Mark J. Keenan
The Old Girl
In a backyard in a northern coastal suburb of Perth, squeezed between a limestone retaining wall and a galvanised steel shed, is the front bonnet of a 1974 Series III LWB Land Rover.
The hood, a light brown colour matching the vehicle it was removed from, has an outline map of Australia hand-painted in black on it and a thin red-line showing a circumnavigation route of the country, plus side-trips, totalling around thirty-five thousand kilometres.
I removed the bonnet before we sold the four-wheel drive, At the time, I had plans to make it the centrepiece of our “games room”, when we eventually had enough money to have a home with one. Life had other plans however and when we packed up and went to live in Asia for a couple of years, we sold the house, leaving our souvenir behind the shed.
Karen and I were married in January 1993. After the reception we were transported by horse and carriage to, what was then known as, the Burswood Island Hotel. The following day, at Karen’s parents’ house, we bid farewell to our families and climbed into the front of “the Landy”. After reversing onto Beach Road, I shifted into first gear and we set off on our honeymoon, a trip around Australia.
The back of a Series III long-wheelbase has bench seats, running along the edges, like a troop-carrier. Ours had a three-quarter-inch thick slab of wood running across between the benches and all the way from the back door to the drivers and passenger seats. Beneath this we kept our cooking equipment and our tent. On top, was a caravan mattress, and along one edge was where we kept the esky and a jerry can filled with water.
Of course, we had no mobile phone and the internet did not exist, but we rang home once a week, from a payphone, using loose coins we’d collected. It was expensive and we’d only get ten minutes before we ran out of coins. Sometimes we would reverse charges to our parents, but they couldn’t afford big phone bills either, so we tried not to do this often. We sent letters and postcards in between the calls.
We took my portable stereo and a bunch of tapes, so we had music when we stopped. And when the stereo in the vehicle crapped out about three quarters of the way around the country, we even tried to use it to listen to music while travelling. It didn’t work so well. If I close my eyes, I can still hear the rambling noise from the tyres, the screaming Holden six-cylinder engine (a transplant, and a mistake), and the howling air passing the less than aerodynamic brick shape of the cabin.
We didn’t have a CB radio and there was no recovery equipment packed either (apart from a small shovel). I am not even sure we had a first aid kit. But, apart from blowing a hole in the radiator, on a heavily corrugated outback road, hundreds of kilometres from the nearest service station, we had few dramas.
Okay, that’s not quite true.
The shockies were changed out in Melbourne. The gearbox replaced in Coffs Harbour. The engine mounts somewhere in the Northern Territory. And something else was fixed in Sydney. And when we finally returned to Perth and were backing into a car-bay at Innaloo, the gearstick snapped off at the base. Luckily, my mum was home when we called, and she drove my dad’s Land Rover over to pick us up.
Since my teenage years, I’d wanted to travel around the country in a Land Rover and when Karen and I decided to ditch our original idea, a Disneyland honeymoon, and do the trip, I was ecstatic. It was a fantastic trip, full of adventure, and love. It was a proving ground for our strength as a couple, and Karen’s ability to put up with me! And so, the “old girl” (the Landy!) will always have a place in our hearts.