Australia is one country on one continent; it’s slightly larger than Europe. At the pub in Wilmington, South Australia, we met a man named Willy who put it well: ‘Australia is only one horse ride across.’ He took a swig of beer. ‘What they don’t tell you is how many horses.’ Damon Heather – my travelling cameraman, co-producer and director – and I were trying to prove it was only one Land Rover ride.
Our adventure was borne out of passion and desperation. The passion was for the engineering of Land Rover Series. When I was 18 years old I bought my first Land Rover, a rather tatty and sad 1960 Series II 88in, 2.25-litre petrol. To start with it was just a project to keep me occupied during cold winter nights.
Though I started with no real mechanical knowledge, I learned quickly; and four years later, after a complete nut-and-bolt restoration, rewiring, a new rear crossmember, a respray and much more, Lara the Land Rover was registered and back in service.
Now, the desperation. After completing a degree in geology I had no luck finding work in my field in Tasmania. I put everything into getting to Western Australia, where the mines were still going.
Lara was loving it as we cruised through the Central Tasmanian Highlands on day one. After getting the ferry to the mainland, we drove through the urban heart of Melbourne with difficulty. One of the detent bearings had jammed, so only third and fourth gear worked.
Early the next day, with the floor panels everywhere and a can of RP7 and a chainsaw file, we fixed the gearbox. After visiting the Twelve Apostles limestone stacks, we ran into more issues. One of the front wheel bearings had become loose. Amid horrified looks from day-trippers, we tightened the bearing.
We spent the next few days on the Great Ocean Road, the world’s longest war memorial, dedicated to the memories of Australia’s Great War fallen.
A couple of days later, in the state of South Australia, we parked in front of an oasis, the Wilmington Toy Museum. The owner, David, and his son Adam, have the largest collection of (real) Land Rovers in Australia. They have so many that they’re parked in order of chassis number.
We then faced Australian motoring’s largest challenge, the Nullarbor Plain. Nullarbor (from the Latin for ‘treeless’), is the world’s largest piece of exposed bedrock; three times the size of Wales. Only the odd petrol station breaks the monotony of rock and spinifex grass. For 10 days they were all we saw of civilisation.
The temperature rose above 40ºC, so the door tops came off. Damon suffered heatstroke. From Kalgoorlie we had anticipated taking the Holland Track but the area had experienced two weeks of rain so we had no choice but to take the Victoria Rock Road. Even so, the corrugations were so severe we thought a spring shackle bolt might fail. Only 200 miles to go.
The corrugations faded but were replaced with mud. We nearly rolled a few times it was so deep. By sunset the west coast was in sight and we emptied our last jerry can of petrol. The sun went down an hour later and we turned the engine off on the beach, gazing at the Indian Ocean. With no support we had covered 3100 miles in two-and-a-half weeks from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean.
The adventure paid off. A week later Lara and I headed back to Kalgoorlie, where I had landed a job. Damon flew back to Tasmania and is working on a film version of the trip: Seriously Series – Heading West.
This owner review appeared in the April 2011 issue of LRO. Current and Back issues are available to download on digital devices here. Please note, we only hold stocks of the the last three back issues.