Pat, Charlie, and Tom’s Big Adventure in Australia

By Tom Hall and  Patrick King

As many of you already know, Peter Thomson has been coming to America to attend our Tigers United’s and SUNI’s since 1974.  The Australian Sunbeam clubs have always held their National event just about a week before we typically have our meet in June.  This year, they decided to reschedule their meet towards the end of September.  When Pat King and I learned of this, we thought it would be a really great idea to turn this rare opportunity into a vacation with our wives and attend their National Sunbeam Meet.  Along the way we could make some new friends, finish training some TAC Inspectors, TAC some Tigers, and see some sights in OZ.

We arranged to stay with Peter in Sydney and travel to and from the event with our other Australian friends and STOA members, Ken and Louise Jacobs, and the rest of their Australian traveling entourage.  Charlie Ockels decided he would make a detour on his way home from the Philippines and join us as well.  The actual meet was to be located in Loxton, South Australia, which is a three day drive from Sydney.

Pat, Charlie and Tom's Big Australian Adventure

Bette and I left a few days early, to minimize the effect of jet lag, but Charlie, Pat and Kelly flew in a day before we were scheduled to leave for our cross country adventure.   That evening we all walked up to one of Pete’s favorite Pubs for dinner.   Turns out, this pub specializes in selling the steaks and you barbeque them yourself on a spit inside the pub.  Sounds like a pretty smoky place, but they have a good vent system, so it’s almost like home except your jockeying for position on the grille with about 12 other people trying to do the same thing at the same time. The departure morning arrived, all too soon, and Pete put some rock & roll on his stereo and turned up the volume to drive out the sleepiness.  We had rented a Nissan SUV to carry us and our luggage.  We were pretty well packed when Pete told us that we were going to have to carry Charlie’s luggage also, so we repacked a little tighter.  Ken & Louise arrived in their Tiger, and we all greeted each other.  Then we all got into our assigned vehicles and headed out to a place called Richmond.  Following closely behind the lead Tiger, we hit the Toll roads to get out of town.  Unfamiliarity makes driving a real challenge especially when you are driving on the wrong side of the road.  Missed lane changes can leave you lost and left behind, so we were all watching the leader’s moves very carefully.  Arriving at Richmond, we headed to a local McDonalds drive-in to meet and join up with more members of our entourage.   Heading out, the entourage now consists of 5 Tigers, a Holden (Chevy) station wagon, and our Nissan SUV.



Australia is a nation of 2 lane roads.  Yeah, they obviously have more in urban areas but once out of the city, they quickly drop to 2 lanes.  They manage to squeeze in some 3 lane passing zones, which they call "over-taking" lanes, but keeping 7 cars relatively close together took some doing.  Going east from Sydney means you have to cross the Blue Mountains.  This mountain range was a significant physical barrier to the early settlers, so as you can imagine the road was pretty well loaded with switchbacks and tight curves.

On the eastern side of the Blue Mountains is a town called Bathurst and a race track called Mount Panorama.  This is one of the most famous tracks in the whole country and it has a unique attraction, you can drive on the track when they are not racing.  It’s a lot like Laguna Seca, with significant and steep elevation changes (570 ft.) and it’s 4 miles long.  The speed limit is 37 miles per hour and you can drive both directions on the track.  After our initial tour lap, Pat talked Ken into borrowing his Tiger for a test lap.  Fortunately the local police were not watching too closely, as I’m sure the speed limit was passed quite a few times, but Pat had a lot of fun on that lap.  Heading east, we still had 240 miles to go before our first overnight stop. This distance proved to be a challenge for Peter Thompson as he ran out of petrol just short of town. Lucky this group is used to traveling with Peter and one of them always carries a spare gallon of petrol. Roger Bantam gave Peter his spare gallon and off we went.


We arrived at our pre-determined motel in Nyngan just about dusk after a long day of driving (360 miles).  Out came the wine, beer, cheese, etc. for a before dinner snack and discussion of the day’s travel.   Someone had a location in mind for dinner and after dark, we set off on foot for this restaurant.  Australia is a country that pretty much shuts down at dark and after a few blocks of walking down the main street of town and across the railroad tracks twice, the group collectively decided that we didn’t really know where the restaurant was located.  Nothing but the pubs, and liquor stores are open and we were wondering if we had squandered our opportunity to eat a real meal.  Another institution that occurs in Australia is a local service organization.  It could be a sports based group, a veterans group or based on some other club type activity, but every town of reasonable size has at least one.  They are essentially the go-to place after dark for eating, drinking, gambling and other social activity.  Fortunately, Nyngan had a RSL (Returned and Services League) across the street from our motel.  I can’t say that you’ll get the fine dining experience at one of these “clubs” as they are pretty much a cafeteria operation with a fixed menu.  But after a long day and a walk in the dark, this was the go-to place for us.  Up and out early was the parting word as we retired for the evening.


Eighty miles before breakfast was the word we woke to the next morning.  With 365 miles to go to our next overnight stop, that seemed reasonable, so off to Cobar we headed. We again took some back roads with less traffic and Peter and Ken started to open up some spacing, driving somewhat exuberantly.  Louise lost her hat and Ken stopped to retrieve it, and then tried to catch Pete and Charlie.  His excessive speed was observed by a local police officer who stopped him in short order.  Ken’s impassioned plea and explanation of the lost hat was somehow taken at face value and he was let go with a stern warning.  Since speeding at that level is a jail-able offence in Australia, he felt quite lucky at that point. Cobar is one of many, many towns on the edge of the outback that is or was a mining center.  Australia is noted for its mineral resources, so these towns are all over but most of the mines are shut down for economic reasons.  After the obligatory photo shoot under the town name at the closed mine, we headed into town for gas and breakfast.  The fields of grain were gradually giving way to longer stretches of the typical outback groupings of scattered gum trees and straighter roads.  Those of us in the Nissan were grateful at this point that we had air conditioning and weren’t in the open Tigers. 

Our next evening stop was Broken Hill, another mining town, but this one is fairly large for an outback location.  The underground shaft mine itself was shut down, but it still operates as an open pit mine. It still is a sizeable producer of many valuable metal ores.  Dinner was at a Chinese restaurant above the motel, so no searching was required. 

The next morning we headed away from our ultimate destination by 20 miles and 39 “dips” (a low area with this warning in case of floods) to a town called Silverton for breakfast.  This happens to be the location of the Mad Max Museum, and several artsy-craftsy type industries, but the museum was closed for some unknown reason.   There were several car hulks scattered around the immediate area that were used somewhere in the various Mad Max movies.  Most had some tubes and steel junk, specifically assembled and placed to resemble weapons on used 60’s cars.  As I remember they wasted a lot of LPG, filming those movies.  A mostly hidden restaurant was located next door, so the trip was not totally wasted and an excellent breakfast was available.

On our way back through Broken Hill, we stopped at the Mine Museum and Miners Memorial.  Alas the museum there was also closed, so we shot some photos and headed south to our next destination, Wentworth.  On the road south we saw a lot of kangaroos and emus near the highway.  As we approached the Murray River the countryside again became fields of grain pretty much horizon to horizon on either side.   Most of the town of Wentworth is boarded up and the population is largely aboriginal.  We found the only tiny eating establishment in town and sandwiches were ordered for all. 

With 100 miles to go to our ultimate destination, we gassed up again and were soon on the road toward Loxton and the National Sunbeam Meet.  Once you get into the areas near the Murray River, agricultural production is everywhere.  Now we saw fields of grapes dividing orchards and fields of grain.  Crossing the border into South Australia, we had to throw out all the fruit and vegetables we had kept as “road food”.  They are very vigilant against the fruit fly, and the border guards make very certain that you aren’t taking any in to SA.

We followed the Murray River from a distance and arrived in Loxton at about 4 pm Friday. We were greeted by the organizers, checked into the hotel, and got a beer, in that order.  The hotel was set near the river at the edge of a very attractive waterside park.  After freshening up, we met with our entourage and enjoyed what was left of our traveling snacks, and then headed to the hotel banquet room for the opening dinner. We got them to announce our planned TAC activity and we gathered the names of owners interested in our service.

The next morning the Show and Shine was held on the main street in the center of town.  Pat and I took advantage of the situation and quickly assembled our TAC inspectors and began the inspection process on several Tigers.  We didn’t get a lot of time to look at many of the other Sunbeams at the meet, but the general level of restoration overall was impressive.  We ended up authenticating six Tigers that day. 

In the afternoon, the organizers scheduled a river cruise on an old turn of the century side wheeler.  This was a restored, wood burning; steam powered, river boat, and about the last one left from the days when the Murray River was the main commercial artery for this part of the developing nation.  I took a good look at that hot old boiler, located in the open middle of the ship, and hoped that it was going to hold together and bring us safely back to the dock.

That evening, a dinner dance was held at the local service club.  They had a dance band playing 60’s-70’s music and it was pretty loud.  After some dancing and attempts at conversation, we headed back to the hotel.

Sunday brought another tour, this time to a micro-brewery about 50 miles upriver.  Many of us thought that this was going to mean a tour and free beer.  Well, the catered lunch was free, but the beer was $6.50 (AU) a pint.  The micro-brewery is located in an old sheep shearing shed. In addition to the brewery they have a small museum and art gallery. We took time on the return trip to climb an overlook and have a good view of this enormous section of “river country”.   We got back in time to change and get ready for the awards dinner.  Since we didn’t bring any Sunbeams to the meet, we didn’t think we would come home with any hardware.  Surprise; Charlie got the award for the longest distance traveled to the event, and I won a plaque for the longest continuous Sunbeam ownership, 49 years. 

Monday morning, the remaining members of our traveling entourage set off for Adelaide.   We took a local road which required a ferry across the Murray River.  Upon reaching the ferry crossing we had a few moments to examine the surrounding area and spotted the high water mark on a post next to the river.  The flood level of this 1956 event was a good 10 feet over our heads.  Given the enormity and breadth of the Murray River basin, that flood had to be an unbelievable quantity of water.  We also stopped at a town called Birdwood.  This town is the location of the Australian National Motor Museum.  We learned lots of facts about their motoring history and saw lots and lots of cars, and motorcycles.  After a good lunch at a Pub just across from the museum, we were off to Adelaide.  While waiting for lunch we had a chance to peruse the decorations. As the Pub is across the street for the National Motor Museum many of the car clubs have posted car littiture and art. We were surprised to see that the Rootes Group and Sunbeam in particular were well represented. There were several posters with Sunbeams and even some with the Tiger prominently advertised.

Adelaide is a beautiful city, with a one square mile center surrounded on all four sides by a park.  The suburbs start at the outer edges of this parkland.  We had reservations at the Adelaide Shores  beach side resort.  Finding the resort was a bit of a challenge, (similar confusing names) but we checked in and located our two bedroom bungalows. We were in Adelaide for the week waiting for an annual event called the Bay to Birdwood Classic which is a back road run, of 1956 to 1978 cars, from the shores near our resort to the museum at Birdwood.  Sunbeam was a featured Mark this year and a total of 17 Sunbeams were entered. Peter Thomson and his friend Alan McCarthy were to take part in this run with their Tigers along with a host of Alpines (both series and Mark cars), Rapiers, and Gazelles. The Sunbeams were parked front and center and were part of the lead group on the tour. Charlie complained about the 57 miles of waving to the crowds but he had a great time riding the route with Peter!


During the week preceding this event, we toured the Adelaide Botanical Gardens, and all around the surrounding Adelaide Hills, visiting historic ports, ethnic townships, and a wonderful walk thru an animal park.  In the park you could walk with and pet Kangaroos, Wallabies, and other relatively tame Australian animals.  This was a unique opportunity to hold a  Koala Bear and the ladies really enjoyed that experience.  We also visited the local wine areas, of McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley where we tasted and made several purchases for later consumption. 


Unfortunately, this was the end of the trip for me as early Sunday morning I checked myself into The Royal Adelaide Hospital with chest pains that didn’t want to go away.  So I spent the next 5 days in the hospital while Pat, Kelly, Peter, and Charlie continued the scheduled road trip back to Sydney along the Great Ocean Road.  This is not the end of the story however as Bette and I got through my hospitalization, we had more time in the Adelaide area with special friends.


Last year in England, we reconnected with Andy and Julie Ford, Tiger owners from Adelaide, while attending the STOC Tiger 50 event at Stratford.  They were staying with Graham Vickery at his home in England when Bette and I arrived.  We traveled together to and from the Tiger 50 event riding in their cars.  Andy came to America in 1981 and attended an STOA party meeting at Bruce Fountain’s Orinda home.  He has several pictures of that event that brought back a lot of memories.  When they heard of my situation, they graciously invited Bette to stay at their home while I was in the hospital.  After five days, the hospital decided that I wasn’t going to die on the flight home and they released me. 


The Fords have a lovely home in Adelaide and a ranch near the mouth of the Murray River.  They invited us to visit the ranch and we accepted while I gained strength and we scheduled a flight back to Sydney.  Andy owns the last of the rare MkIA’s used as prototypes for the development of the Mk II’s.  It is also unique in that it has no JAL tag as it’s assembly was completed at the Rootes factory and not Jensen. 


Their ranch is on the Finness River which is part of the very complex delta where the Murray River meets the sea.  It’s about 80 acres with about half of it planted with Shiraz and Cabernet grapes.  The outside of the ranch house is the typical Australian design, long, with a wide veranda all around the perimeter.  The inside is 50% open and 50% bedrooms, kitchen, etc., all on one side.  Three sides are enclosed by a wall to ceiling window structure, which give a full panorama view of the Finniss River and delta area.  Along with the normal ranch vehicles, Andy stores some his formula race cars and a very unique Valiant.  This is an Australian Chrysler Valiant and it looks like a slightly smaller Dodge Charger from the late 60's.  It is built on a shortened Plymouth Duster/Valiant floorplan.  In place of the B block V8 is a 300+ horsepower six cylinder, overhead valve engine with three Weber carburetors, and a 4 speed trans.  I got a ride in this very special car (one of only 13 manufactured with a huge 36 gallon fuel tank installed for the Bathurst 500 race in 1972) and I’ll tell you, it’s serious fast.  In its day, it was faster than any of the Ford Falcons or Holden Monaros, in fact at that time, it was the fastest accelerating production car ever sold in Australia, and the fastest 6 cylinder in the world, as the Porsches were still only 2+ liters in 1972. 


After a couple of days at the ranch, I felt well enough to fly and Andy drove us to the airport where we headed back to Sydney.  Peter picked us up, and we ended up where we started, back in his spare bedroom.  We examined the return flights for the next couple of days, and went to Ken and Louise’s for a farewell dinner, and flew back to the US the next day.




Pat continues with his description of the adventure:


We left Adelaide Monday afternoon after visiting Tom in the hospital.  During the drive Peter Thompson got a gift. As we approached the little seacoast town of Kingston, Peter again ran out of petrol! The difference this time was we were traveling without the fore-sight of his usual traveling companions and didn’t have a spare gallon of petrol. After driving a half hour into Kingston we purchased a 2 gallon petrol can and petrol. Upon our return to the stranded Peter we presented him with the petrol can as a gift. He was unsure if the can was a gift or sarcasm. We assured him it was a gift. (A gift for all who travel with him) Heading south down the Limestone Coast, we arrived in Mt Gambier about 7 pm and found dinner.  The next morning we got up and took a look at the famous Blue Lake.  This volcanic lake is in a volcanic cone.  It rises from the plateau and yet the level of the lake water is100 feet below the local ground surface and it changes from bright cobalt blue to a greyish color, depending on the season and its dissolved chemistry.  When we saw it, it was an amazing color of cobalt blue. This lake provides the drinking water for the town and surrounding area.


On the way out of town we also stopped at the Umpherston Sinkhole which is a collapsed limestone cavern.  Rather than filling in the sink hole or dealing with it as a hazard, it has been turned into an impressive spot garden by the local authorities.  Traveling on the Great Ocean Road, we also were able to see most of the 12 apostles, which are eroded free standing rock piles on the Shipwreck Coast of southern Victoria. The weather here was the only real time we had anything close to unpleasant. We did a quick view and left just as people started to get out umbrellas. The entire coast is spectacular as it has massive limestone cliffs and beautiful tiny bays. There is an award for “Tidy Town” and the Australians take this serious.  The small coastal towns were all clean and quaint and they are proud to post the Tidy Town awards when they have won.


We crossed into Melbourne around dusk and got to see the city lights. The architecture is beautiful and there are a lot of neon lights on buildings and bridges which give the city a very artsy look. To get across Melbourne, Peter took us through the longest tunnel we have ever seen, bringing us to the southeastern side of the city. There we had to locate the last Tiger we were scheduled to authenticate.  Arriving at 7 PM we worked quickly to finish this last task and headed east to Warragul and back toward Sydney.


Even working quickly, we were now looking for a hotel at 9 pm which can be quite difficult in good circumstances and next to impossible when there is a “Footie”  Tournament .“Footie” is an Australian term for Australian Rules Football, a version of rugby only played in Australia. We were informed by several hotels that there were no hotel rooms for 300 miles. Lucky for us that proved untrue. Unlucky for us the rooms we found available had not been updated in the past 100 years! Additionally they were closed for dinner and there was no breakfast until 11 am the next morning. After a long, strange tour of the town we were able to get dinner at a nice little place named McDonalds.


The drive from Warragul east along the Princess Highway is as scenic as any in the world! We had mountains with rainforests, gorgeous valleys with farms and sea coasts that are second to none.  Our stay the next evening was in Narooma which is a little sea coast town which pops out of the mountains like a jewel. Peter pulled into the first hotel on the hill overlooking the bay like he had been there a thousand times and his choice was fortuitous as it was just re-opened after new ownership. As it turns out Peter just pulled in to this hotel by chance as he wanted to avoid the issues with late night check-in we had experienced the night before. Peter had been to the pub down the street previously, and took us to see, what has to be, the best view of any pub in Australia.  After enjoying the view and a couple of pints we headed back to the hotel for what turned out to be a 5 star dinner. What a difference from the night before!


The next day was the same with more beautiful scenery and beaches. We could have taken a month to explore this coast and not gotten tired of the beautiful beaches and wonderful towns but our schedule only allowed for an occasional stop here and there.  Back in Sydney we spent a day exploring  Sydney and the surrounding area in Peter’s Rapier. After dropping Charlie off at the airport Peter treated us to a scenic tour of Palm Beach (Ken and Louis Jacobs’s favorite get away) and the coast a little north of Sydney and again we were impressed with the beaches, the towns and the people.  Peter took us to the airport and we said our goodbyes as we headed home after a really fun adventure in OZ. A beautiful country, fantastic people and 5400km of great driving!




Boring facts about Australia and the Murray River

The Murray River forms part of the 3,750 km (2,330 mi) long combined Murray–Darling river system which drains most of inland Victoria, New South Wales, and southern Queensland. Overall the catchment area is one seventh of Australia's total land mass. The Murray carries only a small fraction of the water of comparably-sized rivers in other parts of the world, and with a great annual variability of its flow.

The Murray River makes up much of the border between the Australian states of Victoria and New South Wales. Where it does, the border is the top of the bank of the southern side of the river (i.e., none of the river itself is actually in Victoria)

Work on the Goolwa barrages, which control the outlet flow of the Murray River, commenced in 1935 and were completed in 1940.  The barrage system consists of five barrages (low dam-like structures) in the channels separating Lake Alexandrina from the sea at the mouth of the River Murray

Prior to the barrages, during periods of low flow tidal effects and the intrusion of seawater were felt up to 160 miles upstream from the mouth of the River Murray

Australia is the lowest, flattest, and oldest continental landmass on Earth

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