Iron Knob

We left Esperance, Western Australia at around 8:00am. A little way out of town and we turned right onto the Eyre Highway that would take us across the Nullabor Plain.

Unfortunately Bridget still has a problem which I am fairly certain is a partial blockage in the fuel system. I have given considerable consideration whether to sort it before leaving or hoping it will clear itself and, if not, then locating the source of the problem and clearing it. I have already checked the carburettor that had the loose damper but that is clean so I suspect either the hoses leading to the filter or the fuel pump. We are going to drive on.

Originally I thought this part of the journey would take two days but then I discovered the distance is 1400 miles so three days would be more relaxed. I have had several varying comments on this route from “it’s very boring” to “you’ll love it”, along with the usual warnings about ’roos and road trains. Only road trains of up to 36 metres may use this highway, that is 11 times longer than Bridget, but the really big ones of 53 metres are not allowed.

I quickly discovered that Bridget’s engine ran fine up to 50 mph after which it coughed and spluttered dreadfully and so I restricted our speed to that, at least that is what the speedometer says but I think it may be a little inaccurate as hardly anything caught up with us. The weather has improved considerably and I have put the roof down.

I can understand the variance of comments that I received as the road is the same for mile after mile. It is flanked on both sides for most of its entirety by bush, but it does offer variety. Sometimes it is heavily wooded, with 25ft trees that have all of their foliage on the ends of the branches and none at all lower down. This leaves all of the lower part of the tree bare and looking spindly. Then there is bush that has densely populated shrubs of between 12 inches in height up to 8 ft. It is this type of cover that makes the kangaroos such a danger as it is impossible to see them until they break cover often by jumping into the road. Finally there is the type of bush that looks very similar to British heath-land, with short, course grass and occasional small shrubs. Also in each variety of bush there is a sprinkling of brilliantly coloured flowers.

The road is single carriageway with gravel hard shoulders either side of about 7 feet each. After the first 150 miles it suddenly changed, in that the hard shoulders became three times wider. There were also strange white painted markings across the width of the road and then I saw a sign “RFDS Emergency Aircraft Runway”. They cleverly turn the road into a runway for the Australian Flying Doctor Service. I saw this no less than five times on this highway which gives you some idea of the distances involved.

I was still taking in how far it was possible to see down the road in front of us, when I saw another sign this one stating that this was the start of Australia’s longest continuous straight road covering a distance of 90 miles. I was astounded, firstly by the length of the road where the only bend was due to the earth’s curvature, and secondly that nobody had set-up a tourist toll booth! (Bet there’s one there next week). For a few moments I thought of doing a Mr Bean and tying off the steering so I could retire to a good book, but then I remembered the wandering menagerie and decided I should stay alert and in control!

My first night was spent in a roadhouse in Cocklebiddy, reputedly a town with a population of 9 people, 4 dogs, 12 canaries, 3 quails and 1,318,472 kangaroos (I thought about asking for a re-count). There are many localities like this all along the highway and because of the isolation they have some unusual systems e.g. if they have an item they want delivered to a location east of their location they merely ask a passing trucker if he would take it. There is no mobile telephone coverage in these areas because the cost of installing equipment for so few people would never be recovered. Also I didn’t see any internet services available for visitors although some of the roadhouses had dial-up connection for themselves.

Our second night was spent in Penong. The first thing I discovered was that we had come through two time zones and I had to put my watch on by 1½ hours putting me 10½hours ahead of the UK. Here I stayed in the local pub, only because there was no roadhouse available you understand.

I am clearly not the only person with time on their hands and an unusual sense of humour. Along the Nullabor I spied a hat tree (lots of different coloured hats hanging from various branches), a shoe tree, that is a tree with lots of shoes not a… oh what the heck, a glove tree and a bottle tree. The road eventually joins the highway from Woomera and a little way down that I saw an eight foot high flying saucer and on the other side of the road an even taller cyberman. Woomera was of course the site of the British Atom bomb testing back in the 1950’s. I think we may have tried to launch a number of our unique British space rockets there as well. They were unique in that they all tried tunnelling to space!

I passed through a small town called Lockiel that is beside a large lake and some wag has built a ‘Nessie’ look-alike in the water. Just down the road is a shopping centre called Dublin’s and there is a picture of a leprechaun with an Aussie cork hat!

During this type of journey my mind wanders through all sorts of things, many inconsequential, but I do find many of the place names in Australia distracting e.g. Grasspatch, Quorn and Iron Knob. Schoolboy sense of humour aside I find the Australian tendency to give something a name that is descriptive quite refreshing. The Bottle Brush flower, the town Grasspatch is little more than just that, and the 28 parrot that has a call that sounds like ‘28’.

By the end of Tuesday, the third day, we arrived in Adelaide. Bridget has once again triumphed over adversity and I decided to call for assistance the next morning. I suspect that there is a blockage possibly in the fuel tank but we will get expert advice. We have completed 1,432 miles during the past three days taking our total in Australia so far to more than 2,000.

MGCC South Australia to Rescue

I made contact with Bob Bazzica who owns MG Sales & Service in Adelaide. Having explained the problem I was having he said to come over when I was ready and they would take a look. From the outset Bob said he was doubtful that the problem was a blockage in the tank and he was, in due course, proved correct. He wasn’t happy with the amount of fuel that the mechanical pump was passing and said that really I should have an electric pump that performed better in the heat of Australia and keep the mechanical one for emergencies. This I agreed to and he fitted the new pump. He then went on to examine the twin SU carburettors and immediately found the likely main cause of the trouble and that was that one of the air filters had been put on up-side down. The back plate of the filter was blocking two air holes.

On removing the carburettor needles he also found first, that the seat of one was protruding far too much when it really should be flush, and secondly there were signs of wear. We agreed to order a new pair from Sydney that would be delivered the next day and Bob re-assembled the existing ones temporarily. I took the car for a test drive and after several miles really smooth motoring was surprised when the engine backfired severely then all power was lost and Bridget ground to a halt.

After allowing the engine to cool for around an hour I nursed her back to the garage. Bob said that probably there was too much fuel now being delivered to the chambers and so set-up the carburettors all over again. This did the trick and the next morning the new needles were delivered, fitted and the engine tuned. The difference is palpable and even the idling speed, which has given me trouble ever-since I bought the car, is now as recommended.

Bob is a member of the MG Car Club of South Australia and he invited me to meet more of the members on Friday night. They have a very good venue with all the facilities necessary. As expected everyone gave me a very warm welcome.

Meanwhile I have been looking around Adelaide which is a very clean, open and well planned city with lots of beautifully kept parks. It has its share of both 19th century and new architecture, with some wonderful buildings dating back to the mid/late 19th century. One of these is the town hall and another The General Post Office. I noticed one of the foundation stones of the Post Office building was engraved “This stone was laid by HRH Duke of Edinburgh 1868” I really didn’t realise he was as old as that! It explains a lot.

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