This page is dedicated to my dear late mother who kept my letters and postcards of this trip for many years.
1966 was a world away from today. Australia, with a population of only about 11.5 million, was a simpler and in many ways a more innocent society. The Menzies era had just finished and Harold Holt was PM, with Bob Askin as NSW Premier. Decimal currency had been adopted in February but full metrification was still a few years away. In Sydney the St George Dragons had just won the 11th straight premiership and Galilee won the Melbourne Cup. Popular music ranged from the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, the Mamas and the Papas to Frank Sinatra and Her Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. On television we watched such shows as the Ed Sullivan Show, Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, Bonanza and My Three Sons.
The trip itself, between Saturday 10th and Thursday 22nd of December, was undertaken with one of my best mates, Ian. We were both part-time civil engineering students and had just finished our second year exams. The trip was planned as a low budget sight-seeing expedition to places most of which we had now been to before and with a timetable to get us back to Sydney before Christmas. Our transport was a second hand Mini Cooper that Ian shared with his brother.
The letters and cards are mostly as written, or transcribed with only minimal, mostly grammatical, changes. I would hope that my writing style and description have improved since those days, but the purpose was merely to keep in touch with parents, reassuring them of our safety and also giving them some idea of our adventures.
LETTERS AND POSTCARDS
Mildura, Sunday night
Well, we arrived safely at Mildura in Victoria. Tomorrow we plan to cross back into NSW to Dareton to see the Water Conservation and Irrigation Commission installations there. This is because of Mr. S who is a high ranking officer of the Commission. Through Mr. S we were also given a really thorough guided tour of Wyangla Dam [under construction] by two of the site civil engineers. Wyangla Dam, in case you wondered is on the Lachlan River, about ten miles upstream of Cowra. I took a few snaps of the dam so you’ll be able to see them when (and if) we get back.
We arrived at Wyangla Dam about 10am and after lunch and the inspection, we left about 4pm and drove to West Wyalong (362 miles from Sydney – as we travelled) where we “dined” and slept.
Today we drove continuously (but not hard) for 345 miles to Mildura, where we will be sleeping under the approach of a road-bridge across the Murray River (we were afraid it might rain), We didn’t have much luck with our food tonight because we bought it at a cafe instead of cooking it ourselves. Ian ordered two plain hamburgers and got a plain piece of kangaroo meat (so he reckoned) between two slices of buttered toast, and nothing else. I ordered some fish and chips and got a piece of fish which I finished off in three mouthfuls and some chips, three quarters of which were made from unpeeled potatoes and all of which tasted about a week old. So, we’ve decided to cook for ourselves in future.
As I said before, we will be going to Dareton tomorrow morning, then come back here to look Mildura over properly, since there isn’t much doing of a Sunday night. Then we shall push on to about Renmark (SA) to sleep the night. On Tuesday we plan to look over the Barossa (hic) Valley and reach Adelaide by nightfall.
The car is really going well apart from the collisions; with two birds (sob! sob!) and thousands of grasshoppers which mess up the grill and windscreen.
This afternoon we showered and changed at Buronga which is not far from Mildura, in fact it is just across the border. Since it was our first [shower] in two days it was quite welcome, especially since out on the road today the temperature was well into the nineties and no shade anywhere. There weren’t any trees, or such of sufficient size, just red dirt and grass, The road however has been surprisingly good even the dirt stretch between Wyangla Dam and Cowra which was terrifically smooth. The only part worth complaining about has been the last 30 miles of so.
The money at this stage looks fairly good but we haven’t hit the big cities yet, however the 36 films on the roll are disappearing fast and I might have to pay out $6 for another.
Well, its 10pm by my watch, which is Sydney time because I haven’t adjusted it, and I’m feeling a mite weary after the long trip today, so I think I’ll slip into my sleeping bag, which by the way is not bad. All my love to you, Dad and the kids, and I’ll be writing the next chapter of my travels in a day or two.
Your loving son, Rowan
P.S. By the speedometer we have covered 731 miles to date
P.P.S. The ice-box still leaks
This is where we spent yesterday afternoon. I don’t think any further explanation is necessary.
Although I tried, I couldn’t get any free wine (i.e. your Christmas present).
We reached Adelaide about 6pm yesterday after driving from Renmark and stopping off at the Barossa Valley in the afternoon. We showered at an Olympic Pool (for 20cents) and had a take-away Chinese dinner. We slept at a camping area at the foot of the hills behind Adelaide and left without paying in the morning when we couldn’t raise anyone at the office – so we had cheap accommodation. We spent the day driving all around Adelaide. It is only a fairly small city but a very beautiful one as you will see from these views.
I can see I won’t fit everything on this card so I’ll continue in Rhonda’s letter.
Somewhere outside Adelaide
We’re camped about 30 miles south of Adelaide tonight. We were headed for a camping area mentioned in the NRMA camping guide, however when we got there we found it was a run-down old place, miles from anywhere and way off our course, so we decided to push on. We eventually came across a clearing in a small valley by a creek and by a not well-used secondary road. It turned out to be just what the doctor ordered. We have strung a rope from a tree to the Mini and have laid the tarpaulin over it to give a first rate shelter.
For tea tonight we had braised steak and vegetables on toast with coffee and for sweets we had cling-stone peaches. The peaches came from a tin (about ¾ gallon at least) that we bought from a cannery at Berri. We also had some peaches for breakfast – in fact that is all we had – about half the can, that’s all, and there is still plenty left.
I should have taken your advice about the spaghetti. Ian brought some and it is just the thing for breakfast. We’ll be having some tomorrow morning if it doesn’t rain and wet the firewood.
The sleeping bag is tremendous! It is really warm, so much so that with it and my shorty pyjamas I have been quite warm enough. Thanks again it was a beaut Christmas present.
We went to the drive-in last night at West Beach, a suburb of Adelaide, and it took us so long to get there that we were twenty minutes late. The trouble was that we couldn’t find the place. We stopped and asked about half a dozen people and got different directions each time. At last we turned a corner to ask another bloke for directions and we almost ran straight into it. The funny thing about the deal was that we both slept through most of the second show.
Adelaide is a beautiful city with fantastic streets and highways, When we arrived yesterday afternoon by one of the main highways into the city, the speed limit 8 miles from the GPO was 55 mph and 6 miles out it changed from 45 mph to 35 mph. This was because the highway was three lanes each way with a median strip about the same size as each roadway. It was a real pleasure to drive on. The road to Melbourne through the hills starts off the same as this also, and in some places you lose sight of the traffic in the opposite direction.
Today we visited Mt. Lofty at the back of Adelaide and got a good view of the city through the fog. We later went down to the sea to Glenelg and Port Adelaide, and then had lunch in a park on the outskirts of Adelaide before looking over the city in the afternoon.
Well, it is getting pretty late, Ian has finished his letters and he wants to put the light out and go to sleep. So I’ll say cheerio until next time.
Give my love to everyone.
Your loving son, Rowan
As you can see from the folder [postcard photos] we have reached Mt. Gambia and are staying at Queen Elizabeth Park, a camping reserve situated just above the lakes you will see on the back. It is a really fabulous place and the perfect place for a holiday, being so peaceful and beautiful. The lakes appear to have formed in extinct volcano craters. The Blue Lake is in one crater and is really a marvellous sight, while Brown Lake and Valley Lake in a separate crater appear to be a kind if dream world or paradise. It is really too hard to describe, you simply must see it to appreciate it. The reserve is extremely good too, with all the facilities that anyone would require. We showered and did our washing before tea tonight in the showers and laundry provided. I’m sure if you saw us you would be very proud of us and our home duties. It was also rather cheap too at only 70 cents for the night.
Ian and I both agree that the country we travelled through today was the most desolate and uninviting so far. This was along the road between Adelaide and Mt. Gambia or really Lake Alexandrina and Mt. Gambia. The whole of the distance was in the swampy salt-lake region and we both slept while we weren’t driving. I made an error above – the swampy country ended at about Millicent which is 30 miles from Mt. Gambia. The road between these places was bordered for most of the way by State Forests of tall green pine trees. It was really a pleasant change to the country we had just come through.
We have been told that the coast between here and Melbourne is worth seeing, so for the next couple of days we will be making our way slowly along it and we intend to spend almost the whole weekend in Melbourne before starting home through Albury, Wagga and Canberra. We are going to drop in and see [friend] Rob B at Wagga on Tuesday night if all goes well, and after staying there the night push on to Tumut to see one of Ian’s friends. We plan to spend that night outside Canberra and look over Canberra all Thursday and arrive home late Thursday night (so leave the door unlocked).
We are camped the same as last night with a rope slung between the Mini and a tree with the tarpaulin over it. This has proved to be the best arrangement apart from bridges. As you can well imagine the Mini is quite a mess. Outside it is covered with mud and dust and insects, while inside there are bags and suitcases and clothes all over then place. We have become used to hunting for everything and anyway to us it is home sweet home, temporarily at least.
This morning as we were finishing breakfast (about 9am) over an open fire, two council workmen drove up and proceeded to erect a sign which read ‘The lighting of fires is prohibited from 15th December to April”. It seemed very funny to us at the time.
I have just finished a short note to Ma with a little news and to tell her she’s not forgotten. This goes for you and the family too.
We’re camped tonight at a small town called Port Campbell which is about 40 miles the Melbourne side of Warrnambool. It is only very small with a few hundred or so inhabitants, but we decided to stay here rather than not finding a camp site.
We are well over halfway now having covered 1,650 miles of the estimated 2,600. Also the money has passed halfway stage and we are both trying to guess how far it will last. I ran out of film today and I don’t know whether I can afford a new one. The scenery is terrific along the Victorian coast so I suppose I’ll buy another film and go without food.
We should be somewhere around Geelong – Melbourne tomorrow night – will write.
Well, tonight we’re staying at a camping area on the bank of the Barwon River at Geelong. It is by far the best camping grounds we’ve stayed at so far and not much dearer either.
Today we only travelled about 150 miles mainly because of a late start (10 o’clock) and our sight-seeing diversions along the way. We really passed through some beautiful country today. First there was the coast, which extended 20 miles east of Port Campbell before we left it when the road turned inland. The next 40 miles were really beautiful. The road we followed was called the Great Ocean Road and although it is supposed to be a major road it was of a dirt-gravel surface, but very good. It was extremely windy, so much so that so that it was almost impossible to average more than 30 mph. The country was very hilly and a real lush green.
Geelong like most of the cities in South Australia and Victoria has very wide streets. Even with angle parking there is still enough room for a four lane street. This is not only the main street but all of the streets in the central city area.
One thing we have noticed so far on our trip is a marked lack of “cops”, and now we hope we don’t see any because we have developed car trouble, specifically muffler trouble. On one of our sight-seeing diversions we hit bump and the exhaust pipe broke. The Mini now sounds as if it has been “hotted-up”.
Last night we ran into a bloke from Melbourne and his wife. He was a Senior Lecturer at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and he gave us a page full of contacts and place to see in Melbourne. He also arranged for us to stay with his son for the night, so we now have no worries about that.
There is no use asking how you all are at home, since you can’t tell me, but I just hope that you are well. Ian has come back from the shower just now, and it is my turn to go, before they turn the lights off. Until next time…
Lots of love, Rowan
Somewhere north of Melbourne
We ended up at camping ground last night and we were very comfortable until about 7:30 in the morning when it started to rain. It wasn’t long before the tarpaulin was saturated and we had to scramble to the car with our sleeping bags, rugs, ground sheets, etc. We were also drenched but could still laugh about it.
Yesterday we spent some time in a large park on the south side of the Yarra River. It is Melbourne equivalent of Hyde Park only larger and I think a little more beautiful. In the park there is the Myer Music Bowl and the Memorial Shrine to the First World War.
We had breakfast at a small snack bar in town opposite Melbourne’s main railway station, Flinders Street Station. I had a large dish of fruit salad, scrambled eggs and a cup of coffee for 65 cents.
I hope you will excuse the writing but it is a little difficult writing going along in the car. The last milestone read 56 miles to [or from] Melbourne. It is 6 o’clock, we are hungry and it won’t be long before we will be making camp for the night. We’ll probably be sleeping under the stars tonight so as to give the tarpaulin a chance to dry. The weather is still fine now so I think we’ll be alright.
We have covered all but 2,100 miles and we’re a little behind schedule. We expected that we’d be at least a hundred miles further on than we are before we bedded down. This was because we were held up by the traffic while we were running around Melbourne. They had some of the most ridiculous traffic rules and the trams are bedlam.
I don’t know whether we’ll beat this letter home or not, it should be close, anyway I know we will beat the last few.
I hope either you or Rhonda has found out my bank balance, meagre though it might be, it may save me from bankruptcy.
Must “fly” now. Love, Rowan
P.S. Don’t forget to leave the back door open on Thursday night.
This is Albury where we stopped for lunch yesterday. While we were there we had a look at the Hume Weir, and believe me it is rather large.
Well, we are into NSW again and getting closer to home all the time. We arrived at Wagga about an hour ago (4pm) and we’re having a look around the city until Rob finishes work. Wagga itself doesn’t seem to be a bad sort of a place, rather better than I had been led to believe.
Last night after I had finished writing to you we decided to grab something to eat along the road and push on. We finally camped down about 30 miles from the border and slept in the open on the side of the road. It was a beautiful night and we had a really good sleep. In the morning before we left, we sat down with needle and thread and sewed up our torn tarpaulin.
We saw Rob last night and we showered at his hotel. We decided against spending the night there and instead spent the night near Wagga cemetery, under the stars, and slept surprisingly well too despite the “company”. We had a bit of trouble last night too. Ian was pulled over for [the car] making excessive noise in a public place and booked, even under the circumstances. The policeman did say, however, that he would put in an explanation of the circumstances with his report.
This morning we had breakfast on the road after getting away from Wagga as soon as possible. We’re now off to Tumut to see one of Ian’s friends and we shall push on to spend the night at about Yass. On Thursday we’ll have a look around Canberra before leaving so we can arrive home at 8 – 9 o’clock that night. Will see you then.
My big regret is that my poor, almost non-existent, memory for details has not allowed me to elaborate further on what I wrote 53 years ago. However this process has rekindled some recollections and my hope is that Ian may enjoy it too.
However, one incident stuck with me and it was something we decided it was best not to write home about. One day while working under the jacked-up Mini, probably on the exhaust, the jack collapsed with Ian underneath the car. There were several moments of quite serious concern until Ian was extricated himself, due more to his own strength than my own assistance. Luckily Ian was completely unscathed and we were able to laugh about it.