Framed by our continent’s vast distances and conditions often necessitating unique engineering, Australia’s motor industry has helped agriculture and mining flourish, and bred adventurers, daredevils and racing champions.
Story Bruce McMahon
Grazier Greg Sherwin started driving when he was seven, learning to dodge mulga in a Willys jeep in the 1950s. “Left-hand drive, that was fun,” says Greg, now 68 and owner of 80,000ha of cattle country on the Dowling Track, south of Thargomindah. Vehicles became a fundamental part of life on the land for Greg, as it did for most rural lads.
“My first car was a Dodge utility with a 265 Hemi motor in it,” he says. “It could go places, a real mile-eater. Could put a lot of miles behind you in a day … For fun and socials mainly – mostly to get around south-west Queensland towns, you’d have to do 2–300 kays to get anywhere. There was no aircon. But it did have a heater. It had torsion bar suspension in front, which allowed you to lift it a little bit, gave it a bit more clearance.
“But the bodywork itself was pretty ordinary; it let a lot of dust in. You had to drive with the windows wound down to sort of breathe. Comfort in that stage of life didn’t matter much, but I did have several older people riding passenger and they weren’t impressed by the bench seat. That Dodge could go like the clappers and, yes, often a bit better than the speed limit.”
The motor car in Australia has been both a tool and an escape. Some folk, such as South Australian farmer and desert racer Greg Gartner, are still happiest tearing down the Northern Territory track to Finke at more than 200km/h in his Ford Trophy truck.
“I find that with the job I have, which is a reasonable farming enterprise, that when I put the helmet on, it allows me to just have that relief of stress and what not,” Greg says. He won the 2011 Finke Desert Race, the first time a truck had won the gruelling enduro. “It’s just a challenge in that red sand with the crew, the navigator and yourself to get to the end of these races. When you put that helmet on, you’re only thinking about one thing, and that’s getting to the finish.”
Mallee farm boy Larry Perkins honed enduro skills that took him to six Bathurst 1000 wins and Formula One while learning to drive a Model A Ford through scrub and sand. “I was probably about 10; I suppose you learn to drive on a farm like every farm kid. There were trees to hit. I hit a few.”
This story excerpt is from Issue #127
Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2019