A7 Across Oz

On 22 April 1936, Theo Shepherd, from Bomedary in NSW, departed Sydney to drive to Perth in a Special Austin 7 “Ace” Sports Model, built by James Flood in Melbourne.

Theo undertook the drive with a mate who, for reasons unknown, remained anonymous other than being given the title of “Fairy”.

After a largely uneventful drive on the Hume Hwy, which in the day was a reasonable dirt road - in dry weather, the pair made a short visit to the Nation’s capital, Canberra.

Returning to the Hume Hwy, through Yass and Gundagai, they came to Tarcutta, where they met other travellers. “Sitting in the lounge room of the boarding house we overheard a party discussing roads and towns, which, though strange to our geographical knowledge, were marked off for our itinerary to Adelaide. Our inquisitiveness…brought us to the knowledge we were talking with a Mr. and Mrs. Blackmore, who, in an Oakland Six, were making the same road as we to Adelaide.”

“This news held an element of terror, for we had no desire to overtax our infant charge in order to maintain a pride of place with the big South Australian Oakland. Peeping out next morning, like timid rabbits, we were happy to discover that our big friend had quite disappeared.”

After crossing the Murray River at Albury, they were surprised at the flatness of the Victorian countryside. “Not a turn, not a bend, not to rise or descend, but with natural bush trees making an unusually rustic archway, forming an unending vista fore and aft. Just set the throttle wide open, fix the steering straight on, and watch for a drove of sheep.”

They reached Melbourne at 6 p.m. on the second day. “The War Memorial Shrine, situated on the apex of a pyramid lawn of some acres is undoubtedly in advance of anything in the Commonwealth of Australia.”

Departing Melbourne in the following evening, they made for Geelong, then on to Colac: “which saw these two Sydney tough guys humbled, as no bed was provided, nor would petrol be supplied during the next day, being Anzac Day.”

“Having made up our minds to travel the rest of the day after attending an Anzac service, we directed the bowser attendant to aim the end of the petrol hose into the tank and pump until Christian measure had been given: and accordingly when the tank had overfilled, the hose was dashed over to a waiting Harley outfit to be emptied. Could we strike a bed just when that 5 gals of Shell was eking out? was our problem.”

“However, Saturday awakened us with rain and heavy wind. The going was very rough against the head-wind and our five gallons were existing beyond terrific odds. Passing bowser after bowser, all stubbornly locked, we began to feel like a yacht in mid-ocean with a dying breeze.”

“Empty tins by the roadside reminded us that travellers had carried their supplies. In the distance we could see a car filling up. On drawing closer the driver stepped onto the road and waved his hands frantically. We stopped and were greeted by the S.A. Oakland.”

“As evening came upon us, fortune played a good win when a wayside bowser yielded to the pleading of our last few ounces of Shell.”

Having refueled, they continued into South Australia (probably through Mortlake, then Hamilton and Penola). “Immediately, almost as if the line was physical, the scenery changes. The roads are no longer straight, level and well-surfaced, and the country is no longer farming country.”

“The curse of these gravel roads is the terrific and agonizing corrugations. Miles and miles of pine forest also mark the entrance into South Australia.”

On Sunday morning they travelled up the Coorong to Tailem Bend, then on to Murray Bridge. “Of all the variety of sights on any day, this short tour of two hundred miles held the greatest. Here we passed desert, sand plain, salt bush pastures, sheep stations, bushland, ocean, river, lake, salt industries, and were accompanied still by the magpie, crow, hawk, jackdaw, and of course, the bunny, and many other types of animal life.”

“While enjoying a leisurely meal at a lone refreshment room at Salt Creek, who should burst in upon us but the S.A. Oakland driver, who bade us farewell, and has since not been seen or heard of from us.”

“Murray Bridge was reached that night, where we attended divine worship. This was the second and very picturesque crossing of the great Murray river.”

On Monday they arrived in Adelaide and visited the Centennial Exhibition.

“Learning that the South Australian Government saw fit to put their centenary on for our visit we decided to honor them with our attendance for a day. I would hazard the remark that the exhibition is the finest I have ever seen displayed. Anything from garden moss to steam locomotive is displayed there with all modern splendour.”

“At night Miller and Campbell, the famous American car drivers honored us with an exhibition of their skill by somersaulting and high jumping their Dodge, and driving it through burning walls, etc.”

“After securing water tins, groceries and a few journals and papers, we left Adelaide at four o’clock on the afternoon of Tuesday.”

Experiencing a day’s delay due to a “ripped-ti-bits” tyre and tube, they travelled through the winery region of the Clare Valley, stopping overnight at Murray Town, before arriving at Port Augusta after a very hot and tiring drive.

“Like a half-buried city, this is positively the most beauty forsaken, hot and barren place one could ever have the optimism to expect to live in…Without any desire to linger we passed on, and leaving the coast to a distance of only thirty miles travelled a very rugged road, the dust of which was quite sufficient to convince us that, since the shower of Noah’s day, not a cloud had ever blemished its skies.”

“A light fluffy dust a foot and more deep formed the only road surface for fifty odd miles to Iron Knob. We discovered however, that we were at an advantage in an open car, for with us the dust drove past, whereas in a closed car, the dust being so thick and fine, would penetrate and fill to suffocating point.”

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Read the complete original story by Theo Shepherd, as originally published in 1936, and see the full range of accompanying photos.

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