Trying to get Bessie back on the road after a night of rain. The Nullabor, West Australia.
When the “Castel Felice” arrived in Sydney after a six-week voyage from Southampton, it was early in the morning and I was glad to get off. The immigration department had arranged for me to be taken to accommodation in the western suburb of Burwood. I was given my own room and I was able to cook my own food. I was what the Aussies called a “Ten-pound Pom”. meaning I had paid ten pounds to the Australian government for the pleasure and had agreed to stay for at least two years. A lot of immigrants from the UK were very homesick and wanted to go home. I was not one of them and enjoyed it from the very first day, so I was never, as the Aussie called them, “whinging Poms”.
On that first day I arrived at the guesthouse I noticed the old car outside on the road. It was a 1950 V6 twin spinner Ford. The owner had been a tenant at the guesthouse but had left, leaving his car behind. The police had managed to contact the owner and were told he had to remove it or be fined. I happened to be at the house when he arrived trying to get the police off his back. I immediately offered him ten-quid, which in desperation he accepted. So, with the help of another tenant who was a motor machinic we replaced the clutch and I became the proud owner of a V6 Ford that I was going to drive for 11,000 miles (17.000 km) around Australia.
I was lucky he accepted my offer because 10 pounds was about my limit at the time. I had arrived in Sydney with only 14 pounds two weeks before. I decided to try and get a job as a TV repairman, however, despite my electronics background, I only knew the theory of TV’s and had never fixed one in my life. I got a job as a TV technician the day after I arrived but only lasted for one week before I was sacked. This happened three times, but each time I lasted a little longer, as I learnt the practical side of repairing TV’s. The fourth time, I didn’t get the sack and lasted until the winter arrived and I left for my journey north.
I had met Sylvia on the “Castel Felice” and when she heard of my plans to drive around Australia she asked if she could join me. As she was travelling north we agreed to meet in Townsville, Northern Queensland. I left to drive north after only being in Australia for six months.
It was important that we crossed the northern part of Australia during the winter as it could get very hot in the summer, especially for a Pom. My daily routine was usually the same. I would drive through the day stopping whenever it took my fancy. I would stop in a town during the evening and have a meal before driving for a couple of miles out of town and sleeping in the back seat. In the morning I would make a cup of tea and have for breakfast something I had bought the day before. The most expensive thing in my life was petrol. There were very few motorways in Australia in 1964 and the roads were narrow and some rivers were still crossed by ferries. Now the East coast is mostly Motorways and there are no ferries. The first night I didn’t sleep in the back of the car was when I visited another friend I had met on the “Castel Felice” whose Mum lived in Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast. I stayed with him and his Mum for a couple of days in their old but beautiful beachside home. I had never seen anything like it in the UK. A silver beach for as far as the eye could see. If you visit the same area today, there are no timber waterfront homes. Surfers Paradise is a mass of multistorey hotels and apartments. Surfers is one of Australia’s most famous holiday destinations, with a perfect climate. Many years later I built a luxury lodge in the Gold Coast hinterland with its beautiful views of the coast, where you could see the high-rise buildings of Surfers Paradise in the distance.
As I moved north I had an incident with one of the many kangaroos I saw while driving north. It crossed the road in front of me, but as was their habit it backtracked in front of me and I hit it. The Roo manage to continue across the road to the shrub. I stopped and soon found it, lying with its heart beating heavily, the Roos’ eyes looked up at me with pain. I loved animals and hated to see it in pain. I looked around for something to end its life, there was nothing? I remembered the piece of four-by-two timber propping up the driver’s seat. I quickly retrieved it and with one strike put the animal out of its misery. In the 55 years, I have been in Australia that was the only encounter I had with a Roo.
As I continued north I visited the city of Brisbane that was more like a country town then, although its beautiful riverside botanical gardens were as picturesque then as it is now. As I moved further north I began to think of “The Great Barrier Reef”. As a snorkeler and “would be” diver, I would dream of visiting the reef. It wasn’t until I reached Bowen that I decided to find out if I could see it from the headland, but of course, I couldn’t. I didn’t realise at the time the reef was 25 miles from the coast although it was closer at Cairns being only 10 miles. John enjoying the view from Castle Hill, Townsville, Queensland.
My next stop was Townsville where I looked for Sylvia at the Zoo and when I finally located her she was feeding the lions. I always found her game for most things although she was delicate and feminine. Her family name was Paris and she would always introduce herself as Silvia Paris, as in France.John, climbing Castle Hill, Townsville. With Magnetic Island in the background.
We decided we would leave in a months’ time, giving Sylvia time to give notice at the zoo and it was still cooler weather for heading west across the great Australian outback. I would head north to Cairns, a place I had heard a lot about and I had more friends from the “Castel Felice” to visit. Ian and his wife Margaret had come to Australia so that Ian could take up a position at the Cairns Base Hospital. They lived in a house next to the hospital on the waterfront. The day I arrived Ian was late getting home as a railway worker had been brought to the hospital with a Taipan bite (one of Australia’s deadliest snakes). Giving the right amount of antivenom turned out to be a tricky business.
Again, the Barrier Reef could not be seen from Cairns main beach, in fact, at low tide the Cairns foreshore was muddy. However, it was only a short ferry ride to “Green Island” with its beautiful coral reef. Cairns was to become one of my favourite places in Australia. Over the years I visited “Green Island” many times but the coral was never again as good as it was in 1964. The early damage to the close in reefs was done by nutrient runoff from sugar cane and other farms. Later damage can be put squarely in the hands of Global-Warming, and cannot be blamed totally on Australians, but the present Liberal Government who is a nonbeliever.
I returned to Townsville and spent two weeks there before we left. It was an interesting town dominated by a rocky outcrop called Castle Hill. I spent some time at the swimming pool where the Australian swimming team was training for the Olympics. The country’s finest swimmers were on show.
The time had come to leave and drive the 3500 miles (5600 km) across mostly outback country and unsealed roads to Perth on the other side of Australia. I will tell you about that in the second part of my BLOG. A risky business in an old car.
Sylvia at the base of the Curtain Fig Tree, Atherton, west of Cairns.