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Returning Albert to Sydney

Albert

Adventure No 16 - Glasgow to Sydney



THE HOMESPUN TEAM - in Scotland worked together harmoniously to finalise Albert for departure and after much last minute work Albert finally set off from Glasgow for Sydney on Sunday 16 September 2012.

The journey south saw sparks from the outset with one of the new rear tyres running flat, actually noticed by onlookers as we left Glasgow, but only discovered on board an hour down the M73 motorway.

Albert performed well through England and after two nights getting acquainted with sleeping quarters at overnight roadside parking bays, on Tuesday we all boarded the midday ferry from Dover to Dunkirk.

Following three crew withdrawals, including our 2IC and the team film-maker just three days before departure, too late to call a halt or find replacements, we left with dented morale and uncertainty as to how all would all pan out but with some relief also that we were at last on our way.


FRANCE - brought the opportunity to catch breathe and allow spirits to settle. We stopped for two nights in a small caravan park in the village of Winnezeele, just 30kms out of Dunkirk. It turned out to be a pleasant interlude in a quaint Flemish region of Northern France which we all liked.

Two days later Albert was in full stride cantering down the French motorway system making top deck travellers hair stand on end as we skimmed beneath concrete over-bridges with just four inches to spare.

Using the auto-routes also meant we had access to good shower and toilet facilities all the way to the French Riviera where another rest stop was made in a delightful shady caravan park at Cagnes near Nice. This after first touring the tight little town in ever decreasing circles of eight to avoid a series of very low bridges!

Cagnes Caravan Park - was the turning point for the adventure.

The reality of being minus a relief driver and second mechanic denied the project the reserve expertise necessary to ensure progress through difficult terrain and the strict visa regime ahead.

Late frontier arrival would mean refused entry or extensive bureaucratic delays with domino effects at all borders beyond.

RETURNING TO BRITAIN - the bitter decision was taken as Albert turned back onto the auto-route to Avignon, thence via a high mountain pass for added journey interest descending abruptly into St Etienne with smoking brakes, resting the second night in a scruffy and overpriced rural camp site. A very hard day!

More auto-route nights followed via Bourges and Orleans with side road excursions for sightseeing and shopping until we rediscovered the mayhem traffic of Northern Europe on approach to the Channel ports.

Despite the sadness of this trip there were unexpected benefits with the taste of good wine and French delicacies always on our table. Albert stayed two nights in Le Havre, an attractive harbour town, then boarded the ferry for a late evening Portsmouth arrival, staying overnight in the shadow of the docks.

Xelabus R&R - Albert's next move was to be cleaned and serviced and then to stay with good friends at Xelabus in Eastleigh whilst the next decision was made. Simply put, the choice was to drive north to an approaching Scottish winter and an uncertain future or to ship the bus direct to Australia to complete the project's defined goal of arriving in Sydney for the Australia Day 2013 Motorfest celebrations, after which funds would be raised to reimburse the crew for the loss of the main overland trip.

SHIPPING - the high cost of freighting Albert from Southampton to Fremantle was overcome with the generous support of a loyal friend. Fremantle port handling, cleaning and quarantine charges however added up to half the cost of shipping again. Hullo Australia!

The good ship “Manon” berthed in Fremantle mid-November and two days later Albert was shifted for steam cleaning after which the Quarantine inspection took place. A three day process which took ten days.

LICENSING -
The crew's first task was to prepare the bus for travel after the long sea voyage, starting with a visit to the nearby public weigh-bridge to score an unladen weight of 8.25 tonnes.

Friends at Perth’s Whiteman Park Bus Museum (BPSWA) gave wonderful support with servicing, tweaking injectors, adjusting gear linkage, checking tyres, all with the promise of a vintage escort to eventually see us out of town and on our way across the Nullarbor.

INSPECTION - Then came the full-monty mechanical inspection with the W.A. Transport Authority, "Magic Motors" in our linguo. If ever we had wanted invisible oil and dry water leaks, this was the day!

Providence was our pal and before rolling over the hospital clean inspection pit Albert was halted in the yard over a shallow gulley making it possible for the driver to slip beneath and wipe the oily sump clean and to seal a dripping hose. Over the pit a dozen curious mechanics eagerly studied Albert’s underbelly.

After much serious scrutiny, checking of lights, mirrors, wheels, brakes and shaking of king pins the inspection supervisor, the man whose name we hoped would sign Albert onto the highways of Australia, declared it was time he took as all for a drive.

TEST DRIVE - Oh dear! He may find our speedo and vacuum gauge erratic and floor panels loose (all after the recent steam cleaning), or that the clutch pedal needs adjustment. How can we pass this test? But all's well as our inspector deftly steered the vintage bus around his highway test circuit. Jumping out, “fantastic!” he declared.

LICENSED - Within the hour Albert was a motor-home able to carry 15 persons and, two days later, fitted with a bright new pair of WA registration plates, legal and licensed ready to head off for Sydney.

PERTH TO SYDNEY - The trans-Australia adventure was a dream run!

Climbing early Sunday morning into the Perth hills Albert took us into the wheatbelt town of Northam for Christmas celebrations, albeit in a warm 45C. Friends we had made whilst in Perth came to join us and with other campers and caravan park residents it was a most festive occasion.

From Northam the itinerary was across country via Corrigin, Hyden, and Lake King, then to Hopetown on the Southern Ocean coast where the beaches are just pristine, on to Esperence to bring in the New Year, and then north to Norseman to prepare for the Nullarbor crossing.

Travellers talk in these parts is all about heat and the cost of fuel but Albert took both in his stride covering the 1200 kms from Norseman to Ceduna in three days without topping up on costly Nullarbor diesel. One overnight was clifftop overlooking the Great Australian Bight and star gazing – silent, sparkling, spectacular.

South Australia - here we left the beaten track following the Pichi Richi Railway to Quorn to savour two nights in the Flinders Ranges then ambled via country roads to Adelaide for four days beachside with the local bus service at the door for city sightseeing.

Next through Mallee country crossing the Murray River then through Victoria’s rich fruit and veggie Riverina lands finally heading north-east into southern New South Wales, a continually changing landscape with so much to see and enjoy at Albert’s leisurely pace.

It was during the final run into Goulburn that the telephone rang. The call came from the NSW Premier’s office advising the withdrawal of Albert’s official Invitation and pride of place in Sydney’s Australia Day Motorfest, just two days away. What a sad blow that was. No warning. No reason. A curt message only.

So, after all the effort – sweat, tears and joy too - was the long journey to have been made in vain? Was it really so important to deny a fun, friendly, historic, charismatic, reliable old Sydney bus from returning to the city it once served? It can only be recorded as a sad day for the people of Sydney and a shameful one for those behind the cynical move.

But never fear! Albert remained undaunted and in noisy engine-speak a voice came over loud and clear : “let’s go to Sydney tomorrow, Friday, before the Motorfest – the city will be all ours!”.

And so it was. A glorious sunny day and Sydney city was fantastic. Albert decided to ride the Hume Highway passing the site of his old Chullora bus depot city-bound once again, past Central Station, Town Hall, George Street to Circular Quay, across a familiar Harbour Bridge to Milsons Point for harbour-side photos, then back over to the Rocks by the southern bridge portal to meet Alberteers from yesteryear.

Throughout the city there were waves, flags and horns, the smiles were wide, the laughter just didn’t go away, and for one newly married couple Albert became the icing on their cake, stopping the bus as they did for bridal photos. A moment in time when Albert belonged to Sydney again.

Returning to Goulburn that evening, a 400 kms round trip with our Sydney city sightseeing tour completed, everyone slept well, satisfied that the mission had been accomplished as planned. From Goulburn we drove to the home of an Albion preservationist who "promised" Albert safe storage pending a decision on his future.

FOR THE RECORD - of all the difficulties ever experienced throughout Albert’s 45 years of travel never before had a journey been disrupted by crew members who lost their bottle, pulled out and then in spite embarked on a frenzy of disruption and untruth to prevent the bus from arriving in Sydney, ably assisted it is even sadder to say by NSW bureaucrats and state government officials.

At the Sydney Australia Day Motorfest, 2013 Albert had a reserved place and should have been on display. The invitation was withdrawn 48 hours before the event and no prize for spotlighting the 2IC behind that one.

But always the ones who win are the ones who believe they can win. Thus it was that the grit, resolve and refusal to quit by Albert's core crew of four -
average age 64 years - kept the adventure on course, drove around the obstacles, through the smear and successfully brought Albert back home to Sydney again.

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It is only ordinary folks who have a real understanding of Albert,
a big Sydney bus with courage, personality, determination
and . . .
formidable . . . engine-speak!


"Albion - Sure as the Sunrise"

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Updated from Adelaide Sep 26 2017 | andy@andystewart.com.au

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