Caravanning and RVing in Australia
Our first caravanning experience in Australia was quite an epic. My boss, Phil Parnell of the Moorooduc Service Station, ran a caravan hire business so we hooked one of his 12 foot Globetrotter caravans on to our little beetle and the five of us - Vi and I, Chris, Jackie and Puss - set off for Tallangatta. Puss was a delightful little cat who loved travelling. He sat across my shoulders and took in all the passing scenery. When motorists overtook us they did a double-take when they saw that a little VW was towing the van and then a triple-take when they saw puss staring back at them. If they had passengers you could see the driver telling them to, Look at this!
I never found out why Vi could get 35mph out of the outfit along the dead flat Murray Valley Highway as we headed for Mildura but I could never achieve more that 34 mph with the foot flat to the boards.
We had never encountered a fruit fly checking station before and it must have been Murphy who advised us to stock up with fruit in Mildura before heading for Renmark. Arriving at the unexpected checking station and being told to either eat the fruit or put it in the bin, we found that both children had lost their appetites. "I'm not hungry," was their response when told to eat some fruit!
I had miscalculated the distance to Renmark and it was only because the approach to the first service station was downhill that we made it without running out of petrol. You could look in the petrol tank of a VW and the bottom of ours was bone dry before we filled up.
Puss became very hot and heavy after an hour or two on your neck but he insisted on riding there much to Vi's annoyance as she is not a cat lover like me.
He was a bit of a problem in the caravan park where we stayed in Adelaide as a notice said "No Dogs" and although it didn't mention felines we guessed they would not have been delighted to discover Puss in their park. Next morning he was missing and I went round whispering "Puss, puss," until I found him exploring a large shed.
He was a great travelling companion and would go for walks whenever we stopped for a cuppa or for the night and always returned before we were ready to move off. That is until Apollo Bay! It was our last day of holidays and we pulled up on the outskirts of the town to eat our lunch overlooking the sea. Puss went for his usual stroll but when it was time to go, he was still missing. We called and called, walked up and down the road and were almost ready to give up and assume something bad had happened to him when down the hill and across the paddock from a nearby farm sauntered His Lordship!
I loved that little cat and was very sad when he did go missing for ever some months later. We found his tragic skeleton about a year afterwards in some bushes and can only assume that Murphy left a bait that Puss picked up and was poisoned.
Besides car repairs and caravan hiring, Phil also had an agency for Whirlwind lawn mowers and Whirlwind were marketing go-karts with the same motors as used on their mowers. Phil and I decided running a go-kart would be good fun and also good for business so we formed the Mornington Peninsula Go-kart Club with Phil the first President and myself as Secretary.
The club thrived and we raced all over Victoria with moderate success until one fateful day when Murphy took a hand.
I did most of the driving as Phil was always busy with some of his many other activities and, as I liked to win, I had spent a lot of time "hotting up" the twin motors. My latest effort involved fitting domed high-compression pistons and running on special racing fuel. The first try-out after this was at a race meeting at Rosebud and it turned out to be a fateful day. The engines only ran for a few laps before overheating and burning a hole in a piston.
It looked like the end of my driving for the day but one generous karter, Wally Reed, said, "Take my kart for the next race." It was a twisty track with hay bales lining the corners to stop machines running off the edge. I was going very well and clipping the corners as tightly as possible when, unfortunately, I cut in a bit too hard and Murphy tangled the twine on one hay bale with the front stub-axle and flipped the kart to tip me out at speed. The frame of the kart was badly damaged and so were both my hands where I had contacted the bitumen as I slid to a stop.
Although Murph may have thought this was a wonderfully sadistic joke, it was in fact a great thing for me as it led to a change for the better in my career. As I was unable to hold spanners in my bandaged hands, Phil sent me off to call on Peninsula garages to promote our caravan hire business and one call was at Turner Motors - the Mornington Rootes Group dealership run by Claude Turner and his two sons.
I already knew the Turners who were also keen go-karters, and in the course of conversation mentioned I was doing a sales course and would be looking for a position in selling when I finished. Claude immediately offered me a job selling new and second-hand cars - a good stepping stone up from the oil and grease world of the motor mechanic although the basic grounding in auto engineering has been a fantastic help in many situations since.
Unfortunately Murphy was well known in the used car business and showed his hand during my very first delivery of a used Holden station wagon to a customer in one of the South-eastern suburbs. With my eyes searching for the number of the property, I started to turn right without looking properly and an unfortunate motor-cyclist coming towards me couldn't stop or swerve in time and his bike hit my front wheel while he sailed over the bonnet and landed in the road on the other side. He claimed all sorts of damages on our insurance - some quite fictitious - and of course the Holden had to be repaired before it could be delivered.
A Mk V Jaguar I traded-in at Turner's was an ideal tow car so I bought it and we used it to take us on a trip around the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme and also to Sydney with a 6-berth caravan on the back. Descending the Bulli Pass between Sydney and Wollongong, Murphy took a hand so that the gearbox seized-up in bottom gear and locked the back wheels as we negotiated a hairpin bend. After it cooled down we managed to get into neutral and coast down the rest of the steep hill into the town.
Later, as we climbed the Brown Mountain on the way to Queanbeyen, I dreaded the thought of having to use low gear again in case it seized-up and watched the rpm carefully to see if we could make the climb in 2nd gear.
Making matters worse were the signs warning of falling rocks and the fact that the temperature gauge was heading towards boiling point. We had to use the suspect gear for the last few yards of the climb but breathed a huge sigh of relief when we reached the summit. The Jaguar, with its 3.5 litre, straight-six engine, did 17mpg normally and this only dropped to 16mpg when towing the big caravan. I'd intended just using it for the trip but it was so nice to own that we kept it for a year.
Around this time the go-kart club was looking for a venue and his nibs was a great help I must say. Every time we found somewhere that seemed suitable and obtained the needed approvals from councils and whoever else needed to be consulted, he jumped in and put a spanner in the works.
Our final attempt was on a timbered area of Crown Land near an old quarry at Moorooduc. We obtained "Permissive Occupancy" from the Crown Land Department and started to do great things. We borrowed trucks and manually quarried rock from the quarry as foundation for the track, moved tree stumps with gelignite, bulldozed and graded the track, put in "aggie" drains and had it all nearly ready for the inaugural test runs when disaster struck. A formal letter came from the Government telling us to quit the site as a reservoir was to be built next to our area and we would, presumably, pollute the water.
Although Murphy had finally succeeded in getting us to abandon our efforts to have our own track, he didn't have the last laugh that time as our substantial claim for compensation was successful and we were able to put the money into trust and later use it to assist a number of youth oriented projects on the Peninsula.
In the meantime we amalgamated with the Southern Peninsula Go-kart Club who already had a bitumen track near Cape Shank - the track where I earlier had my life-altering crash.