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Wide Open Road

The Story of Cars In Australia

Tony Davis

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There was already a road toll before cars arrived - not just with horse traffic, but also bicycles, trams and trains.

Early roads litteredwith the razor sharpremnants of worn down horseshoes. And since the early tyres weren't very good, you got lots of punctures. In 1907 a guy did a 21 day trip around NSW selling tobacco. He averaged 20 punctures a day. Each time, he had to mend both the inner and outer tubes and then reinflate the tyre (to about 100 psi!)br>
WW1 big stimulus for motorcars. Lots of young men were taught to drive miltary vehicles, so they come back to Oz and buyna bus or a truck to do earn a living off their new found skill. And of course the women who had filled in for men were given a first sniff of freedom.

But a lot of people bought cars in the 20's, and many of them kept it for best - they would go out for a drive on Sunday, or on longer summer evenings.

And a whole lot of new infrastructure. Most obvious being service stations, which started out looking like stables, but then the conscious imitation of California ones.

Took a while for decent roads, particularly bc long distances between major cities. The Hume Highway (Sydney to Melbourne) wasn't tarsealed until after WW2. There were long stretchs that didn't even have gravel.

Every city had at least one high profile garage run entirely by women, for women. Such as Alice Anderson Motor Service in Melbourne, run by Alice, who learned from her engineer father, and who trained dozens of female mechanics and chaffeurs. Her driving school not only taught women to drie, but to maintain their car as well.

The coupe/utilty 'ute' came out of the Depression. Allegedly a farmer's wife wrote to Ford and asked for a car that cd drive them to church on Sunday, then carry the pigs on Monday.

The FX Holden was designed by GM in the States, although Aust engineers were able to insist in higher ground clearance and stiffer shocks. British cars were too low to survive on bush roads - they ripped their underbodies out.

Holden one of few companies that kept their first car. (It was actually No 6 off the production line, but they selected the one with the best fitting panel gaps)

In size it was actually no bigger than a Toyota Corolla, but that was all people wanted. In the early days the dealers didn't have to sell the cars, they just stood thereand took orders and people waited.

First Redex Trial 1953 (English guy came out to promote his fuel additive) organizers anticipated an event for motor sport drivers and wealthy motorists. Amazed to find ordinary average people wanted to get in their precious family car and go bashing around Australia at a time when many people people believed that wasn't even possible.

One group of young guys just 'borrowed' one of their dads' Ford (he was overseas) bc they thought it would be a great way to see Australia. So it became not just a car trial, but a travel show bc for the first time city folk saw contemporary newsreel footage of the backblock towns and countryside.

All these cars reached Mt Isa and the guy in a Skoda was coming last. Interviewed, he said, "I had absolutely no trouble navigating. I just followed the trail of hubcaps along the way."

A surprising number of women took part. And they became public heroines. Granny Conway was in her sixties, and she drove her Austin A40 in first trial. She told of going to the local Austin dealers to ask for sponsorship but they laughed at her. "We've got our expert drivers. We don't need amateurs, especially women." She was so annoyed that she declared her car was a Monarch, and refused to identify it as an Austin at all. By the time she got to Mt Isa she was a national hero. She drove around in a hat and white gloves and a blue rinse. She wasn't worried about competing - if she felt like stopping for a cuppa she did - but she finished, and her delighted dealer swapped her oldA40 for a new A40 Somerset to drive in the next trial.

In a way it publically signalled the end of the austerity years of the Depression and war. After decades of carefully hoarding precious cars, it was ok to go out and have some fun in them.

Jack Brabham knew an American guy who took him down to watch speedway. JB looked at the cars and decided he cd build better one himself. So he built one for his American mate to drive, but he had a couple of accidents and his wife stopped him. So JB started driving it himself.

Holidays changed. Before people cd afford a car, they took trains to a seaside boarding house where everything was controlled. But with the car and with motels and camping grounds, families had a lot more freedom.

And it changed dating. Before, you basically met girls in your own neighbourhood - places you cd reach on yr bike. And then you got a car, and suddenly you cd meet girls from all over the city.

Woman told story of her dad who had souped up Mini Coopers that e took hillclimbing. He'd take out all the seats except drivers to save weigh, and take kids off to watch him compete. If the track was wet he'd need more weight, so he'd put all the kids back in the car. No seatbelts or anything to hang onto, just these 3 little kids under six yo rolling round in the back.

Aust road toll 1970 was about 4000, but people just accepted that that was the cost of driving. Interstate highways were terrible - only one lane each way and with very slow trucks, and cars with bugger all pickup, it was easy to get caught out trying to overtake.

Before seat belts, kids would just stand up in the front seat, and if mum had to brake suddenly, she'd just sweep out her left arm to stop kids going through windscreen. Even after seatbelts, this was automatic habit. She'd brake, an arm would come sweeping out and you'd have ice cream al over your face.

Voluntary seatbelts didn'twork, bc if driver put his on, that meant he was a wimp, and if passenger put theirs on, it meant they didn't trust the driver. So making compulsory took out the peer pressure.

In 60's and 70's, driving used to be fun. Now roads are so crowded it's just non stop traffic jams. It started out as a tool for freedom, but now it's become a prison.

Cars becoming appliances.

Internet a big fillup for petrolheads - lots more to read and look at - Top Gear, coverage of auctions and car shows.

Jap cars popular with young drivers partly bc cheap, and partly bc so many manga and anime fans.

"I drive a very nive Merc now and, big deal, it's big and powerful and a bit boring really. I think I'd much rather, if I cd get away with it socially, be driving some hotted up ute."

Drink driving - the tut tut campaigns changed peoples' attitudes, but not their behaviour. (They agreed it was wrong, but they admitted that they sometimes did it). Only compulsory breath testing changed the behaviour on a large scale. But you wouldn't have had community permission tobring it in if hadn't changed attitudes first with the morality campaigns.

Actual road deaths 1970 3798, 2010 1368 - and that despite triple number of cars on road.

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