The Big Lap - Memories of our trip around Australia 1975

Journey                 # 1

Dave having a wander at Coffs Harbour. A cosy camper for four people

Beryl and I married in Sydney in 1973. At that time all our friends were travelling overseas for their adventures, but we decided that we would like to see our own country first, so in 1975, we bought a V8 Holden ute and a Millard pick up camper, both new, and geared up for the trip of a lifetime.
We saved hard and both got second jobs, with Beryl lasting a lot longer at hers than I did. The day finally came, with Beryl finishing up at work and me accessing leave without pay for 7 months.

Beryl, holding a small wombat at Coffs.

Coffs Harbour

In March 1975, we took our good friends, Dave and Jenny along on the first leg of the journey to Coffs Harbour and stayed for a week, as they had never been out of Sydney since emigrating from the U.K. We all stayed in the tiny shoebox that was the camper. Seems inconceivable, to do that in this day and age, but it was fine back then. We dropped them off at the railway station and continued our journey north.

Klaus, annoying the wildlife at Coffs

We picked grapes for a week. I seem to be getting a bit hairy

Our next stop was not too far along, as we needed money to keep going. We got a job at a farm in Stanthorpe, picking table grapes. It was long, hard work, from before sunrise to sunset. We lasted a week before packing it in.

Beryl has nice grapes

The van nicely settled in at Cool Waters Caravan Park, Yepoon

Is that a dream boat on Daydream Island

Whitsunday Islands

Next we stopped at Yepoon for a week or so and then on, into Queensland. We stopped at Shute Harbour where we enjoyed touring around the islands, such as South Molle, Hayman, Daydream and Hook islands. We thoroughly enjoyed the tropical islands and surrounding areas, but it was time to move on.

South Molle Island

Snorkeling on Green Island, out of Cairns

Cairns - Gateway to the Tropical North

We drove a little way north of Cairns and stayed in a lovely little caravan park at Palm Cove. There was not much there and the empty beaches, coconut palms and idyllic weather was fantastic. We did a lot of sightseeing around the area, travelling to the Atherton Tableland, Milla Milla Falls, the Curtain Fig, Kuranda, Crystal Falls, Barron Falls, Crater Lakes etc.

Barron Falls, near Kuranda

There were not too many crowds back then and the sites didn't seem to be too far apart. Re-visiting the area a few years back, we saw no resemblance to what we remembered. The sights we had seen in 1975, were a long way out of Cairns, highly commercialised and redeveloped. A sign of progress, but a paradise lost. Palm Cove was unrecognisable, with ocean front high rise and staggering commercialisation.

Game Fishing boat, Avalon, was actor Lee Marvin's ride of choice back then

Milla Milla Falls is 100klm SSW of Cairns. Seemed a lot closer back in '75

We counted ourselves very fortunate to have seen and experienced the area while it seemed to us, to be relatively untouched and pristine back then.
All too soon, it was time to move on as our funds had dried up and I figured we may get to see Alice Springs and as it was then known as, Ayres Rock, before we declared bankruptcy.

Into the West

Beryl thinking about what we have just left

I can't recall exactly, but we more than likely headed off south again towards Townsville and then across the Flinders Highway to Mt Isa. There were many hours of barren countryside and straight roads before the chimney stacks of Isa came into view. We stayed for a day or two and did the mine tour before continuing on. Tennant Creek was a rough and tumble town back then and we kept driving south to overnight at the Devils Marbles. Very few vehicles on the roads back then and in the dead quiet of the night we heard a corroboree taking place somewhere in the distance. Very primeval. No-one came and bothered us and we never saw another person anywhere in the vicinity.

and me thinking about where we are heading. The dead cow didn't impress me much

Alice Springs

Arriving in Alice, we booked in to the Wintersun Caravan Park and set about exploring the town. The van park was opposite the Charles River, which was a sandy bed with absolutely no water anywhere in sight. Quickly made friends with fellow travellers and we often went for a barbeque to the old Telegraph Station, which had lovely green grass to sit on.

The John Flynn Memorial Church had a road out the front in '75. Nowadays it is tucked down a mall

Our bank balance looked pretty dire at this stage and I thought we may have to call parents to arrange a loan so that we could make it back to Sydney, but a couple (who remain life long friends) suggested that I try for work with a local construction company who were building the hospital. I did that and in no time at all, secured a job as a builders labourer. Beryl got a job in the local Eager Beaver supermarket, so we were back in business.

Heading back to Alice, from Glen Helen Gorge. All dirt roads back then

We stayed in Alice for 3 months and never got close to seeing all the things that were there to see. We visited most of the gorges, Palm Valley and Ayres Rock. We didn't get to see Kings Canyon, as the centre was inundated with heavy rain over the long week end that we had planned to go. Our friends Neil and Anne had kindly loaned us their 4wd for the trip, but we couldn't get out of Alice. No sealed roads back then, apart from the Stuart Hwy and town roads. We decided that time was running out for our trip, as I had only secured 7 months leave from work, so we said our goodbyes and packed our gear to continue the journey.

Glen Helen Gorge. Nowadays there is an Eco Camping area and lots of tourist comforting development. Give me the old days

Anne and Neil had also decided to leave and were going to travel with us. Anne had just given birth to a tiny daughter and we headed off when she was just 4 weeks old. We headed north towards Darwin and finally got to Katherine where we booked into a park for a few days.

The road in to Palm Valley required a 4wd

My neighbour let me ride his dirt bike in the paddock across the road from the van park, anytime I liked. I liked a lot.

Ayres Rock as it was known then, as the sun is setting

View from near the top

Right at the top. Climbing the rock is not encouraged these days, but back then it was the thing to do.

Drag racing was well organised on the Stuart Hwy, south of Alice. Spotters would call on the 2 way if a car was coming. Far and few between, unlike the traffic of today

On Christmas Eve 1974, Darwin was hit by cyclone Tracy and we decided to head up there to see the town. It had only just been opened up to non resident visitors a week or so previously, so off we headed for an overnight trip. When we left Katherine, we had to drive along the railway line bridge to get across the river, as the road bridge was closed. Very bumpy. Darwin was a mess with massive damage and there was no use trying to find somewhere to stay for the night, so after a quick drive through town, we headed back. Crossed the railway bridge again in the dark and that was not fun. The river was up and raging below us, but we were 23m high and safe from the torrent. I recall walking down the track to the river behind the van park and seeing two massive barramundi floating under the pandanus trees.

The annual Camel Races are well patronised and a bit of fun

I tossed several lures at them in an attempt to elicit a strike, but after about ten attempts, they swam deep and out of sight. I walked up to a small cascade and hooked a small sooty grunter which was going to go back in as a live bait. Back to the pandanus grove and I tossed the bait to where I had last seen the barra. Well, it no sooner hit the water than the rod bucked over and line tore off the reel in a whine as the hooked barramundi raced upstream. The line went slack and I realised the fish was racing back towards me, so I wound in the slack line as fast as possible and got tension again as the fish was opposite me. It leapt out of the water shaking its head and the bait and hook came flying back towards me, narrowly missing my head.

We have left Alice and this is the van park at Katherine, where we stayed for a few days

The brief hookup left me shaking and no doubt the barra was having a chuckle at my expense as well. I went back to the van to tell about the one that got away. Leaving Katherine, we drove along the Victoria Highway, visiting places like Kununurra, Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing, where we stayed for a couple of days, enjoying Geikie Gorge. Most of the outback roads we had travelled to date, were sealed bitumen, albeit only single lane with wide runoffs. Not far out of Halls Creek, we hit rough, corrugated gravel and sitting on 90kph to even out the bumps, I heard a loud bang and a second later another one. The ute swayed a bit but pulled up pretty straight. A double rear tyre blowout and me with only one spare. I drove about 30m off the 'highway' and decided that I needed to fit tubes as the tubeless tyres didn't appear to be damaged, having blown the inflator tube out of the rims.

Most of Darwin looked like this, even 8 months after cyclone Tracy devastated the town

Beryl had to stay with the car and van, but was adequately protected with a machete and a rimfire .22 rifle. I don't think she had ever used either, but she felt a bit more secure in the knowledge they were there. Silly really, but that's how it was. A car came along shortly after and I struggled into the crowded family sedan to get a lift to Fitzroy Crossing, some 100klm down the road. They dropped me into town and headed on their way. I made my way to the only service station in town only to find it closed, so the next stop was the pub, which was packed to the rafters with locals. They had a sort of general store section there and I asked the girl if there was a place in town which would fix a tyre.

I really think this old FJ Holden was set up in the tree, but the wet season does bring on heavy flooding. Near Geikie Gorge

Her reply was, 'you're in the Kimberley mate, fix your own'. I bought a tube and walked the couple of klms back out to the highway. Waited in the hot sun for several hours, with not a single car in sight. Eventually a 4wd came from the direction of town and enquired what I was doing. After a short explanation, the kind man drove me all the way back to my car and my lovely wife, who was relieved to see me, as it was getting close to sundown and I had been gone all day. Beryl said she had seen three cars the entire day and all had stopped to ask if she was ok or needed assistance.

The boat tour on Geike Gorge was well worth doing and had stunning scenery

Incredible to see the difference these days, where you would see a car every 15 minutes on the same stretch of road.After a while, Neil and Anne caught us up and we got to fixing the tyre and fitting the tube. Breaking the bead on the rim was achieved by driving Neil's Landcruiser onto the tyre and the tube was fitted. A hand pump soon had it inflated, but as I was releasing the pump hose clip, the entire valve stem pulled out of the tube and we were back at square one. The rubber tube was so old, that it was perished. Back in to Fitzroy Crossing to get another one, making sure it wasn't perished as well. No good asking for my money back on the first one, as we would have been flogged and tossed out on our ear. Repeated the performance on the wheel again, in the dark, and all was well for the next day.

Freshwater crocodile sliding off the bank, into the reflections

I was amazed at the bottle dump behind the pub, as it was at least 5m high with many thousands of bottles. There would be some good finds for bottle collectors in that pile. Geikie Gorge was beautiful and we all took the boat tour to see the grandeur. Swam in the clear fresh water and saw some big Johnstone Crocodiles, a couple of which had us leaving the water in fear of our safety. The showers in the caravan park consisted of a large tank of water which was filled straight from the river. A tin shed and no modern conveniences such as hot water in that place at that time, but we thoroughly enjoyed it.

South in the West

The highway across to Broome was a bit corrugated but in good condition

From Geikie Gorge, we continued on westwards to Broome. We stayed there for several days and just relaxed. The tide differences were quite unbelievable, with some 8 metres between high and low. I caught some big fish off the jetty and saw some monsters break lines. It was strange to experience the town shut down for a 'siesta' in the middle of the day. We also ran into the family who had stopped to give me a lift into Fitzroy Crossing, but they were in a hurry to continue on as they had a timetable to travel right around Australia in four weeks.

Car needs a wash and some numberplates

Caravans do come to grief if they don't travel to the conditions. This was one of several we came across on the highway. Total loss

Pearling Lugger at Broome

From Broome, we next made for Port Hedland. The long stretch of Eighty Mile Beach was corrugated dirt road and we decided to pull in behind a sand dune for the night, close to Sandfire Flat Roadhouse. It was pitch black with no moon and as we sat inside the camper, which was sitting on the back of the ute, we could hear heavy breathing outside the window. We decided to jump out of the camper, run around to the car, leave this spot and pull in to the roadhouse to wait for Neil and Anne to catch up. Not that we were scared to stay behind the dune. Later, we both came to the conclusion that it was either a camel or a donkey that we had heard. On arriving at Port Hedland, we couldn't find a spot in a caravan Park, so drove out of town and pulled up in the bush to stay for the night. We did pay to go and use the showers in a caravan park though.

A waterhole we swam in at Carnarvon. We were told it was croc free but these days, I would have a walk around and check for myself

Next stop was Carnarvon, where we stayed for a few days. Beryl and I went out to a remote lagoon, where we had a swim and a picnic. We were assured that there were no crocodiles in there, but on reflection I would do a walk around to check for sign these days. We took our leave of Neil, Anne and the kids. Neil was taking on a position there and it was a sad time to be continuing on without them.

We said our farewells to Anne and Neil, who were staying at Carnarvon to work.

All too soon we were in Perth. Kings Park

Perth was the next destination for us after stopping at many places in between. Western Australia is a large state. We caught up with Beryl's friend Christine and her new baby, in Perth and spent a lovely day in Kings Park. We also caught up with Shelley, a friend from my church in Sydney, who was now living in the Perth suburb of Como. Time was slipping by quickly now and we needed to continue on.

Beryl being shy at having her picture taken

Here I am halfway up the Gloucester Tree, at Pemberton W.A.

We drove down through Bunbury, Busselton, Margaret River, Pemberton and Denmark before our next few days stop at Albany. The whaling station was still operational at that time and we headed out to have a look. The inky black water looked very ominous and we could see shark fins cruising around through the bloody waters. There were a number of whale carcasses hitched up to moorings off shore and they were ferried in to the slip way where a winch dragged them up and the flensers got busy cutting up the huge mammals. It is a good thing that the industry is now closed down in Australia, because even back then there were alternatives for the products obtained from the whales. It was a smelly, bloody and depressing place but worth experiencing the history of the country.

Whaling was still underway at Albany and many dead whales were tied to floating moorings in the bay.

Seemed totally unecessary even back then, as substitute products were readily available

The Flensers made short work of the Sperm Whale. The smell and sights were very horrible

Whale blubber getting ready to drop into boilers, where oil and other by products are produced

The Natural Bridge, Albany, looks like it may drop into the ocean any time.

This old Water Wheel was originally built to pump water from the local spring to the houses of the lighthouse keepers. Calcium deposits and algaes have covered it up

Farewell to W.A. Leaving Cape Leeuwin. Time for a haircut and shave
Eastwards and Home

The Nullabour Hwy for want of a better term. It rained half way across and our front suspension collapsed. Repaired in quick time by a truckdriver who had the skills and parts

After taking in the sights of Albany, it was a quick trip back east. We drove the Nullabour for around 750klms and a large portion of it was horrendous, potholed, corrugated gravel road. To make matters worse, we could see the new tarred highway off to our left, but it hadn't been opened at that stage and the rain was pouring down. The steering failed after one bad section and I saw that the wheel and suspension was canted over. A bolt holding the wishbone assembly onto the chassis had apparently snapped. I walked back on our track and picked up about six metal spacers, some washers and whatever I could find and then wondered what we were going to do. We were in the middle of nowhere and cars were far and few between. A road train came up behind us and the truckie took a look at the damage.

Great Australian Bight

A lonely ruin coming in to South Australia

Fifteen minutes later, a new bolt was put in, along with all the shims I could find in the mud and we were underway again. When I got back to Sydney, I had a wheel alignment done and it was perfect, so it seems that all the shims were replaced correctly. Thanks to the truckie who helped us out so quickly and efficiently without leaving his name. We hit Adelaide and stayed for a night or two around Glenelg and continued on towards Sydney. It was go go go to get home, as I was due to get back to work. We by-passed Melbourne and before we knew it, the tour was over. It wasn't too long afterwards though, that we bought a brand new 16ft Viscount caravan, with intentions to take off again for a much longer period.

Eden, NSW. Next stop home

Plans don't always come together though and a knock on the door by two Police had me a bit nervous. I had applied to join the Police Force a year or so prior to going on our trip, and they were there to inform me that my application was successful. Twenty two years later, I retired and now it is time to revisit some of those places we had seen in 1975.



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