Caravanning and RVing in Australia


Chapter 12

On the Road with Murphy

You may remember that our son Chris arrived early because of a near miss in our three-wheeled BSA ­ well Sue nearly arrived on the Western Highway near Bathurst in NSW fifteen years later.

We had driven from a Surfers Paradise holiday unit to Brisbane to look at the botanical gardens and then left to drive south through the night. We had enjoyed a trouble free run and although I was getting a bit tired and road signs had ceased to have much impact, we were quite relaxed and doing about 110 km/h along the lovely smooth, straight road near the Bathurst airport, when I noticed a car in the rear-vision mirror approaching very fast. "Gee ­ look at the way this mini is going," I remarked. Vi didn't hear what I'd said and nearly jumped out of the car when the Mini Cooper S pulled alongside and sounded a loud siren while displaying a 'Pull Over' sign.

Back then there was no upper speed limit on open roads but there were a couple of NSW roads with an experimental limit of 100 km/h ­ and we were on one of them. "You must have seen the sign when you left the last town," stated the traffic cop. It would have been unproductive, to say the least, to explain that I hadn't seen any signs for hours! Good try Murph but Sue didn't arrive for quite a few weeks after that and the only damage was a hefty fine.
Andrew Cowen won the London-Sydney Marathon driving a Hillman Hunter and coincidentally just after that I bought a bright red Hillman Hunter GT. Unlike Andrew's machine ­ which by the way seemed to me to be a thinly disguised Sunbeam Alpine ­ my Hunter was the most unreliable car ever built if indeed it was built and not thrown together from left-over rejected bits. I owned it for ten months and during that time there was not one solitary week that it didn't have some major or minor problem.

The first day after taking delivery, I went down to Sale and the thing went on to three cylinders because a petrol pipe was shorting a lead on the distributor cap. Next day I went to Ballarat and a petrol leak sprayed fuel all over the engine ­ fortunately without causing a fire. On the way home the clutch failed and this meant the gearbox had to be taken out and a new clutch fitted. All this was in the three weeks leading up to a trip to an Apex National Convention in Darwin. There were four of us ­ Jimmy Watson, Gary Kendall, myself ­ and our unseen and uninvited guest Murphy.

Our first night in the desert north of Port Augusta saw us set up with our tent erected, beds made on the folding lounges ready for sleeping and steaks sizzling in the teflon coated frying pan borrowed from Jim's mother. We knew all about red wine making the steaks tender but we didn't know the combination of wine and a primas turned far too high, would destroy the teflon but the steaks were still good and we amused ourselves by shooting holes in beer cans set up on the outskirts of our camp.

Next morning like good campers, we dug a hole and buried the cans and other rubbish. How was Jim to know the newspaper parcel contained the meat for the next night's feed? We discovered our loss a few miles up the track and went back to dig up our dinner.

Next night we travelled late and I was driving when a heater hose under the dashboard burst and scalding hot water poured on to my ankle. A jury rigged hose system got us to Darwin but not before we had holed the petrol tank a number of times and repaired the holes with 'Plastibond'. Just north of Coober Pedy a particularly large and jagged rock made such a big hole that all the fuel from the just refilled tank ran out before we could stop. That hole took some filling and we resorted to stuffing a large wadded rag into it and fibreglassed over the rag. We had spare petrol in a jerrycan and retraced the twenty miles or so back to Coober Pedy for more fuel.

With all the gear we were carrying, the springs couldn't cope and the tail-shaft kept rubbing in it's tunnel every time we hit a bump so I bought and fitted 'helper' springs in Alice Springs that 'helped' a bit but not a lot.

By the time we reached Darwin the Hillman was looking and sounding like a rally car as we had holed the muffler as well as the fuel tank. It was covered in dirt as well because the section of the Stuart Highway south of The Alice was unsealed and rough in those days.

One of the Darwin Apexians ran the Rootes Group agency in Darwin and took the car away for a service and tune-up plus a wash and when we left to head south at midnight after the Farewell Social, it was a much cleaner five-week-old car that took us through the night.

Murphy took a day off next day until after dark when the motor started to run rough somewhere well east of Three Ways. During the morning we had helped a fellow out with an old Falcon who had been stuck for hours in the middle of nowhere and couldn't get his engine started. He had lost all his brake fluid as well and besides having no brakes, the handbrake didn't work either.

It was a wide, straight, stretch of road so we tow-started him with me driving his car and Jim in the Hillman. He must have reckoned we were the only people in Australia who would help him as he stuck to our tail ­ even through the twisty creek crossings. His suspension bottomed and he didn't seem to worry about having no brakes as he hit the first of those crossings but he flattened his foot on the way out and followed us at sixty miles an hour until the next crossing. We lost him after that and I assume he reached the next town ­ Richmond I think ­ safely.

When the road was sealed some years later they must have realigned it as I have never been able to locate those creek crossings on later trips.

By Charters Towers Murph had really been having fun with our motor. It was running on two-and-a-half cylinders and had blown the exhaust gaskets so we decided on a motel for the night. I had been driving for hours as Gary couldn't stay awake to drive at night and I was exhausted when we got to our room. Gary wasn't though and soon had the telly going full blast until he copped a blast himself and turned it down.

The Townsville Hillman dealer had no valves or gaskets in stock and believe it or not there were none in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne or Adelaide! However some were located in Hobart and flown to Townsville. The dealer was very good and had the car ready for us by 4pm on the Friday afternoon

We took the driving in two hour shifts and kept the car rolling apart from petrol stops, when we also grabbed takeaway food, to arrive home in Mornington by ten o'clock Sunday morning! The reason for our own 'Marathon' was that we all had to be at work next morning ­ with me having to drive to Mildura.

The generator had packed in by the time I reached Mildura and I took it in for a new one and also asked them to fit a complete new exhaust system to replace the battered original. On the way home I got as far as Ouyen, a distance of about sixty miles, before the front of the new muffler came adrift and I was back to driving what sounded like a racing car. Murphy loved that car!

Three generators, four mounting brackets, two exhaust systems, two power brake units, a differential oil seal, the list was endless and correspondence with the Chrysler organisation, who had taken over the Rootes Group, became quite heated when they tried to get out of warranty claims.

My final letter to them stated that I had found the answer to my problem. I had just seen an announcement that they were marketing cars with a vinyl, floral roof and I said I was going to cover my car's roof with this, dig a large hole in the lawn and push the car in to act as a permanent artificial flower bed! At least no other poor individual would have trouble with it.

A solicitor looked at my list of troubles and gave the opinion that I definitely should win if I took Chrysler to court and demanded a replacement vehicle ­ but he then said that it could take two years to get to court. I couldn't afford to wait that long as the car would have sent me bankrupt by then so, after just ten months ownership, I traded it on a Toyota Corolla which never gave a moment's bother all the time I owned it! Murphy must specialise in Hillman Hunters.

I did spin the Toyota one dark night on the way home from an Apex meeting in Gippsland while I was Zone President. It went round three times very fast without hitting anything and I did the rest of the trip at a much slower speed.


Chapter 13