd need, I headed to my motel, another hour through Sydney's awful peak traffic. Not a fun place to be with brake problems.

The next morning I had a few hours to spare before my next shoot, so pulled the driver's seat, steering column and pedal assembly out of the car, in the forecourt of the motel. They're an understanding lot, these motel owners. The job was finished and I made it to my next job with five minutes to spare.

The following day, Sunday, I had organised to photograph a car for our Falcon GT calendar before leaving Sydney, but pouring rain put paid to that. Leaving Sydney's wet weather behind I had a pleasant trip up to Newcastle, via one of Sydney's few remaining vehicular ferries.

At Newcastle I got another photo shoot out of the way then headed for Maitland for my overnight stop. Just before reaching my motel, my attention focused on a sound coming from one of the wheels. I've heard the sound of a wheel bearing chewing out often enough to know what it was. With only about an hour's daylight left and rain blasting almost horizontally in the freezing wind, I knew there was just one thing to do: turn up the radio and ignore the noise.

Monday morning the weather had improved and I had a full day for the easy 340-mile run to Tenterfield. My thoughts turned to the wheel bearing and I resolved that, as the sound couldn't be heard over the radio, the sun was shining, I had a full day to get to Tenterfield and I had spare bearings and all the tools I needed, I would just carry on and hope like hell the bearing would survive.

Within a few hours I'd almost forgotten about the bearing and any potential problems. Tenterfield beckoned and the miles passed away relentlessly. When I reached Tenterfield I figured, the bearing's got this far, perhaps it will make it to Brisbane.

Tuesday morning I was photographing our Mini calendar's front cover car, owned by Ron Williams. I left Ron's and headed over the mountains to Lismore to visit my sister.

Wednesday morning I shot our Holden calendar's front cover car in Lismore, then had an easy run to Brisbane. By this time the bearing was making fairly loud protestations, but I doggedly refused to replace it. As I was making my base in Brisbane for a few days I unpacked most of the car. Driving across Brisbane the next morning it suddenly became apparent, with little in the back of the Mini to muffle the sounds, that it was in fact a rear wheel bearing making all the noise, not a front one as I had suspected.

My mood immediately brightened. I've had rear wheel bearings make a hell of a lot more noise before spitting it, particularly in my Moke. I figured the bearing would last for the rest of this trip, so I should stop worrying about it and turn the volume up a bit more.

I'd heard there was a Holden show on in Bundaberg, which was about five hours North of Brisbane, but I figured, after driving from Melbourne, what was another five hours?

On this trip I'd been taking special care about my fuel situation. Although I always have a spare 10lt of petrol on board, because my fuel gauge doesn't work, I didn't want the inconvenience of stopping in the somewhat fickle weather. This day I'd misjudged it and just 20 miles short of Bundaberg I ran out of petrol. I was nearly at the top of a hill, so coasted over the crest, intending to pull in somewhere safe, and spied a petrol station just 100 yards further on. I managed to coast into the servo without any trouble and pull up right next to the bowser.

Saturday in Bundaberg was an easy day, spent wandering around the Holden show in the sub-tropical Queensland sunshine, before shooting two of the cars for our Holden calendars. I had all of Sunday to drive back to Brisbane, so decided to do a little sight-seeing on the way.

Just out of Bundaberg I came across a fire-lookout tower, about 150 feet high. Reaching the top I discovered two things: I'm no spring chicken anymore and at that time of year the top of the tower is locked. I think I grumbled all the way to the bottom. After stopping beside a cane field for a photo, I travelled back to Brisbane away from the main highway.

Monday I had a shoot south of Brisbane, then followed the map towards the mountainous Border Ranges National Park. I turned off the main road and followed the narrow, winding, bitumen (read here, Mini heaven) Lions Road. The road was so named after the Lions Clubs of Beaudesert, Queensland, and Kyogle, New South Wales, got together and built it by hand in 1971, to join their two towns. At the border crossing, which goes through an opening of the vermin-proof fence (at more than 6,000 miles the longest man-made structure in the world), there is a drop-box for donations to help maintain the road; a kind of voluntary road toll.

Monday night was spent near the coast at Grafton, before a leisurely drive to Bob Holden's place near Taree. Bob made his name by winning the Bathurst 500-mile enduro with Rauno Aaltonen in a Cooper S in 1966 and a great evening was had listening to some of his tails of more than 30 years of racing.

Wednesday I had planned to make another attempt at that elusive Falcon GT show car on my way to Bathurst, so I headed back towards Sydney. From about an hour out of Sydney it began to rain, which got heavier the closer I got to my quarry. Another failed attempt, so I continued over the Blue Mountains to Bathurst.

Thursday dawned fine and remained that way all day, giving me great weather for my afternoon shoot. However, the drive back to Sydney for attempt number three at the GT saw me crawling through the fog-shrouded mountains, then battling torrential rain again. In fact, it rained so much, and my Mini leaks so badly, that by the time I reached Sydney I had a two-inch puddle in the front footwell. And people wonder why I don't have any carpet in the Mini.

I admitted defeat and left Sydney for Goulburn, and another shoot in reasonable weather. Saturday saw an uneventful end to the trip as I motored home virtually all the way on the freeway. I did make a couple of detours though, to check out the old Hume Highway, but my progress was continually disrupted by gates across the road. After opening and closing more than I can remember, for over an hour, I had travelled about 10 miles, so I returned to the freeway.

As I turned into the driveway at home, I'm sure I heard the Mini give a distinct sigh of relief. In 18 days I had done 3,715 miles (5,979km) and 14 photo shoots. When I pulled the wheel bearing out a couple of days later, much of the metal was blue and what was left of the grease was a blackened crust. It had obviously been a bit hot, but it got me home.

 

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