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Driving from Brisbane to Adelaide in 1966

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

Newsletter 3

In previous newsletter, I shared my student excursions through various parts of Queensland. Now it’s time to widen my travels….

After 5 years studying at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, I decided I needed a change. In 1966, I enrolled at the new Flinders University of South Australia, based in the southern suburbs of Adelaide. As the proud owner of a VW beetle sedan, I wanted to drive the car there, despite it being something over 2,200 km away. Not such a long distance, when you grow up in inland Australia.

As a single woman in her twenties, I generated quite a lot of anxiety when I announced my plans. Friends and acquaintances were worried about my safety during the 5-day trip, and I have to admit to some worries myself. But soon a girlfriend suggested two more females to accompany me – her younger sister, and her sister’s friend. Now with 3 females in the car, everyone agreed we would be safe. What they didn’t realise, was that having 3 young women in a small car like a VW, left very little room for luggage, especially as we intended to camp in the evenings. But we managed, by packing an amazing amount of stuff into the front ‘boot’, and installing a roof rack, where my suitcases were strapped into place. The rest of my belongings were sent ahead on transport trucks.

So we left Brisbane early one morning, and by midday were passing through the border between the states of Queensland and New South Wales. In those days, there was a physical gate, which had to be opened to let travellers through. I photographed this as a big milestone on our journey.

We continued on through Armidale, where we visited a girfriend who now worked in that university, then further on through NSW. We only got as far as the small town of Bendemeer before the daylight failed. We bought hamburgers at a trucky’s café, then found the camping area.

I had installed a reclining seat on the front passenger side of the VW, and intended to sleep there; but the girls had brought a small tent. We planned at attach one end of the tent rope to the luggage rack of the car, the other to a friendly tree. But the only available tree was on a steep slope. That meant the girls rolled on each other during the night, and I slept with my feet higher than my head. Fun! A nice family in a nearby caravan kept a watchful eye on us overnight.

The next morning we made an early start, driving through agricultural country, rolling plains, and colourful hills in the distance. Then on through what is now known as the Pilliga Forest, but then its significance was unknown. I commented that we crossed high regular hills, very rocky, and clothed with ‘rather poor forest’. Now I know that this is an important remnant native forest.

We took the chance to leave the direct road, to visit the Warrumbungles, an area of bare rocky peaks. They were certainly impressive

Just before we got to Dubbo, we unofficially opened a new freeway into the town. We cruised down the new road, wondering why there were no cars coming toward us. Finally we were stopped and informed that the road was not due to be opened until the next Tuesday by some official person! So we echoed the opening of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, but at least we didn’t get arrested!

We stayed in the camping area in Dubbo, where we were all much more comfortable on flat ground. The camp also provided hot showers, which we appreciated – none in the previous night’s stay. The Queensland registration of the car caused comment; but I still think it was 3 young girls as passengers which caused the most interest. What we did was still uncommon.

Early the next morning, we passed by the Radio Telescope, and had to stay and watch it moving for half an hour. We like to think that it was a private display of its abilities, just for the 3 young ladies, who stood watching, fascinated.

Then on through sheep country, through the towns of Parks, Peak Hill, Wyalong [the remains of an old gold-mining town], and into West Wyalong. We had lunch in a little park where an attendant kindly left a hose sprinkler running, so we could cool down. It was really terribly hot! Then we found that the car would not start, but eventually a helpful mechanic diagnosed an airlock in the fuel pipe – due to the heat. When he cooled the pipe down, the air was reabsorbed, and the car started. I learnt a valuable lesson there.

That afternoon we drove onto the Hay Plain, a flat, almost tree-less area covered with saltbush, and grazed by immense mobs of sheep. We spent that night in the camping ground in Hay, where it was so hot that I left the car to sleep on the lawn. But a brief shower cooled the temperature, and sent me back inside. It didn’t wake the girls in their tent.

The next morning, a truck driver watched us fill up with petrol before we set off. He thought it would be fun to keep us behind his slow-moving vehicle. When I tried to pass, he tried to push us off the road. After he did this twice, I decided to just sit in his wake. He even kept us there for 5 miles on a very dusty dirt road, when the main road was closed. He was the only person who gave us any grief on the whole trip.

Once again, the area was very flat, almost no trees, and lots of sheep. Also a very few homesteads, so the farms or stations must be very large. This too was part of the Hay Plain.

The next town was Balranald, and we were encouraged to find a creek full of water; such a change from the last few hours.

Then we crossed the Murrumbidge River, and went on towards Euston, which is close to the Murray River, which here was 60 or 70 metres across. We stopped, and looked into the State of Victoria, which is on the other side of the river.

I’ll tell you about crossing the Murray River into Victoria, and the town of Mildura, next time.

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