A Trip to Town

Margaret Burns

My father was a grazier and we lived seventy six miles from Wilcannia, two hundred miles from Broken Hill in western New South Wales. Anywhere was a long way from home and a car trip took planning. We had to carry patches for the tyres; a good tool kit; a shovel to dig the vehicle out of sand or, very occasionally, mud; water for the radiator and for the family in case of a break down; and snacks for the journey. I remember Dad's T Model Ford as a rattling, dust gathering, bouncing, contraption, fondly called "Matilda" as she sort of waltzed along the winding two wheel bush tracks.

The baby, and there was always a baby, was nursed in the front passenger seat by Mum. Dad drove and the rest of us were in the back seat. When we were all very small Dad used to roll up a single mattress and shove it between the front and back seats to make a nest for us to curl up on and, hopefully, sleep the hours of travel away.

As the family grew in size the back seat became a battle ground. Several of us suffered from car-sickness and felt better if we could sit by the window but there were only two windows. Four of us were born in two years and eleven months. After a break of almost four years, four more arrived – a total of eight children under eleven years of age. These days this family would have to use a "people mover" van with a seat and seat belt for every person in the vehicle. When I see the modern baby capsules, child seats and seat belts I remember how it was when I was a child.

A trip to Broken Hill took almost all day. We would leave home before first light, have breakfast in Wilcannia with Dad's parents, then drive on. One part of the road was called "the springs hills" because the roadside was littered with broken motor vehicle springs. The road was rocky and corrugated and even large trucks came to a grinding halt when the springs under the back of the vehicle collapsed. A motorist then flagged down another vehicle and begged the driver to stop at Little Topar to phone ahead to Broken Hill for spare parts to be brought out to their stranded vehicle. The cost must have been horrific.

When Queen Elizabeth visited Broken Hill in 1954 our family joined the procession of vehicles wending their way to the Hill. The "springs hills" claimed us again that day and we spent twelve hours beside the road waiting for spare parts to arrive. It was summer time and hot. Our parents doled out water, apples and biscuits to us during the long day. We finally arrived in Broken Hill after midnight to find that our room at the hotel had been given away to other travellers and we spent the night in a dormitory usually reserved for travelling salesmen. Our parents were worried because the other beds were being used by men who had been drinking quite a lot and a card game was in progress at one end of the large room. Dad took the cot at one end and Mum the one at the other, with we kids, two to a bed, in between. Dad was worried about Mum too but she told him she was a big girl and could look after herself. We did see the Queen the next day despite adventures along the way.

I remember an emu hitting our car once and my little brother, who was standing between the seats, hit the wind-screen. He had a headache for a few days but otherwise was all right. Our vehicle was upgraded quite a few times and we had one of the first Holden's available. Dad purchased a Ford Customline on the day of my twin sister's and my eleventh birthday and we claimed it as ours. We children all learned to drive young and, as soon as was legally possible, and ocassionally before – when Dad wasn't around we drove ourselves about