A century after the first crossing of the continent by motor vehicle, a group of veteran car and bike enthusiasts has memorialised this unsung feat with a crossing of their own.

Story By John Dunn

In 1912 two men and a dog completed an historic crossing of Australia – the first time the continent had been traversed in a car. This year, 100 years later, two men and a dog – and several others this time – did it again, in similar vehicles, to celebrate the centenary of that remarkable event.
The initial occasion came after the Canada Motor and Cycle Company asked its foreman motor mechanic in Australia, Sid Ferguson, if he would drive its 1912 Brush Runabout from Perth to Sydney to demonstrate the car’s capabilities as part of an attempt to break into the emerging motor market. Ferguson agreed, provided a skilled navigator would accompany him.
The adventurous Francis Birtles, then known as the nation’s “greatest overlander” because of his cycling trips around and across the continent, was chosen, so the pair, as well as a bull terrier named “Rex” that they picked up on their way to Perth, prepared to make this amazing journey.
It was an extraordinary achievement given that the terrain was often desert, there were no roads of consequence, few facilities along the way and extremely difficult geographical conditions, which ranged from severe heat in the west to snow in the east.
Nonetheless the venture was highly successful in that it completed its objective and was regarded as a big step forward in unlocking the country’s inland and showing that surface transport could counter the seemingly unending distances and play a major role in development.
“These men were heroes and they should be recognised as such and honoured for their contribution in helping conquer the outback,” says Bob Lamond, a retired chartered accountant from Piambong, NSW, who, under the authority of the Veteran Car Club of Australia (NSW), organised this re-enactment. “It was a tribute to these two people who have largely been forgotten but who should be paid the tributes they deserve.”
Bob decided an appropriate way to remember Ferguson and Birtles would be to make a similar crossing a century after their epic feat and to do so in similar vehicles. So he issued a worldwide invitation to owners of veteran one- or two-cylinder motors – cars or motorcycles of around the same age as the original Brush – to make the 4200-kilometre journey in memory of the motoring pioneers.

This story excerpt is from Issue #83

Outback Magazine: June/July 2012