Let me tell you a little about the Ford Falcon. It is a big car. 4.2 litre with a 6 cylinder engine. It has a sofa in the front, it is one of the most sold cars in Australia and it is of a simple construction. When, rather then if, it breaks down, even the least skilled mechanic knows how to fix it and you can get spares everywhere. In short, this is the prefect car for rocking around down under. If you don't happen to buy a bad example of this Australian made Ford, that is.
We found one at a used cars dealership in Wollongong just south of Sydney. After some bargaining and a test spin, this green machine from 1978 was ours for 1,800 Australian dollars. Because of the colour we named it the Hulk. It was my first car (we were four that owned it together but my name was on the papers). I had only had a driver’s licence for 3 months and we were all a little scared of driving on the left and it was automatic with the stick just to the right of the steering wheel of this massive car. We kitted it out with a few spare tyres and some jerry cans for water and petrol, because we were going outback, where supplies were scarce.
The plan was very simple. We were to see half of Australia, the populated eastern part of this vast country and the red centre. From Wollongong we were too drive south to Melbourne, turn right and go to Adelaide, head north to Alice Springs, check out Ayers Rock, nip up to Darwin, then back track down to Three Ways and head east to Cairns, do a bit of swimming in the tropical sea of north Queensland before driving down the coast and sell the car in Sydney. The plan did of course include staying at numerous places along the way.
It all seemed like a pretty straight forward plan. And off we drove. We came as far as the Bulli Pass. This is the steep road going up from Wollongong to Stewart Highway which was to take us to Melbourne. Our new old car didn't even make it up to the main road. Half way up it was boiling and fumes were coming out from under the bonnet as well as the dashboard. There was also oil dripping on the exhaust pipe and it smelled of burning oil. Our plan to drive 10,000 kilometres had, after about 5 kilometres, taken a hefty blow. We were gutted and stranded. We took the car to a garage and they got up with a list of things that needed repair, most pressingly the cooler.
We mended it and drove up towards Sydney to a little place close to Cornulla. We stayed there a few days and contemplated how to continue our trip around OZ. We were four guys, the oldest of which was within days of his 19 birthday. It is fair to say that we had absolutely no clue as to what our mission was like. We could not comprehend the vast distances that we had planned to drive or how inhospitable and dangerous some of the virtually none populated areas are. People did do this trip in old Falcons, so it sure was possible. We had however underestimated it grossly. The short drive from Sydney to Melbourne is in fact about 900 kilometres, if you don't take the scenic route, that is. On the map of Australia this distance looks like nothing. The trip from Adelaide to Darwin is about the same distance as from Gothenburg to Milan. It is a long drive, it's just that between Adelaide and Darwin, apart from Cooper Peedy, Alice Springs, Catherine and a few left and right turnings, there is nothing. And it's bloody hot and dry. It also has loads of wild animals that get attracted to your head lights making driving in the cool night very dangerous. The inhospitable outback is however in my opinion the most beautiful and fascinating part of the country It has things you will not find anywhere else in the world and some very interesting inhabitants, but that is another story.
It was a hard blow to admit defeat and give up our dream. Things like driving all the way down onto a deserted Queensland beach, meeting road trains on out back roads and arriving in places like Alice Springs with the old Falcon, covered in red dust, had to be abandoned. In the end we decided to procure buss passes to get around. An air-conditioned double-decker with video was far less romantic and rugged, yet a hell of a lot more practical and comfortable. With the help of a friend of a friend we managed to get all our 1,800 dollars back for the car even though the guy a few days earlier had declined my offer to sell it back to him for 500!! The releasing factor was to ask who it was that had signed the pink slip that came with the car, claiming that it was roadworthy.
It still feels great that we started out too see OZ in the true backpacker fashion. Big car, big engine, sofa at the front, automatic gear stick by the side of the steering wheel, lots of spare tyres and jerry cans on the roof rack and no real clue of how large and harsh Australia really is.