Getting Lost in an A-Model Ford in 1929

22 May 1974The Australian Women's Weekly

Melbourne reader Lois Adam recalls the first time she saw Sydney - and the 'pioneer' journey over bad roads to get there!

In 1928, when I was a small child, my mother, father, two sisters and myself moved to the country town of Tumut, N.S.W. after living in Melbourne.  

At the end of that year my father bought a Ford motor car. the very latest - a 1929 Model.  

I don't know if he had ever driven a car before, but   he seemed proficient, and after taking us for drives around the Tumut country side for about a month, he came home one afternoon and said to my mother, "Pack some suitcases, we're going to Sydney in the  morning."

It was January, 1929, very hot, and it was the school holidays.

Late in the afternoon my mother began washing dresses, furiously.

Then she sat up all night ironing them, and packing them into suitcases, and just before sunrise on the next morning we set off for Sydney, nearly 300 miles away.  

If you think that that was Just a matter of getting into the car and hitting the Hume Highway at Gundagai, then coasting along blissfully until we reached Sydney, then you are wrong. Travelling by car in 1929 wasn't as easy as it is today.  

As I remember it, the Sydney to Melbourne road wasn't called the Hume Highway in those days and it certainly was not the long ribbon of bitumen that it is today.  

It was mostly unsealed, and there were other unsealed roads branching off at regular intervals.  

Easy to take a wrong turning Signposts were few and far between, and for anyone unfamiliar with the route, as we were, it was easy to take a wrong turning, and after going for some miles to suddenly realise that you were heading for Booligal, or somewhere!

My elder sister was navigator. She sat up in front with my father, reading out detailed instructions from a road directory.

She can't have been a very good navigator, because my father became increasingly nerve wracked trying to keep on course.

We reached Goulburn about lunch time.

In 1929 hats were important pieces of apparel, and throughout the whole trip, we wore our best headgear.

As we sat in the car in Goulburn's main street, a gust of wind sent my best hat whizzing along the thorough-fare, and my second sister, with stockinged feet, chased after it.

We arrived at Liverpool in the late afternoon, and then followed an incredible evening.

I suppose street directories for Sydney and suburbs existed in 1929, but we didn't have one.

My father was headed for the Sydney suburb of Oatley. 

At Oatley lived his Aunt Flo, whom the rest of us had never met.

He had the idea that she would be delighted to see us all, and that we could stay with her.

As Henry Lawson once wrote, "It's cheaper to stay with relatives than to go to a pub."

My mother had been protesting strongly that she would not inflict five people on anyone, especially someone she had never met, and who did not know we were coming, but my father was bent on taking us to his Aunt Flo's.

But Aunt Flo, blissfully unaware that a hovering horde was trying to descend upon her just as soon as it could find its bearings, mercifully had a reprieve.

We just couldn't find Oatley.

It became darker and darker, and we drove round and round, like someone trapped in a maze. My father would pull up, and say to a passer-by, "Excuse me . . ." and ask directions.

Then he would say. "Thank you very much." And we would drive off, and become lost somewhere else.

About 11 o'clock, completely "bushed."

My father knocked on the door of a hotel at Mortdale.

An obliging proprietor arose from his bed, and installed us in front bedrooms, where trains thundered by with sleep-shattering vibration.

Next morning after breakfast we managed to locate Aunt Flo, and she turned out to be very bright and hospitable, and she did seem delighted to see us and wanted us all to stay, but my mother was adamant.

It would have been a beaut place to stay. The backyard ran down to water, where there was a boathouse, and lots of black, squelchy mud.

My father drove us into the city, and installed my mother and us children in the People's Palace, in Pitt Street.

Then he headed back to Oatley, to enjoy his Aunt Flo's hospitality.

My fathier seemed to have a good supply of aunts whom the rest of us had never met.

He seemed very fond of them, and no wonder, because they were bright and generous, an Irish ascended branch of his family.

We were taken to the jewellery firm of Bruce and Walsh to meet another of his aunts, tall and fashionably dressed.

Another aunt lived at Randwick, and we were invited there for an evening meal.

My father, who had once lived in Sydney, was now Melbourne-orientated, and he criticised Sydney's narrow streets.

But any disappointment with Sydney's streets was offset by that first view of Sydney's harbor.

For a child, the harbor, and the ferry trips to Manly and to Taronga Park Zoo, were magical, it was no wonder to find a Fairy Bower at Manly, it was a place of magic.

Today, I suppose, passengers to Manly gaze with wonder at Sydney's Opera

House. In 1929. the commuters stared with awe

and interest at Sydney's uncompleted Harbor ridge. The spans, with a wide gap in between, jutted out from the opposite shores.

In Sydney of that January, 1929, the world's first "talkie" film was being screened "The Jazz Singer," with Al Jolson.

My mother took us to visit her cousin, Mrs John Franklin, mother of authoress Miles Franklin, who was back in Sydney in that January of 1929.

We had been invited to an evening meal at her mother's home, and Miles arrived late, dressed in a well-cut black dress.

She cast a critical eye over my sisters and myself, one with curls and the other two with plaits, and she said, scornfully: "Long hair! A frowsy habit!"

When our holiday in Sydney was over and it was time to extradite ourselves from the city, I can remember thinking, almost desperately, "Please don't let us get lost again!"

But on the return trip to Tumut, somewhere out near Punchbowl or Bankstown, there we were, lost again, driving around in the early morning, pulling up passers- by, and my father saying, "Excuse me" and "Thank you very much" as he sought directions.

I visited Sydney several times after 1929, but that first time I saw Sydney is etched in my memory like some old, favourite movie I haven't been able to forget.