Bill Tuckey, Wheels’ great editor from 1963 to 1968, loved nothing more than a long road trip. During my era as editor of the magazine, I found it impossible not to run a Tuckey piece on driving out there under our Big Sky country.
They were all different, yet essentially highlighted the delights to be had when exploring Australia by car. When the copy arrived – typed on paper in those long ago days – he always wanted to include the same much-loved quote from Mark Twain, the American writer (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer) and humourist.
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In Following the Equator, Twain, who visited Australia in 1895 on a lecture tour, wrote, “Australian history is almost always picturesque; indeed, it is so curious and strange, that it is itself the chiefest novelty the country has to offer, and so it pushes the other novelties into second and third place. It does not read like history, but like the most beautiful of lies. And all of a fresh new sort, no mouldy old stale ones.
It is full of surprises, and adventures, and incongruities, and contradictions, and incredibilities; but they are all true, they all happened.” Peter Carey used the same quote in his introduction to his novel Illywhacker. To Tuckey these words perfectly depicted the many paradoxes of Australia, the contradictions that his drive stories often illustrated. Twain’s quote appeared on the opening spread of ‘Where The World is Round’.
Bill’s first paragraph set the scene: “Directly overhead the sky is a deep blue, almost a royal blue, layered with fluffy white cumulo-stratus; farther ahead the blue lightens gradually in layers, until at the edge it is pale as a cornflower. The layers of cloud hang overhead like the roof of a vast cathedral, a giant curved bird’s egg of a dome over your head.
And then you realise what you’re looking at. Out there, between Broken Hill and Wilcannia, you can see the curvature of the earth.” Today, most Australians ignore their cars when travelling interstate, preferring the speed and apparent convenience of flying. It is cheaper and faster and painless. Yet the road trip remains something we enthusiasts should treasure.
Not only for the discovery of the many brilliant roads that exist beyond the suburban fringes of our cities, but also because the fact remains, the only way to really see this country, to appreciate the emptiness and the history, is by car. “To see Australia properly,” writes Tuckey, “you must pay the penalty of having to cover enormous distances, then be happy with the great advantages this gives you.
You can stop when and where you like, go to see what you like, talk to people, smell the flowers, listen to the rain.” Bill’s wheels for this adventure across the Hay Plain and beyond was a modest Holden Torana, proving you don’t need a Lamborghini for a great road trip. I can only agree with his final sentence, “I say to you again: Go see Australia before it’s too late…”
A word from the cable guy
After Bill Tuckey (standing, above) died in 2016, my friend Steve Cropley, ex-Wheels staffer and now editor-in-chief of the UK’s Autocar, wanted me to repeat this story at his funeral: “Fifty years after they were written, I can still quote you phrases from Tuckey stories and Quints columns, and I’ll bet I’m not alone.
One phrase I remember is from a Wheels story called ‘Go See Australia’, full of advice about seeing our country before leaving it. It was just a casually dropped few words in the last paragraph of the story, where Bill was describing the noise of the wind blowing through power lines. As a kid from the bush I knew this noise intimately, but could never have described it so eloquently.
Bill called it “mad, strange songs in the overhead wires”, and as I write those words now, with a lump in the throat, I can hear it all over again.”
Also WHEELS, October 1978
Ford’s Falcon came of age in late ’78 so we drove examples of all three generations. Robbo enthused over the VB Commodore-previewing Opel Senator flagship in Germany while Holden’s TD Gemini, the Honda Accord sedan and the dullest Mazda 929 ever were also tested.