Introduction - 'Are we there yet, Mr Holmes?'
AT 10am on a cold and wet Monday morning in April 1900, two men departed the New South Wales town of Bathurst in a self-designed, self-built steam phaeton in what was the first long-distance motor car trip in Australia – destination, Melbourne, Victoria, 793.8 kilometres away.
Their trials and tribulations were written in a diary by one of the men and can be read on this website by visiting the link ‘The Thomson diary’.
One hundred and twenty years on my wife, Julie, and I re-enacted their drive, following as close as possible the route they took and visiting the same villages and towns, many of which have been bypassed.
Their little-known story is as interesting as it is adventuresome and while it took the pioneering duo 10 days to complete their drive, we could have done it in one if we wanted to stretch ourselves.
But that would have meant driving the main highways and not the (almost) exact route they took.
In their own words: ‘To attempt a ‘record’ with such an experimental car, over roads quite unknown to the drivers, was out of the question and the objects aimed at were to give publicity to the car and return safely.
‘The pace therefore was moderate throughout.’
As was ours, adhering to the various speed limits and visiting all the towns mentioned in the Thomson diary.
It is ironical that their journey started in a town with a mountain.
That mountain – Mount Panorama – is now the spiritual home of Australian motorsport.
This diary, written 120 years on, is an unashamedly updated version of the original, except we have put our own spin on events and how the villages, towns, and now cities, they passed through all those years ago have grown with, or succumbed to, progress.
While they ‘risked all to gain all’, we had excellent roads to travel on, fuel, food and accommodation was readily available, satellite navigation if we got lost and, heaven forbidden, if our car did fall foul of a mechanical fault, help was just a phone call away.
We would encourage anyone looking for a long drive in the country to follow this path of Australian motoring history.
It is as interesting as it is scenic and most, if not all, of the villages, towns and cities along the route have an exciting history of their own.
They are testament that bypass does not mean death.
We were not sponsored, nor did we receive any gratuities, our Volkswagen Polo being a press loan vehicle, one of dozens of vehicles driven during the year for thecountrydriver.com’s weekly Road trip | Review column.
We did have the courtesy of advising Volkswagen Group Australia of our intentions, which they agreed to.
Enjoy the read of our motoring history.
- Darryl and Julie Starr