The Warrnambool Historical Vehicle Club exhibition held at Lake Pertobe is usually a great opportunity for L-plate journalists like me to garnish some wonderful stories, but today I was happy just to wander around these classic beauties.
This year’s theme for the event was UK Classics – ‘Best of the British’ but there is usually a vehicle to cater for everyone, with trucks, tractors and motorbikes amongst the historical vehicles on display.
Each classic is usually accompanied by a information sign, showing a car’s story and often the manufacturing history. Exhibitors are welcoming of enqueries and always up for a friendly chat.
The exhibition has been a local drawcard for about four decades, initially cooked-up round a kitchen table by a group of local enthusiasts.
It was Chevrolets that attracted my late father to the yearly display, which usually saw one of us kids pressed into going with him.
It was those visits with Dad that taught me an appreciation for the vehicles and the people who exhibited them.
Dad could just wade in and start talking to anyone about their car: where they got it, how much they paid for them and who helped them do it up.
And it was at these car exhibitions that I learned bits and pieces about Dad’s own history, especially in those last few years when older memories were those easiest to retrieve.
A certain make or model would jog Dad’s memory, and he would tell me something about an event or a place or person, giving me a rare glimpse into Dad’s early life.
One truck reminded him of an incident in the Otways he told me, where a similar model spun out of control and its back wheels were left hanging over a mountain edge. Dad laughed as he told how the driver had to crawl out the window and onto the bonnet, all the while trying to keep the truck from tipping backwards down the mountain.
One little story could lead to others if one dare ask: like the times he did road carting through the Otways, and how his father worked with him sometimes in the roadmaker’s camp, or hungry days with only some boiled onions for lunch or some oranges to whet the whistle.
The car exhibitions were rare times Dad let down his guard, telling stories like how he got his start in working life at Condon’s quarry outside Apollo Bay, and how his boss let him pay off his first truck because he was hardworking, reliable.
And how he got sent to the Western District to take over management of a quarry, and got stuck in floods at Port Fairy accompanied by ‘Little Mac’. Without much money the two men had to spend a week sleeping on the verandah of the Star-of-the-West hotel at Port Fairy, their only tucker free from Cobb’s Bakery across the road.
My uncle Brian (‘Popeye’ to the family, and I still don’t know why) was the first to own a Chev, a truck bought when he joined Dad and another brother in the cartage business out of Apollo Bay in the 1940’s.
Marriage and a growing family just added to Dad’s ambitions as to the size and the age of the Chev to be acquired.
Aside from a brief foray into Morris Minors’s Dad kept collecting Chevs over the years – Pontiacs and Impalas were his favourites – and nearly all his sons were given a Chev of their own- (daughter’s not faring so well!). He’d hoped to be buried with his last three, but they went not long before he did.
The Warrnambool Historical Vehicle Club was more than just an exhibition venue for Dad: he caught up with some familiar faces and got to spend the day down memory lane, a reassuring experience for those whose memories are tested by their advancing years.
But my husband did get anxious as I hovered for the third time near a classic BelAir: I think he was worried his newly cleared-out garage might soon house the beginnings of a new obsession.