THE WHEATBELT AUTUMN RUN, W.A. by Ros Hunt & Lois Haime We must be an obedient lot because Stuart said to meet at 9 a.m. for a 9.30 start and most of us were there quite a bit before that. After finding coffee, cakes and loos (not necessarily in that order) ten Buicks (two others joined later), in the morning and one modern car, left Mundaring at the top of the Perth escarpment and headed east to York – the oldest inland town in Western Australia. A quick 30- minute pit stop near the river park was very welcome (we were impressed with the facilities provided for caravanners to stay free for 24 hours). We continued east through farmland to Quairading for refreshments at the small but well-presented town centre park.
Unfortunately we saw the first of the empty shops or “business for sale” signs indicating the tough times these small towns have been going through. Onto Bruce Rock, another farming town for lunch. Delightful Park, pristine toilets and great parking. Hats off to the Shire. The Buicks looked so fantastic: all lined up and certainly drew some attention although not too many folk around. The last drive for the day was through to Merredin, through similar country as before but now seeing the farmers dry seeding in the hope that rain comes within the next three weeks! Certainly very dry conditions at the moment. We were all booked into the Merredin Tourist Park in a variety of chalets and studios. A very appealing park, neat and tidy.
The accommodation was of a very high standard and great parking for the cars. Depending on one’s interest, we had the choice of a visit to the Military Museum, shopping or resting. Those that visited the Museum were impressed with the local history and the stories of the locals who went to war. Merredin is on the Gt Eastern Highway and as such, sees a lot of traffic heading over east or coming through to Perth, especially big semis and caravans. Crossing the road to get to the shops was something to be done carefully. Despite Merredin being an important centre for some government agencies and also a transport and farming hub, there were still empty shops. A communal BBQ took place that evening. Unfortunately there was limited lighting so there was some difficulty cooking and eating but mobile phones have their uses! Rick Beasley gave a fascinating talk on the history of his 1929 Coupe from the local history side – who had owned it and where it had been. With great perseverance and persistence, he had managed to discover the previous owners, one was a dentist who had served in the Dental Corp during WW2 and where the car had been in the years before he brought it.
The lack of lighting meant that Rick’s photos couldn’t be viewed so a repeat presentation is due at a later date. Fuelling up was the order of the morning for most Buicks with a fuel stop just next door. John and Sue Bell took us on a scenic tour of the town, criss-crossing the back roads and giving the locals some excitement as the group of Buicks drove around. We then headed north through more farming land to Nungarin. Nungarin was the site of an important army ordinance camp during WW2. The town was selected as it was outside the range of any Japanese carrier-based aircraft and was also easily accessible by the rail network. The Nungarin Heritage Machinery and Army Museum is now located on this site. We were warmly welcomed by the locals who run the museum and provided with morning tea which included fresh scones. We were then given a very informative talk of the decision to set up the museum as a way of revitalising the town. An amazing collection of war machinery, gathered from far and wide, mostly from farms where the machinery had been bought and often adapted for use on the farm after the war. There was one story about a farmer who had bought a General Grant tank for 35 pound. His wife had asked why he had bought it and he replied that he had bought something for 35 pound which had cost the government 35,000 pound to make. The tank was used for clearing the land and must have been a sight to see as it blundered through the scrub scaring kangaroos and the like. The aviation fuel that went with the tank only cost four pence a gallon whereas ordinary domestic fuel at the time cost one shilling and four pence.
A General Grant tank was found amongst rusting military paraphernalia in the back yard. It seemed to be missing its turret but this could have disappeared under a low hanging branch (see photo). There was some discussion that the Grants had come from North Africa after British Forces there received the new Sherman tanks, however most historians believe that the tanks had come direct from the US because they were a dark khaki colour which wouldn’t have been suitable for desert warfare. They were repainted in Australia and a yellow circle on the front showed the weight of 27 tons and the insignia of the 1st Australian Armoured Division.
A delicious lunch was provided before we set off, all rather full after the country hospitality. We headed west where The Buick News Page 11 June 2018 the country was quite flat and large paddocks had been cleared, again waiting for seeding. Most of us drove straight through to Wongan Hills, our next overnight stop. Jim and Beryl had a few wheel issues necessitating assistance from fellow Buick travellers. They eventually turned up at the pub, albeit an hour late. The Wongan Hills Hotel sits proudly on a corner site, having been constructed in the art deco style in 1946 with its impressive front façade of a large curved verandah. A blackboard out the front of the hotel welcomed the Buick Car Club which was a nice touch. We had booked all our motel units and three of the upstairs rooms in the pub. We managed to squeeze most of the Buicks at the front of motel rooms for security reasons. Perhaps the term should be a “Sardine of Buicks”.
The usual beer, wine and nibblies were enjoyed near the cars late afternoon and as night fell, we all adjourned for a pub dinner. The staff did exceptionally well to cater for our table of 26 as judging by chatting to the locals, it is usually a bit quieter. Morning fuel up for some. Many of these smaller towns have the 24-hour card only machines which we all felt gave good prices. Due to a festival at Toodyay, we decided to meander back to Northam via Bolgart. Bolgart has a population of only 100 so we were most surprised to find a coffee shop open. The owner said she had watched us all pull up and she and her husband said, “Oh my goodness! They’re coming in here!” Driving down toward Northam the countryside becomes more undulating with hills and valleys. This was where we saw clouds of dust as the wind raced down the valley taking the topsoil with it. There are great picnic facilities at Northam, however light rain was starting to fall. It was decided to end the weekend there and head off home. Grateful thanks were given to Stuart and Delys Syme for the organising and preparation of the run. All cars headed off and then stopped 20 minutes down the road at the famed Baker’s Hill Pie Shop for a pie or pastie to take the edge off the light rain and a cold gusty wind. From there it was all downhill at the escarpment and back to Perth.
Thanks to all for a fabulous weekend and a great workout for our Buicks.