Half a Lap

0n 3 August 1968, brothers Rick and Jeff Garrett, aged 23 and 21 years respectively, set off from Tanunda, in the Barossa Valley Region of South Australia.

The plan was to travel to Perth, then to the north west of Western Australia and across to Darwin, before travelling south through the Northern Territory and arriving back in Tanunda before our three-week holiday leave had been used.

The vehicle of choice was an early model Morris Mini Moke. Although the "big-wheel" Moke had been available for a few months, Rick already owned the "little-wheeler", as well as an 850 Mini that he bought new, while Jeff was the proud owner of a 997cc Morris Cooper Mini.

Rick had worked for the Tanunda BMC dealership since leaving school and was reasonably confident that the trip would be possible. Most of the trip would be on unsealed roads so on completion there would not be a lot of body work problems with the Moke. However, the lack of sealed doors became a bit of an issue when it came to keeping dust from the inside of the vehicle.

Steering and suspension could be easily repaired and generally these components, apart from the shock absorbers, withstood the road conditions very well.

Widened ten-inch rims and a mix of tyre patterns were used. Koni adjustable shock absorbers were chosen and became throw away items after the trip. The small wheels seemed to fit nicely into each corrugation of the Kimberly roads and at times it felt that the Moke was bouncing up and down more than it was moving forward.

We had always knocked around cars. In 1963 four of us went in Rick's Mini from Tanunda to Bathurst, for the big race. We'd always done a few trips - Sandown, Calder, just to see racing events.

It wasn't unusual for us in those days to do hops across the border for racing events, so it wasn't too daunting for us to think, well, let's have a go at this other trip. We were both of course single at the time.

It was probably a greater challenge than we expected. By experience, we only knew something about the Nullarbor, being South Australian. We didn't have any idea what to expect from Carnarvon on, right up to Port Hedland. Then from Hedland to Broome, up to Derby and back, and on across the Top End, we didn't have any prior knowledge or expectations of exactly what the conditions would be.

We had made alterations to the standard metal frame and canvas seats. The backs of the seats were able to be removed and slotted into the base to form two beds; with all our gear stored outside, the Moke became a tent on wheels.

When combined with sleeping bags and a bit of padding this conversion resulted in reasonably comfortable sleeping conditions.

Another modification was a large reserve fuel tank, which was made by a local plumber and fitted across the back of the inside of the body tub. Unfortunately, this was not as successful as we hoped when a seam split on crossing the unsealed section of the Eyre Hwy on the Nullarbor Plain during the second day. There was the smell of petrol fumes throughout clothing and bedding until it was washed during a short stopover to visit a friend at Bruce Rock four days later.

The South Australian unsealed length of the Eyre Hwy was badly rutted by trucks following heavy rains, and almost resulted in an accident on dusk of the second day. A decision was made not to travel at night for the remainder of the trip.

The first of only two punctures occurred on this section of road. The second puncture happened on the also unsealed section of the Stuart Hwy, south of the Northern Territory border, on our way home. Our only other mechanical problem experienced during the entire journey was when the exhaust snapped off at the junction of the manifold (a common problem) just before we reached Darwin.

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