Australia had been on my bucket list for several decades. There were relatives to meet and a country to see. Retirement would provide the time to do it right and have an adventure of a different sort. The Mini’s 50th Down Under gave the perfect impetus.
Thanks to John Kornbrekke, Membership chair for the Mini Owners’ Club of Qld, we got onto club member Andrew Wright who had a Mini Van for sale.
The Van was a 1973 Australian Leyland with factory-fitted rear windows, 1098cc power unit, unleaded head, Metro disc brakes and 12” wheels. In a nutshell, Andrew was magnificent and the Mini got a thorough check and new parts as needed.
Andrew delivered the Van to my cousin Patricia in Brisbane. John secured six new Falken tyres, then Patricia took the Van to Tony Buttigieg for servicing of all the electrics. Doing all this was a better option than shipping my Mini, known as Pooh, with its trailer, The Hunny Pot, from Canada. The Mini Van would be known as Roo. After all, Roo was one of Pooh’s pals, and an Aussie.
After a great deal of planning, we decided to travel in a counter-clockwise direction, with Brisbane as the starting point. The planned trip would take 70 days, scheduled to start after the 2011 Brisbane Mini Muster and the Mini50 week on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. I sent the draft itinerary to John and within days Lynne Kornbrekke was calling long-distance to ask if they might come along.
My response was immediate; “Of course.”
Within a few days of Elaine’s and my arrival I had a Queensland Driver’s Licence, my name on the title to the Van and we were driving comfortably on the “wrong side of the road”.
We planned a two-week Prologue, or test drive, to Sydney, that would include The Rylstone Classic. Our route took us inland to Glen Innes, Dubbo and Bathurst (two laps of Mount Panorama), before calling on Graham Russell in Sydney. I didn’t know Graham, but had promised to deliver a gift for him from Canadian Mini racer Robert Beauchemin.
Graham was a wonderful host, insisting that we stay with him and he helped with the front suspension that had taken a beating on the way South.
Greig Malaure at Mini Classic installed new Hi-Los, knuckles and better used cones and trimmed the front bump stops. Graham sourced the Koni Sport dampers and insisted on doing the install. Beyond the mechanics, Graham and Elaine had fun prepping meals and Graham saw us to and from the ferry at Parramatta for day trips into Sydney.
David King in Lisarow – a two-time Aussie rally champion and owner of a magnificent Mini – who helped with an extra rim for Roo, offered a bed and to lead us up to the start of The Rylstone Classic. The event helped give the Mini a real shakedown, and resulted in a lost driver’s door mirror and a rattly muffler.
Returning to Brisbane, a quick visit to Ken Nelson in Ipswich where Roo got a good look over and a new muffler and tailpipe were installed. We were ready for a week of fun during the Mini50 and the Mini Muster (both described in Issue 29 of TME).
We were up early on Monday, 12 September to meet John and Lynne at the Ettamogah Pub in Palmview for the start of our 70-day tour. In short order we were off to Noosa Heads, Gympie, Bundaberg and Gladstone for a dinner with Lynne’s family. The weather was glorious, the Minis were just fine and so were we.
However, in the early hours of the next morning, Lynne’s younger brother Scott had a heart attack, which kept them back, and we set out alone in the morning for Emerald and Barcaldine, en-route to Longreach and Winton.
With Scott’s prognosis good, John and Lynne drove a shorter inland loop the next day to Emerald and Charters Towers and we reconnected in Townsville. We would separate for short portions of the trip thereafter but thankfully not again because of health worries.
After Townsville the pace slowed for several days in Cairns, with a trip to the Daintree River and Cape Tribulation, a boat cruise to the Great Barrier Reef and a drive up to the Atherton Tablelands with MOCQ Far North Group members.
Then it was off into the Outback to reach the Gulf of Carpentaria with our first drama – a blown rear tyre on John’s Mini sedan, on the Gulf Developmental Road to Croydon. Lynne and Elaine took the Gulflander rail motor from Croydon to Normanton where John and I swept them up for the short run to Karumba at the mouth of the Norman River.
The pattern was now being set of getting an early start, stopping for morning tea, exercising our camera eyes, and our legs too from time to time, before a late afternoon stop and setting up a new camp.
The Minis got their first oil/filter change in Karumba after almost 5,000 kms. We retreated South to Cloncurry and Mt. Isa before moving West to Barkly Homestead, then our first long-day run to Tenant Creek, and on to Alice Springs.
The Red Center surprised us and many others by not being a scorched desert, rather abundant green in an arid zone. The West MacDonnell Ranges, with the permanent water that Aboriginal people depended upon for centuries, were breathtaking. It was dryer on the route to Yulara to see Uluru and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), where John and Lynne took a sightseeing flight to Kings Canyon.….
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