Saturday, 11 July 2015

Redex Trials - a "Mad Dash" across the country

The big event in Australian motor sport in the 1950s was an endurance rally that tested the mettle of both cars and drivers, in a race that took in most of the country and thrilled the nation.
The 1955 all-female Women's Weekly Redex team.
Source: Australian Women's Weekly, 24 August 1955.
Held in 1953, 1954 and 1955, the Redex Around-Australia Reliability Trials were designed to test the reliability of ordinary cars that could be bought at any showroom, against harsh, mostly unsealed Australian road conditions, which were considered at the time to be some of the worst roads in the world.

Trial organisers argued that it was not a race but a sporting event “in which the reliability of each competitor’s car is the only consideration”. Drivers were supposed to obey ordinary traffic rules, including speed restrictions.

In reality, the Redex trials turned out to be a “mad dash” across the country, which left many competitors’ cars bruised and battered. Teams lagging at the rear of the field joked that they needed no maps to navigate, because all they had to do was follow the trail of hub caps, shattered windscreens and wrecked cars along the route.

The inaugural Redex trial in 1953 attracted close to 200 participants, who set off on the 6,000 mile journey from Sydney and travelled north as far as Townsville, and then on to Darwin via Mt Isa. The route then took in Alice Springs, Adelaide and Melbourne before finishing back in Sydney.

Car No. 38 in the 1955 REDex Around-Australia Reliability Trial, passing the West End State School on Ingham Road, Townsville. This team, consisting of brothers Greg and Lloyd Kook and navigator Syd Braithwaite, finished the trial in sixth place.
Source: Christensen Collection, CityLibraries.

Only simple modifications to cars were allowed, including guards for the sump, lights and windscreen, extra fuel tanks and standard-type heavier shock absorbers. Each leg of the trial had a set time for completion, with demerit points awarded for infringements, including late arrival at control stops.

The trials attracted two distinctly different kinds of competitors. There were the teams entered by car manufacturers, who obviously wanted to prove that their cars were the most reliable, but there were also private motorists who entered their family car simply because they wanted an adventure.

Some of the best drivers in the country participated in the trials, such as Sir Jack Brabham, Ken Tubman, Lex Davison and a larrikin named Jack Murray, who earned the nickname “Gelignite Jack” because he liked to detonate sticks of gelignite along the route, to confuse other participants and antagonise the police.

The Redex trials were reported on enthusiastically by the national media, and a number of outlets including Brisbane’s Courier Mail, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and the Australian Women’s Weekly, entered their own teams. The Women’s Weekly’s 1954 team were the only all-women team to finish the trial that year.
Source: Australian Women's Weekly, 24 August 1955.
Perhaps surprisingly, given the era, and in what was a predominantly male-dominated event, many women participated in the Redex trials, either as drivers, co-drivers or navigators. Age was no barrier either.

At 65, Mrs Charlotte Hayes, from Glebe, was the oldest female driver in the 1955 trial. In the 1953 and 1954 trials, 63 year-old Mrs Winifred Conway, a widow from Rose Bay, whose vehicle was an Austin A40, was known as the “Granny who stole the limelight” because of all the press attention she attracted. Mrs Conway was most definitely in it for the adventure, and was quoted in the Women’s Weekly as saying:

“My motto is never touch the engine. You always strike trouble when you start lifting the bonnet.”

Further reading:

Clarsen, Georgine W., 'The Flip Side: Women in the Redex Around Australia Reliability Trials':

'On Redex Roads' Australian Women's Weekly article:

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