Across The Continent In a Baby Austin Sports
Most Interesting Account (By Theo Shepherd of Bomaderry)
Published in The Nowra Leader, Friday 24 July 1936
Positively devoid of any sprit of daring, Fairy - which mythical medium shall signify my co-traveller - and I packed a part of necessaries, and headed our tightly fitting transport carriage out of the great Australian metropolis.
Choosing the Hume Highway, we passed through that rich and picturesque country which supports such attractive commercial centres as Picton, Mittagong, Moss Vale, Marulan, and historic Goulburn, about five miles from where we turned off for Canberra, where we dined at the Blue Moon Cafe.
Here we were veritably thrilled as we reveled in the blaze of autumn colours which almost dazzled our theoretical mind into a dream. Hundreds of trees, shrubs, hedges and flowers, massed, layed-out and arranged in such a profusing variety of colours that would put to an insignificant standard the work of the most romantic bushland artist.
This is undoubtedly the modern setting of a model city, with roads to and from that make it a place of royal interest, which anyone on the coastline from Newcastle to Eden has no excuse for neglecting.
We had to leave this juvenile city of nine thousand souls, and passing through unlimited areas of the most interesting and profitable sheep and wheat producing country, entered that town of such fame in song, Gundagai, which we honored with our presence for tea.
An incident of surprise and interest entered the realm of our experience at a small town, called by those who know it Tarcutta, where we had eased off for the night, after some three hundred and thirty miles had been traversed.
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, plus my Fairy's charm, 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. At 8.15 a.m. we trickled out and soon reached Holbrook, where we were informed the notorious Mrs. Holbrook's great-grand-ma was born.
Soon the very fine town of Albury was entered, and wished us au revoir on behalf of N.S.W., and crossing the Murray River, another pretty town, called Wodonga, gave us a cheery greeting for Victoria.
The most unsensational or the least sensational - to those who prefer that term - part of the journey, though not the most uninteresting or the least interesting, was produced in the queen's state, to within a few miles of the late Federal Capital. 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. There is practically no unutilised land, and therefore no unutilizable land visible from the Hume Highway in Victoria, yet the stock, i.e., the sheep, did not appear to be as well kept, nor the station-house as elaborate, nor the station is well equipped as those in New South.
280 miles from Tarcutta, at 6 p.m., Victoria's capital was entered. This is a very busy and a very pretty city, though its police, its trams and its buses are conspicuously out of keeping with population and prosperity of such an important city.
As well as some very fine business houses and government buildings, 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.
The Yarra River, meandering its lazy course throgh [sic] the city and suburbs would promote the aesthetic assets of any such place but for the fact that its waters are so yellow that no life ever inhabits them.
A notable feature of the place is the close proximity of farming areas (wheat and wool) to the settled areas of the city.
Twenty-five and a half hours were spent in Melbourne, when after some difficulty in extracting ourselves from the awkward plait of Melbourne's suburban streets, we chose the Prince's Highway from the three roads open to us.
In a little over the hour Geelong was reached. This town compares with Newcastle (N.S.W.) in both size and industry, having its mines and factories, and running a very efficient tram service to meet the demands of its 4500 inhabitants.
Even in Melbourne the quaint old underground cable train still has its route through the city area. In this very curious old English style carriage, of about ten feet overall length, some with no side walls, the driver takes his place in the centre and clangs his lever backwards and forwards according to the speed required: this lever grabs the revolving cable underground and takes the car with it. The driver also has charge of the cow bell above his head, which is continually rattling, and thus adding oddity to this touch of antiquity.
However, 93 miles from this capital the country town of Colac was entered, 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. Such a revival, as can only be partly understood by those who have either been half drowned or half shot and recovered, enabled us to enjoy the splendid highway of Victoria during the evening hours, passing through more or less rich sheep and wheat country, and a fair percentage of bushland, until the South Australia border was incidentally crossed.
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 telegraph posts now consist of old railway rails, serpentine knotty wooden posts, the old style iron post and a special iron one. Instead of the plain white roadside post, these very helpful guides to the tourist have a black band of about nine inches dividing the white.
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, a large quantity of which timber is almost ready for market. Here, too, our watches had to be put back one half hour.
During that day, Saturday, we travelled about 300 miles, including an hour or so of night driving in which wombats and bush tracks were very much in evidence.
On Sunday we were not negligent of the day's divine calling and were aided in our thanksgiving to God by the magnificent scenery in this part of South Australia. 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. It appealed to me here as of peculiar interest that such large and permanent fresh water lakes as the Lake Albert and Alexander [Alexandrina], covering, as they do, miles of surface, should be in such close proximity to the great salt lakes such as the Kooran [Coorong], from where, as we saw, tons of salt is lifted annually.
Monday took us very early into Adelaide by a very pretty undulating drive of less than a hundred miles, through semi-commercialised country. The approach to this capital is most magnificent, and at one point a few miles out the whole of the city can be seen from a lookout by the edge of the road.
Conspicuous by their charm are the girls of Adelaide. The parks and gardens are beautiful, but the buildings are odd and most unattractive.
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. [Centennial Exhibition - the centenary was not until December 1936] That day was well spent. 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. Taking advantage of a few isolated miles of bitumen, we made good time for about seventy-five miles, when a pop and a drag at the rear revealed to our aspiring minds a ripped-ti-bits tyre and tube - the first forced stop of the drive.
While waiting for a new tyre from Adelaide, we called into the Gurn's sheep station at a distance of about sixty miles. A day was spent looking over the holding, which supported a magnificent home, several cars, electricity, and all modern conveniences, as well as an aerodrome.
After this most interesting inspection, we got on the way again on the evening of the following day.
The wine industry makes a new scene of interest in different parts of the southern State. Large areas of vines clothe the highway between Adelaide and Port Augusta, from which the vinedressers press and sell the wine.
Although only a hundred and fifty miles had been traversed that evening a rather attractive hotel at Murray Town won us to its hosting.
Thursday morning presented a very hot and lonely drive. It is interesting that the coldest part of the whole drive was from Sydney to Melbourne, when overcoats were not discarded all day, but after which shirt sleeves were adopted.
The whole of the State is very light producing country, and despite the intrusion of the waters of Spencer's Gulf, sand plain reaches to its edges.
After passing sand-drift and miles of unproductive land in scorching heat, we stumbled upon the notable and never-to-be-forgotten town of Port Augusta. 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.
Situated on the extreme point of the Gulf, this town has hot, soft sand, everywhere: in its surroundings, streets, shop fronts, roadways, and even in the air. Gardens are impossible and fresh milk and green vegetables are as scarce as fine gold. Personally, I would not live in Port Augusta if it was to keep the Japs out of Australia.
Without any desire to linger we passed on, and leaving the coast to a distance of only thirty miles traveled 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.
As it was, it oozed its way into every part of our luggage, including a locked port in the box at the rear of the car. To prevent our own stifling we masked our faces with our handkerchiefs.
Iron Knob consists of a one hotel town in which three hundred odd men are engaged in extracting rich ore deposits from the range nearby.
Leaving this weird settlement and passing through Kimba, twenty-eight miles, we soon found ourselves on about eight miles of unrelieved heavy sand, and suddenly awoke to the fact that we were on the sand track which we had been so rigorously and repeatedly warned was quite impassable in dry weather. What a realization!
Now well into it, we decided to go forward, hoping for miles to see the last of the sand at the next few yards. Floating, spinning, stopping, we slackened the tyres, got out and pushed, and eventually won through.
To give some idea of the inconspicuous character of some of the towns on the fascinating spaces of Australia, let me tell you this one. Making for Wadina, a prominently marked town on the guide, after nightfall we suspected of over-travelled, and were puzzled as to whether we were on the right track or not, when we entered Minnipa, twenty-five miles further on that our anticipated destination. Happy that we were now a quarter of a hundred miles nearer our journey's end than we expected to be, we gladly lodged for the night.
A short trip of less than two hundred miles was our lot for the following day, arriving at Penong at 3.30 p.m. This road, or perhaps best described as a track through the country, is a very difficult one to manipulate. Although little sign of life is showing, either animal or vegetable, the land if all used to its best purpose and effectively irrigated, would be heavy producing land. Rabbits and the haunting crow are still faithful witnesses. The nearest approach to hospitality or homeliness is seen in catchment tanks and dams every fifty miles or so.
From Penong commences nearly a thousand miles of the most lonely and venturesome driving of the whole trip. Petrol, water and food had to be taken in store here, and leaving the coast and the railway we were prepared for the necessity of having to rely on our own resources for three or four days.
From thence the road leads through vast expanses of country which is never suspected of being anything but Australian sand plain, unless the suspicion be plain desert.
During this long, lonely drive, to see a couple of blackfellows with spears looking for some lost sheep or a wild dog, gave us some idea of the experience of old Dave of "Our Selection" would have on entering London. Our strange circumstances made us gladly appreciate a conversation and a joke with the humble Australian abo.
Illimitable spaces stretching back as far as the eye can see and almost overpowering with insignificance, the lone traveller presents the only outlook for hundreds of miles. Such an important route as the Adelaide-Perth Highway is a scarcely distinguishable across a loose surface sand plain.
Quite a thrill was obtained as we overtook a white man with camping gear and a push bike laden with fox skins making all possible haste to the Wells Station, some hundred miles further on, with word that there was a dingo in the scrub near the old hut, which had the night before killed twenty sheep from the yards.
We were showered with all the gracious thoughts of the relieved cyclist's mind as we undertook to deliver this very important message, which we did late that night, to the great consternation and stirring among the station hands.
The first sign of a station homestead is usually a fence which converges all traffic to the ranch. The highway is so indistinct that invariably one arrives at the station house and has to enquire the direction. It was thus that we arrived at Nullarbor Station, where we secured another tin of petrol.
The country here is unmistakably sand plain. Large holdings of millions of acres carry sheep in a wonderfully good condition. Accommodation being unprocurable here we drove on until tired and then, carrying no camping gear, simply pulled up in the middle of the road and went to sleep.
The nights were generally very cold, but when possible a lone and gaunt desert shrub acted as our night sentry.
Next morning the S.A.-W.A. border was crossed and travelling on through the plains, passing blackfellows' huts or haunts, and entering lightly timbered country, we descended a rough cliff onto a sand bed, where lies the old telegraph station of Eucla. This place, together with the surrounding country, is owned by one man, by name Mr. Simons, who has the privilege of acting in the capacity of policeman, postmaster, parson, burglar, bowser attendant, boarding-house proprietor, and so forth, adfinitum. He finds his task not particularly difficult, which is probably explained by the fact that there are no women in the vicinity.
With a glimpse of the rolling surf and the huge white sand hills, a cup of tea, a chat, and a few gallons of petrol at 3/8 a gallon, we did shut the gate behind us and set about manouvring the deeply cut floating track across the sand-flat, suffering a blowout and scaring the sheep for miles as we moved along.
At this point we mistook the telegraph line for the road guide, and soon found ourselves twisting round telegraph posts, dodging stumps and rolling in the loose black sand where never car had been before. This condition insisted for twenty miles, where we again caught the track. Driving was very hard here, necessitating a considerable amount of gear work, and costing our car a damage in the rear under body work.
Night soon fell upon us and with it an uncanny stillness and loneliness. In front of us stood the dreaded limestone hills, and the track lead on through patchy scrub and sparsely treed rough country. The moon, from the distant heavens, shed a ghostly veil over the whole scene: Fairy became scared; ghosts left the realm of fantasy and became temporarily possible. We did not feel like stopping. Somewhere, not far off, could be heard the roar of some jungle beast, then a stampede of rattling hoofs and the bellow of calves. In our uncertainty of mind we ran off the track and found ourselves in a dead-end, where, of course, we were forced to pull up. Needless to say we found it convenient to stop near to a heavy low shrub for protection. Here we put all lights out and laid low.
We were scared stiff for a few minutes while the white faces and glaring eyes of large herefords stared at us from every spooky aperture in the scrub and then rushed round like a mob of mad bulls. Great was our relief when the situation tamed off, and greater still was our relief when we discovered that we were alongside a fence.
Here we found, also, a hot spring, under which we had a most wonderful wash, the most enjoyable I ever remember having. This spring gives forth a good volume - I would say a gallon in about five seconds - of very hot water of fine washing quality at all times of the year.
Greatly refreshed, we started off again at 10.30p.m., and entered thick, dark scrub by a winding, deep-cut and little-used track, travelling round and sometimes over, great limestone boulders, and eventually found ourselves at the foot of a cliff which proved to be that of the treacherous Madura Pass.
Stopping our transport vehicle, we dismounted and climbed a short distance. Each seemed to feel that the only way to explain the situation was to stand aghast and gaze stupidly into the rather terrified face of the other.
It was part of the journey and had to be done, so we set about gathering stones together to build the track less dangerous and help us onto the top of some of the boulders. After doing what we could in this way, we put the car at it for a few yards thus prepared, and then carried the stones forward and so forth. With one pushing behind and one at the wheel, leaping, bouncing, lurching and rolling, little by little we came nearer to the top until at long last and without damage we again stood aghast, almost disbelieving that we were actually and safely at the top at just on midnight. This short climb is the roughest I have ever experienced.
Unformed road up the limestone cliff left huge bared boulders and deep wash-aways, making the danger of lurching over the side to disaster very imminent. Only a week or so prior to our trip a Chrysler had suffered this disaster.
However, without even an inspection of the works of our carriage, we carried on through scrub and loose boulders without any possibility of getting a bed or accommodation for the night. Pulling into a cosy little nook among the shrubs we slept for a few hours.
A little after daybreak, the morning being fresh and clean, we got going right away to warm things up a little. Soon the scrub became scattered and so scarce that we could see our last chance of making a fire was close at hand, so we pulled up and gathered sufficient bramble sticks together to make a blaze, on which we toasted our last half loaf and made a first class breakfast of sardines on toast.
We were not afraid of being pinched for lighting fires, because no man had ever been within thousands of miles of where we were, and we were not afraid of running fires for dirty sand will not easily catch alight.
A very strange thing happened during our lonesome morning meal. Gazing into the distant west we could see what appeared to be heavy rain approaching. This became closer and closer, until a dense fog covered us. The time was about 8.30 a.m. The sun was obliterated and water drops collected on our shoulders and hair. The car also became wet. It seemed to us as though their rain season had come and gone while we had breakfast. At 9 o'clock the air began to clear and we made off.
At 9.30, while the fog was still obscuring the vision, what to us was a young emu, stalked proudly across our way about fifty yards off. We stopped the caravan, and made a good inspection of the bird, which, to our amazement, took to its wings and flew gracefully off into the fog.
By another half hour old sol had burst forth and the fog was gone. We found ourselves well and truly out upon the great Australian sand plain. The environment produces a sense of severe solitariness. All civilization seems to have been swallowed up in the hot, barren, level sand plain. One is almost overwhelmed and feels the inspiration of the poet who spoke of "the everlasting sameness of never-ending plains". We simply stayed our seats and drove on for hundred after hundred of miles.
Late in the afternoon we reached lightly timbered country and came onto the telegraph line clearing for the roadway and were privileged to be the first motorist to travel on this twenty miles under the telegraph line instead of the road.
Between sand, stumps, and posts it was a tough drive. An interesting feature of this limestone country is its blowholes. Bottomless cavities opening to the surface with a hole about 3ft form these blowholes. The sound of a stone dropped in at the surface can be heard until it becomes faint in distance below. A cool and continuous draft of air is emitted from these holes at all times of the year, and hence the name "blowhole". Again we put in the night in the car.
The morning found us in rough, stony scrub-country. A fierce, slinking dingo was scared from its haunts near the roadside by our starting off and soon kangaroos were hopping characteristically from either side of the road. Great eagle hawks were also in evidence soaring and tumbling in the heavens. The place was like a great zoo. Magpies, crows, parrots, flocks of cheeky galahs, wallabies, and rabbits, which have now reached the extreme regions of the fertile lands of W.A., were all conspicuous.
It is interesting to note that the common street sparrow of the eastern States is rigidly, and so far, effectively excluded from Western Australia.
In the afternoon of the same day we were suddenly terrified by several huge camels leaping onto the roadway in front of us with a chorus of weird groans. To the number of about a dozen these unwholesome beasts kept the track at a trot ahead of us at a fast trot.
With all the tactics we as victims to the smell and dust of these obstinate brutes could devise, they kept us on their heels. Rolling against overhanging saplings and blundering over stumps, never breaking from a trot, they led us for a distance of about five miles and must have travelled at a speed of thirty miles and hour in places.
It is noticeable that wherever there are a few trees, however small or invigorous, there are birds to twitter among their leaves.
The track is naturally very rough and the mobility slow over these boulder-strewn limestone ranges. The word range does not imply hills, much less mountains. The most hospitable accommodation for another night was our transport vehicle.
The following day we felt a little awkward in our strange attire of dust, whiskers and heat, for during the last three days we had cause to exercise economy with our provisions and had not shaved or bathed, not to mention the action of washing.
This country, now well into W.A., is conspicuous and interesting for its monstrous bare rocks, the smaller stones of many hues which are found everywhere, the many pits which riddle its surface in search of gold, the great snow-white sand lakes, and the haunts of semi-wild blacks.
Horses are bred on the best of this land, sheep on the poorer spaces, rabbits on all of it, and in the best seasons a rabbit may visit the worst of it, though I fear he may not be heard of again.
Here time seemed to lose its fleetness. Hours seemed weeks, and minutes whole days, but as we carried very scanty vituals, and there was such a very inhospitable invitation to stop that we simply pressed on, passing miles after miles of hot barren sand and heavy limestone outcrops which latter, by the way, is very dangerous to the tyres.
Drafting pens are also passed, which consist of isolated yards in the open plain with a water pump and trough, and dams (all dry), tanks and wells, until finally after much patience, the long looked-for town of Norseman was reached. Our main appointments here were a brush-up, a fill-up, a clean-up and a shave.
A peculiar little drama was staged here at our expense. As we stopped at a garage for car supplies, and incidentally other information, two policemen approached and held us under arrest. One of these good behaviour experts opened his bag and, producing and official paper, handed it to me with the words, "Your travelling from the east, what have you to say to that?". With trembling hand and bewildered mind, I took the paper, wondering if, after all our efforts we were forbidden immigrants. The paper read as follows: "Urgent telegram. Eucla Monday. Two young men, suspects, passing through in Baby Austin, stole parcel clothing." Admitting our appearance might suggest a suspect or even an escapee, we had no time to discuss such an obtrusion on our immaculate reputation, so we gave a hearty laugh and promised to see them on our return, during which time they were given the royal liberty of searching among the endless mass of stuff strapped about the car. We saw no more of them.
The town of Norseman was obviously not founded by a biblical student, for it has not a rock foundation, but is built upon the sand. The shops have no decorated show-windows, on account of the furnace-like heat which is reflected from the loose grey sand. We tried to purchase a malted milk drink here but the term was strange to their ears, and it seems that no milk is even handled in this strange and desolate place.
Seeing we were now less than five hundred miles from Perth, our destination, we were expecting at any moment the glorious experience of gliding onto a bitumen surface road, a sensation quite strange to our experience since we had bid farewell to Victoria.
Alas! to our intense agony a hundred miles of the worst corrugations ever encountered by a motorist lay ahead of us. This class of road has to be taken at about forty-five or fifty miles an hour until wheel spin reduces speed to near thirty-five which is recklessly impossible and has to be carefully reduced to ten until the surface makes it possible to regain the forty-five mark.
The corrugations here are eighteen inches to two feet from centre to centre, and four to six inches in depth. This may sound exaggeration to the uninterested, but it's quite accurate. Cars frequently lose their number plates and bumper bars while travelling it.
The miles were long and tantalizing until Northam was reached at a distance of sixty miles from Perth.
Despite the distance travelled and the excessive roughness and toughness of the travelling not a yard of the bitumen was wasted. The journey was almost complete, and the other side of the Continent reached.
It was with light hearts that we sped down the twenty miles of easy and continuous grades that makes the approach to this western capital, and presents some exceptional panoramas of the city.
And so, just prior to midnight on Wednesday, a fortnight after leaving Sydney, the destination of a distinguished drive was reached, quietly yet triumphantly.
All back issues of The BMC Experience are now available in digital format from www.pocketmags.com.