FROM A BLAST ON A BILLYCART TO A BRAND NEW CAR…
JOHN McNAMEE EXPLAINS……
It was leaning against the old banksia tree outside the neighbour’s place across the street.
Over the years we used to see the local kids tearing up and down in it whoopin’ and hollerin’ as they hurtled down the nearby hill at breakneck speed.
Now it was looking decidedly abandoned as the kids had obviously grown out of that phase of their adventurous lives.
But there it was, a good old-fashioned billycart, against that tree, just a few metres across the street. So tempting. You don’t see too many of them around these days.
When we were kids Dad used to build billycarts for us. They were always a bit ramshackle and crudely fashioned as the old man was no dab hand with the hammer and chisel.
He once made a periscope out of fence pickets and cracked shaving mirrors but it was so heavy and unwieldy we couldn’t lift it above our heads and he was forced to pull it all apart and chuck the bits away after I accidentally clonked my little sister on the head with it drawing an alarming amount of blood and tears.
Anyway, the billycart was going to be a more ambitious project. We had an old KPC pear box which had withstood the ravages of time in the woodshed and that became the makeshift cockpit, if that’s not too fancy a word for the cramped area where one was supposed to sit and drive the thing.
The main shaft was fashioned out of the same sort of fence pickets nailed together and the front axle was a bit of pine planking.
The main problem was the four wheels. We didn’t have any.
That meant an exciting trip to the tip just outside of town and a few magic hours scouring through all the piles of rubbish and vile smelling, rotting foodstuffs.
Mum wasn’t happy when we got home reeking like we’d been wallowing in a pigsty.
Our Beloved Harry Honda On One Of His Last Visits To The Beach Before The Trade-In
But we still didn’t have any wheels.
So the Big Billycart Project had stalled. But Dad was not finished yet.
One Sunday we went for a drive out to Aunty Lil and Uncle Jim’s place out in the sticks. Dad spotted a well-used baby pram in the back of their garage which had wheels which would be perfect for our prototype vehicle.
“Sure,” laughed Uncle Jim, “help yourself to them mate…we won’t be needing it again, that’s for bloody sure!!!”
Long-suffering Aunty Lil had already produced five strapping lads and although we were too young then to know the phrase or its implications, we presume Uncle Jim was suggesting to the old man that the proverbial cue was firmly placed back in the rack.
Dad took the wheels home but it was a while before he got around to putting them on so we kids could have a test drive down Old High St Hill, a challenging piece of steepish raceway a bit like Mt Panorama at Bathurst I suppose.
But there was another setback a few months later. Mum got a call from Aunty Lil to say she was expecting their sixth child and could she have the pram wheels back please?
Aunty Lil went on to have another five kids after that so the pram wheels never made it to the billycart.
Eventually we found some old wheels from somewhere and Dad fitted them on and daubed a lot of sump oil on to them to stop the squeaking. He tied a bit of tent rope to the front axle for the steering mechanism and we were ready for the challenge.
The Author Test Drives The ‘Banksia’ Billycart And Stirs Up A Flood Of Memories
We had a lot of fun in that billycart screeching down Old High St Hill and it’s no exaggeration to say there was a lot of blood and gore from knees and elbows left on that harsh unforgiving bitumen.
That’s why I got a bit nostalgic when I saw that billycart abandoned against the banksia tree the other day and why it brought back a flood of memories.
But there was another reason why my mind was preoccupied with wheeled vehicles.
It was that sad time in one’s life when the wife and I had to make the choice to get rid of the trusty family hatchback and plunge into the bewildering, frightening world of the brand new car market.
Like most Aussie blokes going through the mechanical rites of passage, I’ve had a few bangers in my day, and they’ve come and gone, distant memories.
But you never forget the new cars…that smell, that purr, that first touch of the hand on the gearstick, that first loving caress of the shiny black steering wheel…..and yes, erckkk!!! That first little dent on the paint work!!!
The first brand new car I bought was a 1970 VW Beetle, synchromesh on all gears, black upholstery, cream duco, a throbbing 1500cc engine churning out the revs in the back and an exhaust pipe that’d drown out a brass band.
I had a dream run with it and sold it a few years later to my little sister who was still taking her kids to school in it years later.
The wife and I drove a second-hand Honda Civic Shuttle for a few years before we decided, on the eve of the new millennium back in 1999, to break out and buy a brand new Honda HRV hatch. We called him Harry Honda and he was a much-loved part of the family scene.
Once again I was blessed. It never missed a beat. Ran like a Swiss clock for 16 years. Sure it cost us a few hundred bucks every six months or so when it got its service but it was worth it.
We drove him the length and breadth of two states, most of the time with a board or two nestled down with okkies on the Thule roofies.
Unfortunately (for the car!) we live in a beachside suburb. After all that time the engine still purred like a Persian cat, but the evil rust and the salty atmosphere had worked their insidious way into Harry’s vitals. The service mechanics used to cluck their teeth and shake their heads when they opened the bonnet and looked into Harry’s ageing entrails and saw the telltale brown stains.
Deep in our heart we knew he’d never pass another rego inspection.
It was time for him to go. We took all our detritus of 16 years from the boot and the glovebox (is that where the GPS and binoculars got to!!), and took him down to the carwash bloke at the local servo for a final scrub-up and polish.
We wanted him to look nice when the trade-in people cast their lots for him.
After weeks of showrooms and slick sales people and a glittering array of voluptuous automobiles of every shape and colour and boasting mind-numbing space age technology we finally made our choice.
And no, we didn’t buy another Honda, although it was a close-run thing between the new Jazz and the much bigger HRV…
WE BOUGHT A JEEP!!!!!
Main pic The Brand New Jeep Renegade Sport