Monday 7 August to Tuesday 10 October 2017
A man’s passion for competition, philanthropy and the automobile can only be achieved by traversing across over 10,000 kilometres of the most torturous terrain in Australia?
Some may say this statement is a bit extreme, but for Victorian, Andrew Cannon this recently became a reality.
He owns arguably one of Australia’s top five vintage automobiles, a 1923 Vauxhall 30/9 (Chassis no. OE-1078)8. This “thirsty Vauxhall” is unique to the brand. In the 1920s, Boyd Edkins imported and sold more than 100 of this make from England to Australia, but this particular one was not one of them. It was a one-off factory Works car that Vauxhall had built to compete at English and European circuits such as Brooklands at the time before shipping it to Australia to present it to Edkins as an appreciation for all the business his new car sales gave them.
The car was then competed locally by Edkins and became widely known as the ‘Presentation Vauxhall’. Cannon, the current custodian, acquired the car in 2000 and embarked on a six-year full restoration, which was carried out by known marque expert, John Kent of Crank Start Engineering in country Wangaratta, Victoria, Australia.
Along the journey of its restoration, Cannon met Edkins daughter who he discovered still had the plaque presented by Vauxhall. It was the only surviving linkage between her family and the car. After listening to Cannon’s enthusiasm ,she offered to give him the plaque – which remains on the car to this day.
Cannon’s philanthropic acumen came to the fore in a chance meeting with former sprint-runner Olympic Gold medallist, Cathy Freeman, at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games. This led to the two to co-found the Cathy Freeman Foundation, a non-profit organisation empowering Indigenous education.
10 years on, the Cathy Freeman Foundation continues to gro; with 2,000 Indigenous Children benefiting in the community and with Cannon’s competitive nature to raise awareness and funds for the Foundation’s work, he chose to mark the 10 year anniversary of the Foundation and its work by embarking on this extreme adventure.
In June, Historic Racing Australia’s Charles Rogers caught up with Cannon to discuss the road ahead. Cannon explains: “Freeman is an extraordinary person. To front up to the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, and then get stuck half way up the run to light the torch (having an SAS solider hold two cables together to keep it going) and light the torch, most said to her you’ve achieved what you wanted to, but to Freeman her job was to win an Olympic Gold medal.” Going on to say: “Her first running race was at Hughenden, where she grew up not far from Townsville where she won a sprint event, but they credited the win to a white person as Freeman was indigenous.”
A tough journey it is – both getting out the message of the importance of Indigenous Australians, their culture and education, but also the efforts one man has taken to spread this message through the passion of driving a most historic vintage automobile across our land.
Cannon completed the journey unassisted, no support vehicle, a swag and a few mates joining him in the passenger seat at various points along the way some paying for the pleasure, including the likes of comedian, Mick Molloy.
Setting off from Melbourne on 7th August 2017 in sleeting rain, Cannon was on his way west and across through Horsham, then hitting South Australia and through Port Augusta on his way north.
Coober Pedy stopover in the Outback saw a chance to play on the unique golf course (which has reciprocal rights to the home of golf, St Andrews) at the Opal Fields Golf Club.
He arrived in Alice Springs in time to take part in the Henley on Todd Regatta parade on 17 August 2017, where he was joined by comedian, Mick Molloy.
The carburettor almost caught alight, and issues with the starter motor were all attended to while in Alice Springs for the few days, the only other major issue was getting hit by a wedge tail eagle.
At this point Cannon was greeted by Richard Thomas, the Foundation’s Treasurer for the leg from Alice Springs to Darwin. En route they’d be travelling through the notorious Barrow Creek and Tennant Creek, then Katherine.
An overnight stay at Barrow Creek, perhaps not on most people’s holiday bucket list; the local Police station blocked in the Vauxhall so the locals wouldn’t strip it overnight.
From Darwin it was back down to Tennant Creek, then across to Mount Isa in Queensland passing by a number of large cattle stations camels seen running alongside.
Cathy Freeman then climbed aboard at Hughendenand travelled through Townsville and then barge to Palm Island for the journey across to Palm Island – her mother’s birthplace. The children had never seen a vintage car and it was received with great excitement. Due to the heat, two modern cars had broken down but the Vauxhall continued strongly.
The school on Palm Island is one of a few schools that the Foundation supports and its work has seen attendance rates more than triple in the past ten years. Cannon relished the situation and took as many of the students as possible on joy rides around the Island – for those children it was arguably the first time they had ever seen such an old car, let alone sat in one.
Charles Rogers, Editor of Historic Racing Australia joins the drive…
The scribe travelled to Rockhampton in north Queensland on 14 September 2017 to meet up with Cannon. Cannon arrived in the afternoon of the following day in basking sunshine and high 20s temperature.
Cannon’s drive to Rockhampton started that morning in Mackay, a mere 360 kilometre drive. The Presentation Vauxhall appeared in an absolute resplendent condition, particularly remarkable given some of the remote and treacherous environs endured on the roads to this point.
Cannon advised he had travelled 7,500km to reach Rockhampton with the scribe been the seventh person to be passenger in this mainly solo effort.
There was also a little bit of time for an interview for the local ABC Radio before retiring to an adjacent purveyor of fine ale, Greater Northern beer becoming our drink of choice.
As morning broke the following day (Saturday 15 September 2017) we suited up with protective wear – non-compulsory but mandatory helmet and bandanna, we took a quick drive around Rockhampton to take in some of the historic architecture before taking to the road heading bush.
The plan was to head to Biloela via Mount Morgan, but after a wrong turn we bypassed this historic mining town and traversed through some fabulous roads with open plain vistas.
With an appetite for lunch and no township of any size within coo-wee, we came across a Campdraft event in Jambin where we stopped for a sandwich. Taking in some spectating at this Campdraft event; there was a mixture of young and old competitors all mustering cattle through the poles on course.
The younger generation found the Vauxhall and by the time we arrived back to a small crowd had gathered and were duly given a history lesson on the car and the journey. Cannon also quizzed the emerging generation of cattle-station youngsters about F1 stats from the Monaco Grand Prix. And surprisingly in this semi-remote part of Central Queensland they were quite knowledgeable about the World’s most famous Grand Prix.
Not so was the reception we felt at the pub across the road (where an ale barely touched the side) as we got stares from the locals, so after one ale it was straight back across the road – kind of like a divide.
Suited back up again, climbed aboard and we hit the road to our overnight destination
During a wipe-down of the engine underneath and polish of the brass and chrome of the Vauxhall we got chatting to some workmen staying at the same Motel. They were in town working on maintenance of the nearby gas pipeline and one in particular showed interest in the car. Cannon and the scribe duly learning he too had a large collection of cars, mainly Japanese, back in Brisbane.
The following morning after a coffee at the local Sunrise Bakehouse in Biloela, Cannon commented the roads in this part of the country were amongst the most idyllic and smooth surfaced in the country (in terms of raw country lifestyle appeal) on our way to the coastal township of Seventeen Seventy. The Vauxhall suited these roads perfectly with its good road handling and low-rev cruising speed.
Following a lunch stop at the Miriam Vale Hotel (where after a light beer in the basking sun we could’ve kept the trickle-feed going), we took in some more stunning roads on the short (hour-long) drive through to 1770. A quick wipe-over of the engine bay was all the Vauxhall needed to return it to its showroom condition that evening as Cannon and the scribe took to a walk into the township for some supplies ahead of a nice meal at the nearby resort.
A relaxing start to the following day (Monday 18 September 2017) was all that was needed as the scribe would be departing from nearby Bundaberg Airport in the afternoon. The route was planned over a coffee at the Fingerboard Roadhouse, a short drive back inland from 1770 the choice was to travel via Gin Gin via the Gorge Road.
It wasn’t until we got about a kilometre or so on to Gorge Road that it went from bitumen to dirt. However, as the graded surface looked in very good condition, we chose not to turn back and continued on. Well, there were a lot of great decisions made throughout 2017 and this was by far the best one in a car
Wide enough for two vehicles, we only saw one other car that passed us going the other way as we drove arguably the most picturesque unsealed road in the country, carving our way through established Gum trees either side.
Some time out at a roadhouse in Gin Gin before some final (for the scribe) backroads to the airport in Bundaberg.
For Cannon there would be a further three weeks to travel (including a rest week in Noosa and a visit to the Bathurst 1000 race).
With the formalities of the fundraising side of this journey well and truly behind him, it would be smooth sailing, albeit with a deteriorating right arm and the graphite issue with the clutch.
What a true heroic effort – to take a near 100 year old car across one of the World’s most barren countries, unassisted for two months. His achievement not only echoes that it can be done, but with the added accolade of promoting the achievements and works of a charity he co-founded 10 years ago, is the might of a true Australian.
More than $140,000 was raised from the drive for the Cathy Freeman Foundation – as Education Changes Lives.
Report by Charles Rogers