Thrills and Spills

Our first caravanning experience in Australia was quite epic. My boss, Phil Parnell of the Moorooduc Service Station, ran a caravan hire business so we hooked one of his 12ft Globetrotter caravans onto our little beetle and the five of us, Vi and I, Chris, Jackie and ‘Puss’ ­ set off for Tallangatta. Puss was a delightful little cat who loved travelling. He sat across my shoulders and took in all the passing scenery. When motorists overtook us, they did a double-take when they saw that a little VW was towing the van and then a triple-take when they saw Puss staring back at them.

I never found out why Vi could get 35mp/h out of the outfit along the dead-flat Murray Valley Highway as we headed for Mildura, but I could never achieve more that 34mp/h with the foot flat to the boards.

We had never encountered a fruit-fly checking station before and it must have been Murphy who advised us to stock up with fruit in Mildura before heading for Renmark. Arriving at the unexpected checking station and being told to either eat the fruit or put it in the bin, we found that both children had lost their appetites. “I’m not hungry,” was their response when told to eat some fruit!

I had miscalculated the distance to Renmark and it was only because the approach to the first service station was downhill that we made it without running out of petrol. You could look in the petrol tank of a VW and the bottom of ours was bone dry before we filled up.

Puss was a bit of a problem in the caravan park where we stayed in Adelaide. A notice said ‘No Dogs’ and although it didn’t mention felines we guessed they would not have been delighted to discover Puss in their park. Next morning, he was missing and I went round whispering “Puss, puss,” until I found him exploring a large shed.

He was a great travelling companion who would go for walks whenever we stopped for a cuppa or for the night, and always returned before we were ready to move off. That is until Apollo Bay! It was our last day of holidays and we pulled up on the outskirts of the town to eat our lunch overlooking the sea. Puss went for his usual stroll but when it was time to go, he was still missing. We called and called, walked up and down the road and were almost ready to give up and assume something bad had happened to him when down the hill and across the paddock from a nearby farm sauntered His Lordship!

I loved that little cat and was very sad when he did go missing forever some months later. We found his tragic skeleton about a year afterwards in some bushes and can only assume that Murphy left a bait that Puss picked up and was poisoned.

Besides car repairs and caravan hiring, Phil also had an agency for Whirlwind lawn mowers and Whirlwind were marketing go-karts with the same motors as used on their mowers. Phil and I decided running a go-kart would be good fun and also good for business so we formed the Mornington Peninsula Go-kart Club with Phil the first president and myself as secretary.

The club thrived and we raced all over Victoria with moderate success until one fateful day when Murphy took a hand.

I did most of the driving as Phil was always busy with some of his many other activities and, as I liked to win, I had spent a lot of time ‘hotting up’ the twin motors. My latest effort involved fitting domed high-compression pistons and running on special racing fuel. The first try-out after this was at a race meeting in Rosebud and it turned out to be a fateful day. The engines only ran for a few laps before overheating and burning a hole in a piston.

It looked like the end of my driving for the day but one generous karter, Wally Reed, said, “Take my kart for the next race.” It was a twisty track with hay bales lining the corners to stop machines running off the edge. I was going very well and clipping the corners as tightly as possible when, unfortunately, I cut in a bit too hard and Murphy tangled the twine on one hay bale with the front stub-axle and flipped the kart to tip me out at speed. The frame of the kart was badly damaged and so were both my hands where I had contacted the bitumen as I slid to a stop.

Although Murph may have thought this was a wonderfully sadistic joke, it was in fact a great thing for me as it led to a change for the better in my career. As I was unable to hold spanners in my bandaged hands, Phil sent me off to call on Peninsula garages to promote our caravan hire business and one call was at Turner Motors, ­the Mornington Rootes Group dealership run by Claude Turner and his two sons.

I already knew the Turners, who were also keen go-karters, and in the course of conversation mentioned I was doing a sales course and would be looking for a position in selling when I finished. Claude immediately offered me a job selling new and secondhand cars, a good stepping stone up from the oil and grease world of the motor mechanic, although the basic grounding in auto engineering has been a fantastic help in many situations since.

Unfortunately, Murphy was well known in the used car business and showed his hand during my very first delivery of a used Holden station wagon to a customer in one of the south-eastern suburbs. With my eyes searching for the number of the property, I started to turn right without looking properly and an unfortunate motorcyclist coming towards me couldn’t stop or swerve in time and his bike hit my front wheel while he sailed over the bonnet and landed on the road on the other side. He claimed all sorts of damages on our insurance,­ some quite fictitious, and of course the Holden had to be repaired before it could be delivered.

A Mk V Jaguar I traded-in at Turner’s was an ideal tow car, so I bought it and we used it to take us on a trip around the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme and also to Sydney with a six-berth caravan on the back. Descending the Bulli Pass, between Sydney and Wollongong, Murphy took a hand so that the gearbox seized-up in bottom gear and locked the back wheels as we negotiated a hairpin bend. After it cooled down, we managed to get into neutral and coast down the rest of the steep hill into the town. Later, as we climbed the Brown Mountain on the way to Queanbeyen, I dreaded the thought of having to use low gear again in case it seized-up and watched the revs carefully to see if we could make the climb in second gear. 

Making matters worse were the signs warning of falling rocks and the fact that the temperature gauge was heading towards boiling point. We had to use the suspect gear for the last few yards of the climb but breathed a huge sigh of relief when we reached the summit.

Around this time, the go-kart club was looking for a venue and Murphy was a great help. Every time we found somewhere that seemed suitable and obtained the needed approvals from councils and whoever else needed to be consulted, he jumped in and put a spanner in the works.

Our final attempt was on a timbered area of Crown land near an old quarry in Moorooduc. We obtained ‘permissive occupancy’ from the Crown Land Department and started to do great things. We borrowed trucks and manually quarried rock from the quarry as foundation for the track, moved tree stumps with gelignite, bulldozed and graded the track, put in ‘aggie’ drains and had it all nearly ready for the inaugural test runs when disaster struck. A formal letter came from the government telling us to quit the site as a reservoir was to be built next to our area and we would, presumably, pollute the water.

Although Murphy had finally succeeded in getting us to abandon our efforts to have our own track, he didn’t have the last laugh that time as our substantial claim for compensation was successful and we were able to put the money into trust and later use it to assist a number of youth-oriented projects on the peninsula.

In the meantime, we amalgamated with the Southern Peninsula Go-kart Club, which already had a bitumen track near Cape Schank. It was­ the track where I earlier had my life-altering crash.


Since returning from our two weeks on the South Island of New Zealand, I’ve been to Adelaide to share my son’s 70th birthday. It was a rushed three-day trip but well worth the effort.

I stayed with Chris and Marijana and on the Friday evening we went out to their favourite Chinese restaurant for a lovely meal.

Framed picture of Lionel with his son, Chris, on his birthday.

While there Marijana took a great pic of Chris and me that they have since framed.

Our celebration was held in a yacht club, with a background of yachts that would have cost millions of dollars. There were ten of us there: me, Jackie and Dennis, and Sue and Shaun from Victoria, and Marijana’s mum Val, plus Marijana’s son Jason and his wife Joyce – and, of course, Chris.

Coming home the next day, I took a scenic route through the Adelaide Hills with many twists and turns. It was very scenic and dotted with quite a few lovely little villages. It came out on the highway at Murray Bridge and continued all the way home.


The week stayed busy, as I play in the Stawell City Brass Band and we played for the Great Western service at 9am followed by our own service in Stawell, Vic.

The lady who gave the speech in Stawell was great. Not only did she have great knowledge of her grandfathers’ wartime experiences but she had travelled in Europe and the Pacific and had seen for herself where the fighting had taken place.


A lovely spot for a picnic!

Apex 40 started 51 years ago at my home in Mornington, Vic, when six couples gathered for a barbecue and we decided to form a group to carry on the fellowship we had enjoyed in Apex. Apexians had to ‘retire’ at 40 back then.

We decided that our wives would also be members of Apex 40 – a great move as they had supported us so well in our Apex days.

There have been many gatherings since those early days and one at our 51st ‘Rort’ at Swansea this coming week.

Getting to NSW was a challenge! I left home on a Friday and camped at a rest area that night. Next day it poured with rain and it was freezing cold! Yemmy doesn’t have a cabin heater these days and I was chilled well before Sydney. I decided to find a caravan park to stay overnight and Mittagong sounded okay so I headed there. Oh no! No vacancies!  However, the kind lady found me a spot with access to a power point and I thawed out.

Morning coffee at the lighthouse.

Next day was so different! Through Sydney on motorways, then a 9km tunnel I didn’t know existed and I made it to Shoal Bay and the caravan park in good time. It was a lovely park with a view of the bay and walking distance of shops.

We had a great week there, including a dolphin-watching cruise, a look at a lighthouse that served lovely coffee and scones and then a picnic overlooking the water on our last day, finishing with a farewell dinner at a Fish Club.

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