These days the Nullarbor road is in very good condition and includes several emergency airstrips for the RFDS.
However Ian recalls his first experience driving from east to west in 1966 when it was mostly dirt from Port Augusta to Balladonia.
“I was doing a favour for Wilf, one of my Army mates who was in hospital with appendicitis. He had a Vauxhall Velox (obviously pre-1966 model) and pleaded with me to drive it home to Perth… 3000km! I wasn’t keen at all as it would eat into my 2 weeks of pre-embarkation leave before leaving for Viet Nam. At least 5 days! My condition was that I couldn’t do it alone … Did he know anyone else willing to join me? Ian McKeown put his hand up, so I had to do it.
We set off from Puckapunyal in Victoria and managed to get through to the difficult Adelaide hills where we were held up with traffic. Onwards into the night – stopped at a pub and bought a cold slab of Southwark beer. Then headed up through Port Augusta and on to the westward road – after one can (disgusting!) the rest went out the window.
Well down the track we swapped drivers. After a bit of shut-eye on the back seat, I was awakened by a horrendous thumping noise – just in time to see the car straddling the debris left by the grader on the edge of the road! Ian had gone to sleep and luckily the noise woke us both! Just out of Nundroo…
The damage was considerable. The flywheel housing had been belted up against the flywheel which had proceeded to cut a nice slice out of the housing. My immediate concern was the sump – luckily it had not been punctured though it was well and truly corrugated.
A minor problem were the gear linkages – now non-existent and we were stuck in top gear! I managed to stuff some rags in the flywheel housing but had to wear the rest of the damage… Slow starts in top gear were the go!
So we headed west hoping nothing else would stop us. Ivy Tanks a was compulsory fuel stop and it was about 20 feet above the surrounding plain, We had to do a couple of circuits of it before we had enough speed to climb the hill….
It got worse. We intended to drive non-stop, so we just kept heading west. I was driving along one of the side tracks that seemed reasonable and we were about 100 km short of Balladonia. I was barely able to keep my eyes open and Ian was asleep too. So we stopped and put our heads down. Woke up at daybreak and stepped out to have a pee … Walked up to the road and had a look – it was bluddy bitumen as Far East as I could see!
My Dad came out to meet us as we approached Perth and we took the Vauxhal to Wilf’s home. I was sorry it was in the condition it was, but glad that ordeal was over. It had taken us 48 driving hours and I was bluddy exhausted”.
So now we are back in SA. During our last visit here in October 2012, we focused on travelling extensively in the Flinders Ranges and eating the best seafood all around the Eyre Peninsula. This time – who knows?!
After going through quarantine in Ceduna and stocking up on fruit and veges, we picked up 6 dozen freshly caught oysters for $42 at Smoky Bay, and headed south to Elliston to meet up with friends Jan and Jamie for a few days R and R. This will involve fishing, camp fires, eating oysters, quaffing a few ales and sipping a few SA wines. Yes, it’s tough but someone has to do it!
BTW, the first sign we saw in SA was this one….