The long road of the Nullarbor


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The Nullarbor region is arid, remote and challenging to drive across : credit: © Brook James
Imagine driving across Australia in two Series Land Rovers, and then back again. This is Guy Walker’s story of how he and his mate Brook accomplished it

Every shake, sound and smell of my old car felt like it was giving me hypervigilance as I rolled out of my neighbourhood in my 1976 Series III about to cross the Nullarbor Plain – a flat, almost treeless, arid part of southern Australia, as part of my plan to cross the entire country. Already visualising the car on the back of a flatbed, I wondered whether the months of planning and years of dreaming, would all be shattered by one of my classic rushed oversights.

The chosen one: Guy's Series III

I wasn’t the only mad one – a term used regularly by the doubters when I made mention of my trip –
friend Brook James was joining me in a Land Rover of the same vintage. I found my perfect steed in early 2021 from a guy called Mick in Mildura, who put up with two weeks of non-stop questions and video requests before I took a day out to bring her – Sandy the Landy – home with me.

Brook’s SIII did  the entire trip without a roof

I wanted a Series Land Rover that was in sufficiently fine fettle mechanically to be trustworthy on a trip like this one, and I wasn’t afraid to work on the cosmetic side of things myself to create a car that was aesthetically pleasing, too. I then learnt some basic maintenance so I could try to diagnose and resolve any issues. My mechanical knowledge was limited at best, but what I lacked in know-how I made up for with enthusiasm.

Nullarbor: No trees and 90-mile straights

The destination was the Nullarbor, and the journey was a three-week trip following the coastline all the way west from Melbourne’s southeast. Any chance to take these cars off-road, talk with new people or camp beneath the stars, would be taken, and hopefully all within schedule. When I first told Brook about the trip he also thought I was crazy. Hearing of the 4500km (2797 mile) journey without too much of a plan, plus owning one of these cars himself, he questioned my mental state but was also very curious about how the road trip would play out. I don’t know if it was my overly optimistic confidence, or our shared interest in spontaneous adventure, but Brook gave me the green light for the trip only a week before the departure date.

It wasn't all desert. There are also plenty of dirt tracks to be explored off the Nullarbor road down to the coastline

​​​​​In the months leading up to it, a lot of people asked me “why?”. All I can say is I once read 'that nothing truly satisfying comes from what is easy'. Completing this trip in my other car – a 2012 Defender with air-con, a fridge and sound system – would have been exactly that. Where’s the fun in that? This was a big ticket bucket list item for me and I prepared myself to suffer the consequences of what I wished for – hard work.

Guy sorts out breakfast essentials

A quick ferry ride across Port Phillip Bay from Melbourne to Geelong, and stage one of the trip led us along the length of the famous Great Ocean Road. Sunshine was intermittent as we arm-wrestled the cars around each and every turn the coastal stretch threw at us. Smells of the fresh ocean air seeped through the inefficient window seals, temporarily masking the cabin’s stench of hot oil and elbow grease, and small echoes of crackling backfires bounced through the changing scenery of bush, beach and rainforest, along with the thrum of the 2.25-litre engines working their butts off.

Beach driving in remote areas isn’t frowned upon

Camping in the dunes

Onward out of Victoria and into South Australia, business became pleasure as what was meant to be a lunch stop and chance to discuss what lay ahead became a play on the 50 kilometres of sand between Beachport and Robe. People stood open-mouthed as two 30-year olds let down the tyres of their 46-year old cars before tackling the dunes. The cars were in their element off-road. Any rattle or groan appeared to vanish as the cars purred their way in four-wheel drive along the sandy ridgelines of the unworldly landscape. Confidence growing and a thirst for a cold one at the Robe Hotel, we increased our speed along the last stretch, and I caught a glimpse of Brook’s trusty Series becoming airborne. It was time to call it a day.

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Plenty of space, and time to enjoy it

As we pulled northwest through Ceduna and out of the back-end of a storm, we had made a distinct transition from road trip to safari expedition. The square shape of the cars, their patinated green bodies thick with dust, both sat on the horizon so perfectly. The earth’s red became more vibrant and the vegetation thinned out, but while we became more isolated from civilisation we grew more in sync with the cars.

Each afternoon Brook and I slowed and aimed the vehicles off the highway, taking one of the many corrugated dirt paths cliffbound. Impatience and longing for camp were always trumped by the harsh terrain, despite our 50-year-old leaf springs daring us to push them to their limits. These vehicles are hard work on the driver on a good day, but being loaded with enough crap to get us through the next three weeks, I felt like I was on the inside of a maraca, each bump in the road an un-rhythmic cha-cha-cha as our belongings lifted and fell. As we neared camp, I sent another thought of thanks to my friend back home, Julia, for the loan of her sound-cancelling headphones. Once again our ritual of bush yoga, fire and sunset ensued as Brook and I discussed our plans for the next day.

Riding the Eyre Highway over the Nullarbor, my usual driving habits shifted into some uncomfortable form of survival driving. My legs ached from where my right foot was pressing hard against the throttle – any rev losses ruined the momentum I’d worked so hard to build. Each road train – hugely long, multi-trailer trucks – would push our bonnet latches to breaking point (literally) and then lift our wiper blades, returning them with vicious slaps against the windscreen on every bounce. The cockpit was so cramped that every rest stop saw Brook and I laying back-down across our bonnets to stretch our hunched bodies, before we then went to scrounge for firewood. Despite the physical challenges, we couldn’t believe how well these cars were going.

A welcome break...

... for man and machine

Each roadhouse was an adventure in itself. After filling up on whatever unsavoury food had been sitting in a bain-marie for God knows how long, the tools came out and we would check on the cars in our car park workshop. Silver-haired nomads would form a line to drop the old “you can do mine next” or let Brook know he was missing a roof. It was brilliant chatting to all those who came over. And with fellow off-road renegades few and far between, we often spent dusk chatting with the variety of travellers, truckers and fellow misfits that wind up in these desert roadhouses, on their own voyages across the vast underbelly of the red centre.

Hitting a border village after more than 2200 kilometres, we took a step back and admired the terrific work of our little Landys. They weren’t exactly designed for top speed overlanding, but they did one hell of a job. Once the souvenir stand was raided and we used the truck stop showers, it seemed our U-turn was imminent. There was a mix of elation and angst as the trip’s mission was now complete, but we were only halfway through. We now had to do it all again, and make it home with these cars in one piece. They didn’t make it easy, as each afternoon we assessed the broken parts and new noises, and tended to what we could.

The humble SIII: Making friends along the way

Needing a professional to give our engine bays an once-over, a Facebook group inquiry to the Land Rover community led us to the Jones family in Port Lincoln. Not only did our newest friend Peter give our handywork the thumbs up for the last leg of the trip, he and his wife Julie also put us up for the night, fed us and spent the night telling us stories over beer and wine. Our night with the Joneses was a highlight of the trip. The couple opened their home and hearts to two complete strangers purely because we liked the same type of car. As Peter and Julie saw us off, I thought there’s room for us all to be more like the Joneses.

Do you need a better reason to venture out in your Land Rover?

Although obviously keen for a serious rest, the Land Rovers climbed through the Victorian bush with ease before our final campsite atop the Grampians mountain range. Brook and I shared our last beer of the trip sitting on the all-too-convenient flat front wings of the Landys. The three weeks felt like three days and three months at the same time and we were spent. The combo of the cars, swags and truck stop nutrition had us ready for home, but somehow we still couldn’t resist talking about the next adventure.

Cheers, mate!

The hard work had paid off. We both felt a huge sense of accomplishment. It took less than two days before each of us got back to work on our cars. Seems like the next adventure isn’t too far away.

Finally, these trips are made special by those who you meet along the way. So I’d like to do a shout-out to Todd Knight, Nick aka The Professor, Oli and Jade, Widget and Hannah, Peter and Julie Jones, and my great pal Brook for capturing what was one hell of a ride! Special thanks go to Dorian Del Monaco, Richard Hack, ‘The Peninsula Landies’ and especially Chris Rowley for your time and energy given to me and my Land Rover story.


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