It's an "Antipodean Adventure"
The last leg
To enlarge a picture, click on the Thumbnail.
Left to right: Ray and Sharon Mullins '60 MGA, Ian and Pam Prior '61 MGA Sebring, Richard (Richo) and Barbara Prior '49 YT.
This is the tale of retrieving our YT from Melbourne after arriving back from the epic journey in the USA. The plan is to drive the car back to Perth via the Great Ocean Road on Victoria's South West Coast and the Eyre Highway (Highway 1) across the Nullarbor Plain a total journey of 2467 Miles (3970Kms). This Transcontinental trek could be likened to US Route 66 as they are about the same distance across country but Route 66 travels inland and we will travel predominately along the coast. There are lots of opportunities for sightseeing on this route but, because we have done this trip in the YT 5 times previously and seen it all before we did not take the time for sightseeing or photography that we could have. Instead I have incorporated some links which lead to further links for those who have not seen this part of Australia so you can do your own exploring and might just give you the bug to do it yourselves!!!
On the 5th of July Barbara and I flew to Melbourne and stayed with fellow MG enthusiast and Best Man Doug Hastie and his wife Louise. The cars had arrived back from the US a few days earlier on literally a slow boat via China and because Ian and Pam had previously departed for the UK Doug would assist me by driving Ian's car back from the quarantine store. I also needed to use Doug's hoist to do some maintenance and repairs on the YT. A change of oil and filter plus repair the broken shocker pin and the leak on a rear Jackall which turned out to be only a flare nut that had mysteriously worked loose most likely because the feed pipe was not secured to the axle tube.
After spending a few more days visiting family we departed the eastern suburbs of Melbourne (Boronia) around midday and headed SW around Port Phillip Bay through Geelong and to the start of the Great Ocean Road (GOR). This is a fantastic coastal drive on a narrow twisting road with many panoramic ocean views passing through very popular beachside holiday townships and renowned surfing spots such as Bells Beach in Torquay where the Great Ocean Road starts. At Apollo bay the road goes inland and traverses the Otway Ranges then back to the coast on the west side of Cape Otway at Glenaire. Further along the coast at Port Campbell are the famous 12 Apostles which are limestone/sandstone outcrops that were originally part of the cliffs and have been eroded away over time but there are now only 8 or 9 left. Nearby is the infamous Loch Ard Gorge. Travelling further on we reached the end of the GOR near Warrnambool in the early evening. Warrnambool was our first overnight stop having covered 253miles. The GOR is only 151miles in length and was built by World War 1 returned servicemen between 1919 and 1932 as a war memorial. Follow the link above for more information on the GOR, POIs, more links and picture galleries.
Day 2 - Fleurieu Peninsula
The next day we had a quick drive around to look at Warrnambool as it has been many years since our last visit. It is quite a large town located on what is known as the shipwreck coast and thus has a very interesting maritime history. Nearby Tower Hill a crater of an extinct volcano is in use as a wild life sanctuary. We then moved on passing through Port Fairy, a lovely fishing village, and then onto Portland which is a large town also on the coast and the location of one of Alcoa's Aluminium Smelters.
Pushing on through mile after mile of relatively flat but quite picturesque rural countryside we reached the city of Mt Gambier just across the Victorian border into South Australia and famous for its volcanic lakes especially Blue Lake. On our way out of town there was some loud clunking from beneath the car over every bump. A broken exhaust bracket I thought but no, this time a shocker mounting bracket had snapped at a dodgy weld. We went back into town to the first garage because I needed to jack the car up and chock the chassis so I could then lower the rear axle to swing the telescopic shocker out of the way and remove the remaining part of the bracket. All was going smoothly then the heavens opened up and it bucketed down. Eventually the rain eased and the shocker wired to the spring we were underway.
Further on we stopped for fuel and food at Kingston, the home of the giant Lobster. We motored on and were now beside the Coorong which is an 80mile long and narrow salt/fresh water coastal lake system and wetland ecosystem that ultimately joins the even larger Lake Alexandrina at the mouth of the mighty Murray River but more on that later. For more info and photos about the Coorong follow this link.
On this stretch of road we stopped for photos of the Coorong and reversed off the road. A rather strange noise came from the car and on inspection the wire I used to tie up the shocker was not adequate and had broken. Consequently the head of the shocker had been dragging on the road and the eye was almost completely worn away. A bit of fencing wire was easily found and the shocker secured. The Coorong continues on quite some distance to the river mouth but unfortunately there is no shortcut across the river mouth or the large expanse of lakes so we headed north to Meningie on the edge of Lake Albert which also ultimately feeds into Lake Alexandrina. Because we lost so much time in Mt Gambier it was now dark and still a long way to go however because it was winter it was still early evening. The GPS was not showing any shortcuts across the Murray so we pushed on expecting to travel as far north as Tailem Bend hoping the ferry was open at night or if not even further to the main highway at Murray Bridge. Some miles short of Tailem Bend at Wellington a sign indicated to another ferry. To our delight it was open so we avoided having to travel quite some distance further north. We discussed our options of travelling on or stopping overnight at the first town with accommodation. A phone call to our hosts at Carrickalinga and it was decided to push on right around the other side of Lake Alexandrina and further south to Victor Harbour where we could pick up a road that went west across the Fleurieu Peninsula to the west coast and just south of our destination. After 450miles travelled for the day we finally arrived. Phew what a mission!!! The link to the Fleurieu Peninsula also has an interactive map to help you get your bearings and a closer look!
We stayed in Carrickalinga for 5 days as guests of friends Mike and Sue ex neighbours from Perth. They have a great pole house built on the side of a hill with large bay windows and panoramic views. We spent time looking around their farm and admiring great views out to St Vincent's Gulf and glimpses of Kangaroo Island on the horizon. Kangaroo Island has become quite popular with tourists and holiday makers and a car ferry runs frequent trips across the short distance from the bottom of the Fleurieu Peninsula at Cape Jervis.
Mike and I inspected his completely dismantled early TC and a BGT that needs lots of TLC and decided in just a few days we would not achieve very much and another project was more pressing. Mike has been replacing much of the farm fencing but had a problem with an old 44 gallon drum that had become a beehive. The drum was on its side sitting against an old fence post on the fence line and had to be moved just a few metres. The bees were accessing the drum via an open bunghole. We thought if we built a Smokey fire around the drum we could smoke the bees away for long enough to attach some chains around the drum and drag it clear with Mike's 4WD Ute. The fire was a waste of time and the only way to get near the drum was to don protective clothing. Fortunately Mike's Son Ben was down for the day and bravely volunteered. We suited him up in a pair of overalls and taped around his wrists over gloved hands and his ankles over his boots. The next trick was to protect his head and face with some shade cloth over a broad brimmed hat and tucked into his overalls around his neck. After a couple of attempts to rectify the chains slipping and the tow rope breaking the drum came free. Unfortunately the drum rolled rather than sliding and the side that was in the ground had completely rusted away exposing a big hole, a large hive and a large swarm of bees that went absolutely bananas!!! We all ran for the Ute and watched from a short distance away. We returned the next morning and the bees were still very active so decided to stay well clear for few days and Mike could return to cover the hole with an old tarp to protect the hive and hopefully calm the bees so he could continue fencing. Following this excitement we did a couple of day trips down to the bottom of the Fleurieu Peninsula and across to the East side to Victor harbour and the popular tourist spots. We also ventured further around to Goolwa to inspect one of the Murray River barrages and across the high bridge onto Hindmarsh Island to get as close as possible to the river mouth. There are quite a number of barrages across the River Murray and Lake Alexandrina to control river flow. The Murray River and its many tributaries are Australia's largest river system and the world's third longest navigable river after the Amazon and Nile. However there are many dams, locks and weirs along its length and huge amount of water used for irrigation and town water so consequently the flow at the river mouth is quite small and an ongoing problem with the river mouth silting over. Hence constant dredging and flow control via the barrages is required to protect the ecology of the Coorong and keep the river mouth open.
Following our day trips it was time I got my act together and repair the broken shocky bracket. Fortunately there was a guy who had a well equipped metal workshop in the next village who was able to make an excellent repair of the broken bracket. Also Mike was heading up to Adelaide for the day and I managed to locate a Mini specialist who had the right shocky in stock which Mike picked up for me. A couple of hours work the next morning and the YT was ready to go.
The following day we said our farewells and headed the 245 miles North to Port Augusta passing through Adelaide and further north the town of Port Pirie and its tall smelter stack hoping to find a couple we met on our respective honeymoons 44years ago. We were in luck to find them at home. However, before I could relax I had to investigate why the ammeter was fluctuating madly. I was pretty certain it was the alternator which had decided after 20 years' service and 80,000miles it had had enough. The local sparky confirmed my suspicions and we were just in time to order a replacement on the overnight truck up from Adelaide. We had a very pleasant onite stay with our friends who we only get to see when we make this trip across Australia. Next morning at the sparky's the alternator had arrived so I set about installing it. Unfortunately it was not a genuine Lucas internally regulated unit and ever so slightly larger in diameter which made it very difficult to install in an area which is not very easy to access. Finally I got it in and ran the engine to make sure it was aligned correctly and to my horror the pulley was wobbling badly. I loosened the fan belt and checked the pulley — it had been bent! I removed the alternator and showed the sparky who then checked the package it arrived in and the evidence was there that the package had been dropped.
Fortunately the sparky had a spare pulley and fitted it for me. Then I had to once again go through the drama of refitting. Finally installed the sparky checked it out to make sure all was OK. By this time it was early afternoon but we decided to make a start on the long trek ahead and get as far as possible in daylight before dusk and the risk of Kangaroos and Wombats being about! Hitting a Kangaroo at 60mph can do a huge amount of damage to your car and Wombats although low to the ground are like hitting a large rock and can do significant damage to a cars suspension or wheels. We made the 160miles to Wudinna safely and found a nice Motel for the night.
For you explorers you will find Port Augusta an interesting place. It sits at the very top of Spencers Gulf and is known as the cross road of Australia. All rail and road traffic heading east to west from as far away as Sydney to Perth or north to south from Adelaide to Alice Springs and Darwin passes through Pt Augusta. The Indian Pacific and The Ghan Railways do so as do the Eyre and Stuart Highways. It is also the starting point to access the opal fields of Coober Pedy and the famous Flinders Ranges and Wilpena Pound. Pt Augusta is also a major base for the Royal Flying Doctor Service RFDS and the School of the Air which both service remote areas of outback Australia.
The next morning we made a relatively early start after breakfast intending to just cruise along at around 60mph and see how far we could get. Unfortunately about half way to Ceduna, the next major town, the car started to misbehave, losing power, getting hot and coughing similar to fuel starvation. I made all the normal checks and all seemed to be ok however, I noticed the air cleaner was pretty well coated with muck so removed it and discovered it was almost completely blocked and so deteriorated that I could not refit it. I have had this problem before with the rubber casing on K&N filter elements being affected by oil fumes from the breather. With the filter removed the car appeared to run ok and we made it to Ceduna. I stopped at a farm machinery and auto spares shop but could not get a spare filter element that would fit so we refuelled and pushed on. We stopped at Penong and Nundroo to top up with fuel. With such a small fuel tank in the Y it pays to keep topping up because you cannot be sure you will get fuel at all towns or road houses which are miles apart anyway. As it turned out this was a wise move because the next town of Yatala no longer sells fuel. This is an Aboriginal settlement and the fuel stop was so dilapidated it had been condemned and closed down. No problem we had enough fuel and a spare 5litres in the boot. We were now on the Nullarbor Plain, Latin for treeless plain (Null — Arbor) and just short of Nullarbor Road House our next fuel stop the car had another coughing fit. We spluttered in and I proceeded to do more checks. Again nothing obvious but I decided to replace the fuel filter even though it looked clear. I am now beginning to think we must have got some water contaminated fuel back at Wudinna. After refuelling the car ran OK and we headed off. Approaching Eucla we had a flat rear tyre so had to fit my space saver spare but had to put the road wheel on top of our luggage in the back seat as the road wheels are too fat to fit into the spare wheel compartment. We did not have to travel far when we reached Border Village and the quarantine inspection station. To protect against the migration of pests you are not allowed to take fruit, plants and even honey across the border into Western Australia. The lady at the quarantine station was quite chatty so we asked her where was the best place to stay, Boarder Village or Eucla just a little further on. She suggested Eucla which is where there was an RAC mechanic who could repair the tyre. However, she knew that the mechanic was out of town until tomorrow evening — Bugger! How did she know? Well it turns out the mechanic was her husband and she very obligingly said we could call around in the morning, not before 8am, and she would let us use his tyre levers etc. to replace the tube. We booked into the Eucla Road House after quite an eventful day and 445 miles. Eucla has some interesting history because it is the location of one of the original west to east overland telegraph stations.
The next morning she was expecting us so we removed the tyre and tube. She noted I was having difficulty refitting the tyre and unbeknown to me she rang her husband's mate to come and give me a hand. Well he was a real character and had just returned from a night of rabbit shooting and skinning and gutting his catch. He was literally covered in blood and guts especially his boots but soon had the tyre back on the rim. With the tyre repaired we set about refitting the wheel which meant putting the rear wheel back on the front and the repaired wheel back on the rear and the spare back into its compartment but not a difficult task with the car up on all four Jackall. By then the shooter returned to inspect progress and smelt much better after a shower and change of clothes. He was very interested in the YT and marvelled at the jacking system.
Now mid-morning we thanked our assistants and headed for as far as we could get. We are now well on our way across the Nullarbor Plain. The Eyre Highway traverses the plain which is around 1200km (750miles) or so and hugs the Great Australian Bight. At times you are very close to the coast, only a few hundred metres in places, but rarely see the Southern Ocean from the road because the road is on a plateau atop 200ft cliffs. Many travellers claim the road to be flat and boring and to be fair it is rather devoid of scenery (no trees) but the road does undulate in places to break the monotony and gives panoramic views of what's ahead-not a lot! The Nullarbor Plain has some very interesting history as well as many vantage points to do some whale watching from the cliffs, extensive cave systems for experienced cavers, you can also play the Nullarbor Links the longest 18 hole par 72 golf course in the world which extends for 1365km from Kalgoorlie to Ceduna and you never know you may also see the Nullarbor Nymph!!! Also along this part of the Eyre Highway are numerous sections of road with landing strip markings (Piano Keys) so that the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) can land and pick seriously injured/sick patients. There are no medical facilities for hundreds of miles. Some additional interesting info can be seen on the above links!
As yet I have not mentioned the condition of the Eyre Highway itself. The Highway is now fully sealed and the surface is predominantly very good and well maintained even though there are still quite a number of road trains passing over it every day. Most goods are nowadays transported by rail. It has been realigned here and there over the years and resurfaced a number of times to maintain the quality. The Sth Australian (Eastern) section of the road is a red oxide colour because of iron aggregate used in the bitumen and the Western Australian side is a light grey colour, both very easy on the eye for all day driving. It is certainly a vast improvement to what I recall as a young teenager back in the late 50's when it was a very rough series of dirt tracks all the way from Norseman to Iron Knob (1600km/1000mi) and took at least 3 days because of the slow speed you had to travel to avoid driving into bulldust holes. Bulldust holes were sections of track that could be badly broken up or scoured and very rough, but they were often full of dust so it was very difficult to detect if they were sound track or deep ruts submerged in dust until you ran into them. Any areas that look suspicious you had to drive around and hence one track was often a series of tracks where cars had driven around to avoid them. If you did run into a bad bulldust hole too fast it was almost certain to result in suspension damage. Either way whether a bulldust hole was rough or not you were showered in dust like a huge flour bomb. The dust is so fine it would penetrate even well sealed cars; it was almost like breathing in thick smoke. We were travelling in a '51 Rover 75 (Cyclops model) which handled the trip very well apart from being poorly sealed consequently we were covered in dust by the end of each day. We met up with a guy driving an Austin Healey would you believe and towing a small trailer so you can imagine how dusty he was, the only clean part of him was his eyes when he removed his goggles! He was travelling very slowly because he had broken a wheel on the trailer and was using a bough of tree as a skid! There are numerous signs enroute warning of animals such cattle, emus, kangaroos, wombats and camels but these are not often seen during the day but can be a hazard driving at night. Large eagles can also be seen, particularly if there is road kill to feed on, these are magnificent birds. Some of you will be surprised that there are thousands of camels in Australia; these were imported by early explorers because they were far better than horses for long treks without water. The camels either escaped or were set loose when no longer required and bred to large numbers. They are now being exported back to the Middle East because they are far better quality than native stock! The Ghan Railway which runs from Adelaide to Darwin gets its name from the Afghan camel drivers who came with the camels.
Shortly after our overnight stop at Eucla the road drops down an escarpment (Eucla Pass) off the Nullarbor plateau to a coastal plain (Roe Plain) for 112miles, 180km before climbing again at Madura Pass and at last some trees! We continued on across the Roe Plain with the escarpment on our right which was a bit of a change from an endless horizon, stopping for a comfort stop and a fuel top up at most road houses until eventually reaching Caiguna back on the Plateau. Caiguna is the start or finish, depending on whether you are travelling East or West, of the 90mile (146km) straight, reputably the longest straight bit of sealed road in the World but certainly is in Australia. You really do not notice you are on a long straight road because there are so many very long straight sections along the Eyre Highway. Some distance to the Northeast the Indian Pacific Railway passes along a 297mile (478km) section of straight track believed to be the longest in the world. The day was coming to a close with an ever changing beautiful sunset but not so pleasant when you are driving straight at it. We eventually found the bend in the road and a few miles further on we reached Balladonia for our welcome overnight stop after 328miles (528km) for the day after a late start. Balladonia became quite well known In July 1979 when large sections of the Skylab space station fell nearby after re-entry.
The next morning we rose early to attempt to make the final 583mile (938km) trek home. It was cold and very misty when we got going and after a while we caught up to a Double B road train. We then hung onto his tail and slipstreamed him the rest of the way into Norseman even though he signalled for us to pass him a number of times. He also pulled in at Norseman Road House so I went over and thanked for the tow. He said he realised after a while that we were slipstreaming. As it turned out it was a waste of time because we did not save any fuel but it certainly was quieter with less wind noise!!!
After refuelling the car and us at Norseman we headed the 105miles north to Coolgardie. However, there is a short cut because Perth is basically due East of Norseman but unfortunately it is a only a poorly maintained 4WD dirt track which is a shame because it would have taken 230miles 370km off our journey as the crow flies. We motored on thinking about all those extra miles we had to do and approximately half way to Coolgardie the car decided to have one of its coughing fits. As a last resort I changed the coil but no improvement. The only thing to do was to baby the car in a low gear until it cleared. This is what I had done previously with success and it usually did not take that long. We arrived in Coolgardie and refuelled and pushed on to the next town Southern Cross 117 miles further on. This is the third stretch of over 100miles with no towns on route for the day. We reached Southern Cross and refuelled. The plan from here was to push on the next 67miles to Merredin before dark and refuel as this was probably the last fuel stop we needed to get home and many petrol stations are not 24hr in the small towns ahead.
Before I go on - this part of WA from Southern Cross to Kalgoorlie and further to the north and south is known as the Eastern Goldfields. This region is very famous for the gold rush back in 1890's and a little later a 600km pipeline was built to take water from Mundaring dam just out of Perth all the way to Kalgoorlie and the towns on the way and is still in service. The water had to be pumped all this distance and back then required numerous wood fired steam boilers to drive the pumps. A very young Herbert Hoover, 31st President of the USA, lined his pockets with gold at the Sons of Gwalia mine to the north in Leonora. Kalgoorlie is a great tourist town of around 30k people and an inspection of the "Super Pit" open cut that has engulfed many old shafts is a must see.
We reached Merredin just on dusk and refuelled for the last 174miles 280kms home. We passed through a number of small towns including Meckering where at 10:59 am on 14 October 1968, a 40-second earthquake measuring 6.9 on the Richter Scale destroyed the town. To this day you can still see the raised ground across the paddocks. We were now making good use of the YT's modern Halogen bulb conversion and pair of 100watt driving lights but even so we kept the speed down because you just never know when a kangaroo might jump out in front. Because we did not need fuel we were able to use the bypass around Northam and very soon we had made it through the Perth Hills and were rolling against the engine all the way down the escarpment into Perth's Eastern suburbs. We turned right onto the Reid Highway which virtually goes all the way to the coast and the main feeder to the Northern Suburbs and just near our home. The car had not missed a beat since the morning episode, but about 2miles from home the engine started to miss and gradually got worse. I nursed the car along, no point in stopping now and we made it into the driveway where with one last gasp the YT died!
Some days later I drained the fuel tank and dropped it from the chassis and there was some water present as well as some in the fuel filter so obviously every now and then a gulp of water was getting to the carby and giving us the problem. The YT or alias Bugsy (with hood up we think the YT looks like a gangsters car hence Bugsy Malone Machine) has now done over 80,000miles since its rebuild in 1992. With multiple crossings across Australia including its maiden voyage to Tasmania in '92, UK and Europe 2003 10,000miles, Eastern States USA 2012 4000miles - Where to next????
Richo YT 3208