WHENEVER you head off on a big outback adventure, it’s inevitable that something will go wrong. On some trips that might be as insignificant as a chipped windscreen, but on others the list of failures can be long, so it always pays to be prepared. But how prepared do you really have to be?
12 years ago I embarked on a 5000km outback pub-crawl with a few mates. It was a great idea because (all in the name of a good story) we managed to do the whole trip on the company’s budget. Four of us in two vehicles met up at the Silverton Hotel in NSW one evening in February and raised our first schooners to the upcoming adventure. Yes, it was going to be hot (think 48°C) but the beers would be icy cold.
Our loop would see us ‘testing’ beers at 11 pubs, all in one amazing week: Silverton Hotel; Packsaddle Roadhouse; Albert Hotel, Milparinka; Tibooburra Hotel; Family Hotel, Tibooburra; Corner Store, Cameron Corner; Innamincka Hotel; Mungerannie Hotel; Copley Hotel; Marree Hotel; and the Prairie Hotel, Parachilna. On the way home we stopped at the Blinman Hotel and Great Western Hotel just for good measure.
Our steeds were the two long-term test vehicles on the 4X4 Australia fleet at the time: a Nissan D22 Navara V6 and a Land Rover Freelander Td4. Of course, we packed a heap of spares for the Freelander, thinking that the thing would be lucky to go the distance, especially in the extreme temperatures we would face. And, of course, the only mechanical problem we had all trip was a busted fan belt on the Navara. Luckily it happened just out of Copley and we managed to roll into town and have a new belt fitted at the local garage.
The following year on a Madigan Line Crossing we managed to bust a couple of shock absorbers on the back of a Land Rover Defender 130 Crew Cab. We weren’t carrying spares but we did have a welder, so we were able to effect a decent repair on a red claypan. We were all set to go first thing in the morning without any negative impact on our schedule. Again, we had packed plenty of spares and tools for all three vehicles on that trip, so we were confident of our self-sufficiency.
This year I joined ARB on the recent Off Road Icons adventure across the Simpson Desert. We were well prepared, with plenty of spares, plenty of tools and several very able and mechanically minded blokes who could fix stuff if it failed. And fail it did!
Our tucker trailer copped a busted leaf-spring pack (replaced trackside), a busted hitch (welded back on trackside), a bent axle (fixed at Birdsville Auto) and the wheel fell off (reattached trackside and properly repaired at Birdsville Auto). The FJ40 LandCruiser didn’t like water and it had a minor electrical fault, so it had to be towed more than 200km across the desert.
The GQ Patrol’s alternator packed it in from all the mud we encountered (rebuilt in camp at Mungerannie, but still not sorted). A sway-bar link on the Ford Ranger ‘photo-car’ failed, putting a hole in the CV boot, so the sway bar was removed altogether (fixed trackside on Willow Springs). The alternator failed on the 79 Series LandCruiser (fixed at Birdsville Auto), and later, the studs failed on a rear wheel, which came off (towed to Copley for repairs).
The Land Rover Defender copped an alternator full of mud but it came good once washed out with a jerry-can full of water (fixed in the middle of the night about three dunes shy of Big Red), and the engine started stalling at Willow Springs (drained fuel/water separator which fixed it promptly).
Despite all the challenges, and thanks to good preparation and a bit of good luck, all of the ARB Off Road Icons and support vehicles eventually made it to the end of the trip under their own steam, which wasn’t a bad effort considering the age of some of the vehicles – and the particular challenges we faced on the trip.
So how prepared do you have to be to tackle Australia’s remote inland? Well, very. And even then you might encounter problems that are simply unfixable, in which case you’re going to be bloody glad you’re carrying a sat-phone with you and you’ve told people where you’re travelling and when you expect to arrive at your destination.
Sometimes the ‘she’ll be right’ approach just doesn’t cut it.