Murphy on the Nullarbor

The Wallaby Track: In chapter 16 of his book, Living with Murphy, Lionel recounts his misadventures across the Nullarbor.

A well-loaded delivery bike at the Goolwa Motor Museum.

Most of our run-ins with Murphy have taken place while travelling, usually while we have had a caravan on tow.

Murphy took a hand on our first trip across the Nullarbor,­ known as the ‘treeless plain’, although the ‘true’ Nullarbor stretches to the north and isn’t the bit you cross as you travel from the eastern states to Western Australia. Despite this, many people sport bumper stickers stating they have crossed the Nullarbor.

The road to the west was unsealed for many hundreds of miles on the South Australian side of the border in those days, and our hired caravan kept breaking window catches and letting in the thick red dust. This was bad enough, but then Murph decided to make it interesting by causing a 2L bottle of orange cordial to burst. The sticky cordial mingled with the red dust and then seeped into the bedding that had come off the bunks due to the roughness of the road.

We were already hot, tired and dirty so a bit more discomfort was taken in our stride and we breathed a collective sigh of relief when we eventually came to bitumen again. Nowadays, lovely air-conditioned roadhouses are to be found every couple of hundred kilometres and the road is sealed all the way.

We had a lovely time at the Apex convention in Perth, although our friend didn’t behave all the time. I got completely bushed very late one night as I attempted to follow some sketchy directions back to our caravan park – I ended up heading south on the Kwinana Freeway, with Vi and our daughter Jackie saying, “Wake us up when you get home!”

We took lots of photos on that trip, including great pics of the quokkas on Rottnest Island, and continued ‘snapping’ on the way home along the coast to Mt Gambier. It was there at the Blue Lake we discovered there was no film in the camera, with­ both of us thinking the other had put in a 36-shot film. Oh, you blighter, Murphy! 

Many years later, he did a similar thing when we were taking school photos at a place called Cunnamulla, WA. On a particularly busy day, with two schools plus a preschool to photograph (we were school photographers) before moving on to the next town that same day, I took pictures of all the classes and the staff group at the Catholic school, only to discover to my horror there had been no film in the camera! It was very late when we arrived at Charleville that evening.

On another trip to the west, we decided to visit some wineries in the Margaret River area and as we were a bit pressed for time, we left the caravan on the back of our little Nissan Pulsar and headed for the beautiful LLeuwen Winery, where they often have orchestral concerts in the summer months. The way into the winery was by a gravel road, through the vines, and when we came to a steep descent, Vi queried how we would get back up. “No worries,” I foolishly replied,­ hoping like heck it was in fact no worries! I should have known better!

Having tasted a few nice drops, we headed back to the hill and I got up as much speed as I dared and then changed down like a budding racing driver until, in first gear and lifting the foot to maintain traction, we eventually came to a halt a few feet from the top of the hill. 

“What are you going to do now?” Vi asked.

“Reverse back down,” I replied.

“I’m getting out,” was her rejoinder, quick as a flash, and she did!

Backing down was another thing and as soon as I eased the brakes, the back wheels turned but the front ones stayed locked, which gave no control whatsoever and the outfit headed for the edge of the road. Murphy, of course, had dug a ditch and the caravan wheels slipped into it, making it impossible to move either forwards or back.

Fortunately, the vineyard foreman and his offsider came by and rescued us with a tractor, ­ although to this day I’m puzzled as to why he made me go down the hill backwards on the end of a chain when he could so easily have towed us over the brow of the hill. Apparently, the hill was usually no problem but they had graded it the previous day and left the surface loose.

Just about as far away as you could get from Margaret River, WA, is the lovely Far North Queensland settlement known as Grasstree Beach. It used to be the preserve of a wild donkey called Jacko but he went the way of all donkeys and the local council no longer allows camping on the foreshore, ­quite unrelated events but both sad to relate.

We used to often spend time there and one day when we arrived with our new solar panel on the roof of the caravan, we were naturally anxious to have the van in the sun. 

After parking the outfit, I realised a couple of palm trees would shade the panel so I decided to move. The car was in loose sand and wouldn’t move, so I tried to unhitch to get into a better position but unfortunately I wound the jockey wheel up too far and the screw thread inside became damaged. We had a hydraulic jack so I jacked the van up with that to let me undo the jockey wheel to try to get it to screw back into the thread. I had to take it apart for this and Murphy ensured that all the little ball bearings in it dropped into the sand where they were very, very hard to find. Vi, meanwhile, was dying for a cuppa, but dared not go into the van while it was perched precariously on the jack and had to wait a considerable time until I had been to the local garage and to borrow some tools to repair the damaged thread. It was not our best Saturday afternoon, I must say.

Not long after this, we needed new tyres while camped 60km north of Mackay at Cape Hillsborough National Park and drove into Mackay to get some fitted. Next morning, Vi came back into the van and asked, “Should there be a piece of wood sticking out of your tyre?”

I’d staked a new tyre while we were collecting some wood for a campfire on the way home. When I tried to put the spare wheel on, it wouldn’t fit. Someone (Murphy?) had replaced the spare with an earlier model wheel. Fortunately, the caravan had the same wheels as the car and by using the spare from the van we were able to get back to Mackay, buy a new wheel for the spare and get the puncture mended.


When I last wrote to you, I didn’t know if Yemmy was going to be ready to go to the Australian Caravan Club’s annual muster in Goolwa, SA, but everything turned out well.

A friend of Lionel’s enjoying herself at the museum.

I had eleven caravans from my branch in Gippsland, Vic, here at my place on the Wednesday before the muster and I joined them for the next three days on our way to Goolwa. It was a pleasant journey and we arrived on the Saturday ready for a week of interesting activity.

There was so much to do and see, so I was very busy. Activities included a trip on a paddle steamer in the bay, a bigger boat on the Murray where we had a lovely meal at lunchtime, a visit to a huge animal park, and a visit to three vineyards with wine tastings. None suited me because since I’ve had diabetes my taste has preferred sweeter liquids!

My visit to Victor Harbour included a trip in a horse-drawn double decker tram – a lovely, smooth journey.

The tram that the horse towed.

The first part of my journey home was on a lesser road and was livened up by a large kangaroo taking his time crossing the road, causing me to brake hard to miss him.

Once back on the main highway, it was all easy going, and I was back home in the late afternoon.

The next day saw the start of a musical week. On the Monday morning, I had a rehearsal with a trombone trio followed in the afternoon by a rehearsal by a few members of the Stawell City Band. The following day, both groups played for the scholars who were celebrating a music morning. Then it was back to the normal Thursday night band practice with the Stawell band.

Since then, the band has played for the Stawell Gift, a busy time with a lot of people listening to our music.

The first day of November is special for me as it’s my birthday and this year brought my 92! My Facebook page carried lots of lovely messages and congratulations, but adding to the celebrations was fundraising for the Motor Neurone Foundation and we broke the target of $300!