Char­lie drives home health mes­sage

Countryman - - MACHINERY AND TECHNOLOGY - Jo Ful­wood

He is just a lit­tle or­ange trac­tor but Tail End Char­lie the Trac­tor has won the hearts of ru­ral and re­mote com­mu­ni­ties across Aus­tralia.

The friendly replica 1962 Cham­ber­lain trac­tor re­cently ar­rived home from a 14,500km jour­ney around Aus­tralia, a pil­grim­age pro­mot­ing the sim­ple mes­sage of the im­por­tance of reg­u­lar health check-ups.

This is the sec­ond time a replica Tail End Char­lie has tra­versed across the coun­try, the first be­ing in 2007 to cel­e­brate the 50th an­niver­sary of the 1957 Mo­bil­gas Round Aus­tralia Car Rally.

De­spite be­ing re­jected as an of­fi­cial com­peti­tor back in 1957, a Cham­ber­lain trac­tor was used as a sweep and sup­port ve­hi­cle dur­ing that Rally.

The un­usual name of Tail End Char­lie was given to this orig­i­nal 1957 trac­tor, based on the name given to gun­ners po­si­tioned at the rear of Lan­caster and Hal­i­fax bombers dur­ing World War II.

Tour or­gan­is­ers Ron and Kerry By­wa­ters of Wun­dowie said this lat­est trip was to cel­e­brate 60 years since the 1957 rally.

Sup­port crew in­cluded friends of the By­wa­ters from the United King­dom and New Zealand, plus Char­lie’s own­ers, Dick and Barbara Gar­nett, of Gnowangerup. Oth­ers joined the tour at var­i­ous stages through­out the jour­ney.

Mr By­wa­ters is no stranger to Cham­ber­lain trac­tors, or even around-Aus­tralia ral­lies, hav­ing been cho­sen as one of the orig­i­nal Cham­ber­lain trac­tor driv­ers for the 1957 Mo­bil­gas Car Rally, when he was just 22.

“I was work­ing as a sales cadet for Cham­ber­lain at the time and my boss came up to me and said ‘I hope you’ve got some warm clothes with you be­cause you’re going to Mel­bourne’,” he said.

“I didn’t re­alise at the time what a ma­jor life ad­ven­ture I was about to go on and that I would be driv­ing 10,500 miles in just 19 days, but I have very fond mem­o­ries of that time. Now I’ve com­pleted the tour for the third time.”

His lat­est trek might have been at a much slower pace, but Mr By­wa­ters said he would for­ever be grate­ful for the op­por­tu­nity to meet so many in­cred­i­ble Aus­tralians through­out the 57-day jour­ney, many of whom are cancer sur­vivors.

“Cham­ber­lain trac­tors have been a big part of my life and we wanted to cel­e­brate the 60th an­niver­sary in some way, but any­one can drive a trac­tor around Aus­tralia,” he said.

“We wanted to do some­thing spe­cial for the com­mu­nity so we went into part­ner­ship with both the prostate and breast cancer sup­port net­works to pro­mote the mes­sage of looking af­ter your own health.

“Early de­tec­tion means a much bet­ter chance of med­i­cal treat­ment suc­cess and sur­vival, so we wanted to re­mind peo­ple to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for their own health — their health re­ally is in their own hands.”

With Cham­ber­lain trac­tors orig­i­nally man­u­fac­tured in WA, us­ing Iron Ore pro­cessed in Wun­dowie, it was fit­ting the trip kicked off in Wun­dowie, fol­lowed by an of­fi­cial farewell func­tion in Northam, spon­sored by the lo­cal Shire.

Tail End Char­lie then headed on a path from Won­gan Hills, to Payne’s Find, Meekatharra, New­man and Broome be­fore trekking across the top end of Aus­tralia, through the North­ern Ter­ri­tory and Queens­land.

The trac­tor headed down through cen­tral Queens­land and into ru­ral New South Wales and Vic­to­ria, and then fol­lowed the Mur­ray River to South Aus­tralia.

Cross­ing the Nullar­bor, Char­lie vis­ited Esper­ance, Raven­sthorpe, Lake King, Hy­den and Cor­ri­gin be­fore fin­ish­ing the jour­ney at the re­cent Dow­erin Field Days.

Mr By­wa­ters said the wel­come given to the crew from ser­vice groups, such as Ro­tary clubs and Men’s Sheds, plus nu­mer­ous cancer sup­port groups, had been over­whelm­ing.

“Some of the sto­ries we heard of cancer sur­vivors were heartrend­ing, but also very in­spir­ing, and I don’t think there would be many Aus­tralian fam­i­lies who haven’t been touched, in some way, by the dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects of cancer,” he said. “We just wanted to give some­thing back to the Aus­tralian com­mu­nity.”

Lewyn Green, of Ko­orda, plays the bag­pipes for or­gan­iser Ron By­wa­ters and El­ders west zone man­ager James Cor­nish at the Dow­erin Field Days, mark­ing the end of Tail End Char­lie the Trac­tor's 14,500km jour­ney.

Kerry By­wa­ters with Barbara and Steve Bull, of Alde­burgh, UK, and Ron By­wa­ters, at the end of the trac­tor pil­grim­age.

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