I dive into my photo archives for this one. The term “archive” is used loosely because, sadly, my film photos-slides, negatives and prints are contained in a large selection of cardboard boxes without even an attempt at a cataloguing system. So many photos, so little system.
I came across these two pictures whilst searching for some slides on a totally different subject. The photos you see here are flatbed scans of postcard-sized prints because the original colour negatives discoloured long ago.
The images were taken on a Range Rover media launch in Australia in 1987. The 1987 model year Range Rover had the new feature of electronic fuel injection — previously it had relied on good old-fashioned carburettors. Back then, we used any excuse to demonstrate the Range Rover’s off
No cheap affairs
At that time Australia had four monthly specialist four-wheel-drive magazines, plus regular motoring columns in the general newspapers as well as three monthly car magazines. So a media launch had to accommodate a sizeable contingent of journalists and were most definitely not cheap affairs.
From what I hear, the motoring media scene is very different nowadays. Some of the social media “influencers” who are invited to the launches can just about manage to drive their Audi A2 to the local cafe for smashed avocado on sourdough toast washed down with a chai soy latte, let alone drive an SUV through knee-deep mud. Come to think of it, the same observation could apply to social media influencers in the photo industry – in relation to their photographic abilities, I mean.
The Australian Land Rover/Range Rover importer had established an industry-wide reputation for staging the most interesting and gruelling new-model launches. They were always off-road, somewhere in Australia, and hopefully always fun. The 1987 launch was into some particularly rough country in an isolated state forest inland from Port Macquarie in New South Wales.
I was reminded of the launch when I drove through the area on one of Australia’s best driving roads a few weeks ago on the Porsche road trip. From the map I see that it is now a state conservation area, so probably no more Range Rover launches there. But I very much doubt that they would want to go there now anyway.
Plans of mice and men
The plan for the day back in 1987 was for the journalists to fly into Port Macquarie early morning to meet the Range Rovers lurking in the airport car park. We were to drive the very twisty Oxley Highway west for 98km before turning off into the state forest. Then it was off
There was plenty of evidence of the mining activity which had ended in the early 1900s. A massive rusty stamper battery used for crushing, very rusty boilers and other pieces of heavy equipment littered the floor of the valley.
It must have been an extraordinary feat to move all that heavy equipment. It had been bought by sea to Port Macquarie from Sydney and then pulled up the very steep dirt track by bullock teams. They would have used the same teams to take the equipment down the steep slopes, using ropes around trees to act as anchors.
You could still see wear or burn marks from the ropes on some of the trees on the descent. It would have been difficult and dangerous work. Yet, the lure of gold has always inspired
The descent into The Cells in the Range Rovers was straightforward, although heavy rain in the preceding weeks had swollen the three rivers we had to cross at the valley floor.
It was on the way out on a very steep track that the real problems arose. The track consisted of waterlogged red clay. The lead vehicle, a Land Rover Defender packed with recovery gear and equipped with a winch, just made it onto a hard patch, well up the ascent, thanks to a lot of revs and despite enormous wheel spin.
After that, it was a mud bath. That first vehicle had turned the track into a quagmire and the next vehicle to go up was being driven by Wayne Gardener, who had just won the motorcycle 500cc World Championship, and who was our special guest.
He had come along for the fun. Well, Wayne gave it full wellie and he gained a lot of momentum. So much momentum, in fact, that he nearly careered off the track and over the edge into the ravine. Fortunately, the car teetered on the edge and then sank into the mud. It was extracted by winching by the vehicle uphill, with the following Range Rover attached by a strap to act as an anchor in case Wayne and his car slid away.
We pulled ten cars up that track with winches and a lot of wheel-spin. By the time the last one was hauled clear, the mud was so deep that the off-roader was up to its axles in mud. The second photo shows the happy Range Rover team after they had been extracted. Wayne Gardener is on the right and he was obviously enjoying the day. I guess if you are a motorcycle world champion the prospect of falling off a track into a very deep ravine is not so daunting, particularly if the expensive piece of offroadery you are driving is not your own.
Leica not recommended
As I was working on these launches I did not have as many opportunities to take photos as I would have liked. Initially, I used my Leica M4-P for photos on these launches but I was always concerned about dust, mud and water. Therefore, I switched to a Ricoh FF70, a point-and-shoot camera which, in common with so many
That Nikon was so tough you could literally drop it into the mud, rinse it off and carry on. It proved to be ideal for Land Rover launches and I took it on an expedition into the Tanami Desert in Western Australia a few years later. It was just as well I did not take my then Leica M6 because the sand in the desert is so fine it could get in anywhere. It would have wrecked the M6 on the first day.
By the end of our afternoon of winching Range Rovers up that track, we were way behind schedule. We had to drive very rapidly and mine was the first vehicle back to the hotel in Port Macquarie. As I pulled into the driveway, the young lad who was the porter came over and said that he had heard that Wayne Gardener was coming in and he’d like to get his autograph.
Back then, Wayne Gardener was very much an Aussie hero and the lad looked at my boots and then volunteered to clean all our boots if I could secure him Gardener’s autograph. Knowing the state of our boots, I volunteered to introduce him to Wayne but insisted all he had to do was clean just my boots. When I saw the others arrive I am sure he sighed a large sigh of relief. And, yes, he met Wayne Gardener.
Fortunately, he did not see my socks after I removed my boots. They were covered in blood. I had to remove at least six leeches from my feet using salt. It had been an eventful day.