Chapter Seventeen

I waited until after the New Year weekend to hopefully miss the generally impatient Christmas through New Year vacationers to continue north to Sydney. I departed Melbourne on the last day of the New Year long holiday weekend. I’d expected most of the traffic to be headed to Melbourne while I was headed out, but that wasn’t entirely so. I headed out along the coastal road to Sydney – the Princess Highway. Once I was out of the suburbs and onto single lanes I’d occasionally look in the rear vision mirror to see a long bank of cars behind me, all anxious to get their machines rolling along at the maximum speed of 100 kph, but held up by Hewie rolling along at 60kph. I can often feel the tension behind, but there is nothing I can generally do. I could pull over if the shoulder of the road is wide enough and on occasion I do. But this is sometimes dangerous and furthermore when it comes time to pull back into the main traffic lane drivers will often cut me off for fear of getting stuck behind me again. The traffic thinned out once the turn-off to the popular seaside resorts on Mornington Peninsular arrived. They all turned right and which left the road ahead clear. I continued on passing through the country towns of Warrigul and Moe in the Latrobe Valley. Stopped at the town of Traralgon and spent the night at the Traralgon Hotel. Next morning I stopped at a service station to top up with petrol and check the oil and water. I had my head under the bonnet with the dip stick in my hand when a late model car pulled in beside Hewie. A woman got out and came over to tell me that she owned a ’62 model. It had been in her family since new.

          “My aunt owned it. I’d always loved it when she took us kids out in it when I was little. But a few years ago she died and left the car to me. I still drive it occasionally, I love the old girl. But I’ve not long since remarried, my husband keeps telling me to sell it and get a new car. For some reason, it’s like the car is a part of me and I can’t sell it. What should I do?” she said.

I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. I was a little stunned. It was like  I was the Dorothy Dix of Morris Minors. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but she was serious. I looked up at her with a casual smile on my face.

          “Don’t sell it, whatever you do. I owned one when I was 21 years old and sold it soon afterwards. I only owned the car for a short time. But do you know, I have regretted selling that car for over 30 years. I only bought this one seven years ago. Sometimes I’d like to sell it and buy a real car. But I can’t, because if I do I’ll regret it” I said, as a look of relief came over her face.

“I repeat, don’t sell it, you’ll be sorry. They become a part of you. Once you own Morris the only thing you can do is learn to live with it. You can’t sell them. It’d be like selling a part of your soul.” I said. She smiled a smile of relief, then looked back at her husband waiting in their car.

          “It was great talking with you. I’m determined to keep it now, thanks so much.” She turned and walked back to their car and they drove off.

Open cut brown coal mine, Victoria, Australia.

An electric locomotive that once hauled brown coal at the brown coal mine at Traralgon, Victoria, Australia.

Open cut brown coal mine near Traralgon, Victoria, Australia.

          After leaving Traralgon I made a slight detour a few kilometers passed the town to a brown coal mine and power station. Brown coal was something I learn't about at school but had never seen it. I’d imagined it to be just like black coal but brown. I drove onto a lookout that looked out over an open cut brown coal mine and a power station in the background. I could see from a distance that the brown coal was more like red  soil or dust unlike the solid black variety. There was an information center nearby at which I stopped. Here I saw how the brown coal was mined and how it was used to make electricity. But I still didn’t get the chance to see any up close, god forbid I get the chance to actually touch some. I enquired about a tour through the mine and power plant.

“No way!” said the guy at the information desk.

“Occupational health and safety don’t allow us to do tours any more. Far too dangerous.”

          So that was that. I ventured on through Sale and Bairnsdale, coming to a stop for lunch at the seaside town of Lakes Entrance. It was peak season. Family holiday time and people and cars had the main street jammed. I finally found a parking spot and a fish shop for some fish and chips for lunch. I walked over to the beach, there was a light southerly wind blowing and for me it was cool, not the weather for the beach. But the beach was full of families and lots of kids playing in the sand, sunbathing, surfing and eating pies and hot dogs from the beach kiosk. The fish and chips were nothing to write home about. The fish was tough and the chips soaked in oil. As I drove along I wished I’d never eaten them and had stuck to my regular lunch of apples, bananas, peaches, apricots, grapes and any other fruit in season or a plain and simple salad sandwich on white bread or roll.

Country home on the banks of the Snowy River at Orbost, Victoria, Australia.

Since leaving Melbourne, Hewie had started to pull a little to the left. I checked the left tyre and found it had some uneven wear on the inner side. I stopped the night in the town of Orbost on the banks of the Snowy River and set my tent up in the Orbost Caravan Park opposite the Snowy River and across the road from mechanical workshop. I pitched my tent, then went across the road to made arrangements for a wheel alignment. Orbost is a relatively small town, but hopefully I’d be able to get it done the next morning. It was just after 4pm and nearly knock-off time for the workshop staff. The head mechanic opened his book, looked for a minute of two, and scratched his head.

          “I can fitcha in about 11am tomorrow mornin, all going well”
“It’s a deal!” I said.

The next morning I parked the car out the front of the workshop, handed the boss the keys and headed on a walking tour around the town and then ended up in front of a computer at the local library. There was a vast improvement in the handling when I picked Hewie up from the workshop. I set off for my next destination, which was the small seaside town of Mallacoota, a two hour drive from Orbost. As I expected, Mallacoota would be crowded with holiday makers and it was. The camp ground was extended during the holiday season and took up virtually every bit of green park space available around the town. I stopped by the office and paid my fee and they gave me a map to a place which appeared to be on the other side of town. I found my way over and pitched my tent on a grassy spot, riverside, next to a small jetty with a few old wooden launches tied alongside. The town certainly is a pretty place, sitting on the edge of Lake Mallcoota and surrounded by tree lined hills. Along the water’s edge where I set up my tent were a series of rickety jetties built by the locals to tie their old wooden boats to. It’s a scene you don’t see much these days, it’s all fiberglass and aluminum craft that can be pulled out of the water and hidden in the backyard or garage. I awoke just after sunset.

Camped at Mallacoota.

The morning was cool and moist. A light mist hung over the lake. I wandered around taking photographs of the mist surrounding old wooden craft anchored around the lake. I sat for a while drinking my tea and enjoying the quietness of the morning. I was feeling somewhat sad that the journey was coming to an end. I’d be in Sydney in a few days and then it’s only a couple more days back to Ballina. Roaming around the country without a care in the world certainly is addictive. I thought about what it would be like when I got back home and what I’d do. First thing would be to take the head off Hewie, inspect the cylinders, pistons and valves. I assumed the valves must be getting coked up by now. I’d never done a de-coke and valve grind on a side-valve engine. I was looking forward to doing it for the first time. But after tidying up Hewie, reality would set in – I’d be back to sitting in front of a computer all day. I thought about this book, I’d already started writing it in the room I had at the Fremantle Hotel. Maybe when I get this first book written and if I can sell a few copies, it would give me the excuse to take Hewie over to New Zealand. Yeah! Hewie does New Zealand! Maybe even take him back to England where he originally came from. He’d love it! Yeah, I know what you’re thinking – I’m a nut case, but aren’t all Morris Minor owners? – just joking.

          Enough of daydreaming, I gulped down my last drop of tea and packed up and got on the road again. I headed back out to the Mallacoota turnoff on the main highway at the little settlement of Genoa, turned right and after a 10 kilometre drive I crossed the border into New South Wales, back in my home state. The fishing town of Eden was a further 50 kilometres, where I stopped for a couple of hours to look over the fishing fleet before continuing on to Merimbula, where the highway heads inland to the rich dairying and agricultural town of Bega. From here I took the coastal road out to Tathra back on the coast again. Here at Tathra I decided to stop for the night and asked for a camp site at the local camp and caravan park. “We only have one camp site left. We’re full. It’s $36 a night, and that’s for two people with electricity.” said the young woman behind the counter.

          “But there’s only one of me and I don’t need electricity” I said.

           “It’ll still be $36 a night – no discounts. Sorry it’s January”

           “Fair enough” I said.

           I went to turn around and walked out and continued on thinking that I’ll find a pub just up the road for that amount. As I turned a middle aged man standing there with his wife and a couple of kids beckoned me over.

          “There’s free camping up in the National Park, well it’s not exactly free it’s a fiver a night. There’s water and toilets, but no showers. It’s at the beach.”

          He gave me directions. I headed up there. It was about 10 kilometres out of town in the Mimosa Rocks National Park. It was somewhat of a rough unsealed road in. But when I got there I found the camping ground that had been set up the National Parks. It was popular enough to be close to full. I found a grassy spot and set up my tent with a view of the ocean. Next morning the ranger came around to collect five dollars from each campsite. I hit the road again and continued along the secondary coastal route up through to Bermagui, another popular holiday destination where I stopped for tea and scones. It was Saturday morning, I found a comfortable seat under the shade of a tree beside the football oval and enjoyed watching the locals play a game of rugby league.

Amateur fishermen cleaning their mornings catch at Bermagui, New South Wales, Australia.

From Bermagui it was a half hour run to Narooma. This town I voted the pick of the coast between Sydney and Melbourne. It had a sizable town shopping center, great beaches and a river. I passed over the old iron bridge that crosses the Narooma River and stopped for a dozen fresh Narooma oysters from the Naroomafishing co-op there. From here I continued through to Batemans Bay where I drove around town for an hour or so looking for somewhere to stay. The hotels, motels and camping grounds all had their No Vacancy signs out on display. The town was chock-a-block with holiday makers. I was nearly going to head out of town and keep heading north when I saw a caravan park and camp ground slightly hidden from the main road. I turned down the road but they too had no vacancy. I continued to the end of the street to do a u-turn and noticed a camp ground with hardly any signage. I stopped by the office and a big burley blonde haired Scotsman came out and introduced himself as John.

          “Sure we’ve plenty of room. You can put your tent down there.” As he pointed to the end of the camp ground where there was a large grassy patch that could easily accommodate 50 tents but only had two others.

          “Ah, your car, that’s an old Moggy. I’ve not seen one of those models for donkey’s years. That’s about a 48 model isn’t it?”

         Before I could answer he ran back inside and dragged his wife out. “Err love, come and have a look at this!” he yelled.

          “Hold on a minute, let me get my camera out. Don’t go anywhere I’ll my brother John to come over. He’ll go ape-shit when he sees this!”

Narooma, New South Wales, Australia.

          The park was a family affair and it seemed the whole family came out. John got me to stand in front of Hewie while he took a photograph then I took a photo of him. Then the whole family stood beside Hewie and I took a pic of all of them. With a big boy grin John asked, “Can I take her for a drive – just around the park???” “Sure can!” I told him. He climbed in and took off like a kangaroo. He finally gave Hewie back to me and I found myself a spot on the grassy ground and pitched my tent. During the night a heavy rainstorm made things somewhat damp. But that was OK. It was about the first time I’d had a serious night of rain rain on the whole trip.

I was now getting close to Sydney and called some friends who live at the seaside town of Shoalhaven Heads about 130 kilometres south of Sydney. I stopped in and stayed the night with the parents of an old school friend. Next morning I stopped around to see another old school friend who has a weekender in town. He lives in the United Kingdom but was home over the Christmas period. I stopped by and tooted the horn he came out surprised that I’d turned up in a Morris Minor.

         “Where’d you get it?” he asked.

         “I’ve had him for years”

“We get around in one of these over in Lemington in the UK. It’s my girlfriend’s, she’s mad about Morrises. I didn’t know that you had one. I often tell her about the one that you had when you were about 22 years old and how we all used to go out in it. And you drove it all the way down from Ballina! Far out!”

“Not exactly. It’s been from Ballina, but via Darwin, Broome, Perth and Melbourne”

“You’re joking! Around Australia in this thing!” he said.

         “Come into the house. We’ll have a cup of tea. I’ll call Karen back in the UK. She’ll be happy to hear about this one. Hers is a 1967 model. Yours must be the old side-valve model?”

“Fifty one, one of the last low light sidevalve models to come off the production line. That’s what I’ve been told.”

He put the kettle on and picked up the phone and called his girlfriend in the UK to tell her the news. She ended up being a total Morrie fan and even wanted to know what color Hewie was.

        “Don’t worry, I’ll send you a copy of the book when I get home and get it written,” I shouted across the room to her on the other side of the world.

I could have stayed there all day talking about old times and Morries but I had a dinner date with Chris in Sydney. It was to be a celebration for arriving in Sydney. It was only to be a pizza but it’s a favorite of ours in restaurant in Leichhardt, a suburb of Sydney.

          Back on the road again I soon ran into more Christmas holiday traffic but luckily they were all headed in the opposite direction. Hewie had now knocked up well over 12,000 miles. He’d lost his edge. He was in need of a de-coke. I was a little worried about him climbing the steep climb from the coast up Mount Ousley. I remember my father saying before I left Ballina, “Do you think he’ll get up Mout Ousley?”

          Well there was nothing to worry about. He made it up and over without any problem. Most of the run was in third gear with a few changes back to second. But we made it and arrived at 3pm that afternoon at Chris’ place in Haberfield. As usual, when I had arrived in the other major capital cities there was a sense of achievement and jubilation - within myself that is.


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