Tanks for the memories
I don’t know if it’s because we’re constantly reminded how fleeting childhood is or because I was determined to make sure my kids didn’t miss out on a single thing after I became a single parent, but I’m forever conscious of that hidden ticking clock that urges me to get them out to see all the sights, learn all the history and experience all the things before they’re out in the big world living their own lives.
I have three boys, aged 11, 13 and 14, and, as many parents of similar-aged children can probably relate to, if I don’t get them out of the house they would happily sit on devices from sun up to sun down some days.
It’s a battle I sometimes don’t even have the energy to contest. But that’s another story.
This one is about the thrilling adventure we had on a recent weekend trip.
Let me take you to a little-known place in the grassy green hills of south Gippsland, a leafy homescape to more wildlife than humans.
We headed inland from Toora — a seaside town about 10 minutes’ drive from better beaches further down the road at Port Welshpool — and started our climb into hills that host scores of wombats and wallabies.
A winding picturesque road — that offered plenty of photo opportunities with its scenic lookout over the town and ocean, its somehow charming wind farm with enormous turbines that dwarfed the usually large-seeming bovine beasts beneath them, and an impressive and mighty fast-flowing waterfall at Agnes — eventually narrowed into an unsealed single-lane affair.
There was much peace and serenity out there. That is, until we arrived at our destination in Wonyip: South Gippsland Tank Adventures.
We had come to disturb the peace. Here, ex-serviceman Cameron Stone has an extensive collection of military memorabilia, entertaining Army stories and, of course, fully restored and functioning tanks!
Big tanks, little tanks, foreign tanks — tanks that had been to war and had the bullet holes to prove it.
They ranged in size from the “itty bitty” eight-tonne Striker to the giant 42-tonne Centurion beast.
We’d come to ride in tanks, but that was just the climax of a complete experience.
Our host took us through his museum, letting us hold all kinds of ammunition (not live) and giving us an informative rundown of all the military memorabilia he’d collected throughout the years.
We got to climb in and out of all manner of tanks, raising guns, turning turrets, imagining what it might be like to assume the position of one of each tank’s four dedicated crew.
The recent relentless rain in Gippsland had made sure the unsealed earth beyond the shed’s door was soaked several feet down and churned up by the weight and movement of tank traffic.
My youngest (an experimental type) actually made the mistake (or was it?) of stepping into the clay and lost his shoes about a foot deep in it when I uprooted him from the “quicksand” he was swiftly growing shorter in.
Our only option for a chariot in the conditions was the lightweight Striker, built in the 1980s.
Cameron could fit two passengers in it for each run over one of the hillside paddocks on his 400-acre property, so my two youngest boys headed out first to chuck a few laps before my eldest and I climbed awkwardly in.
My phone was almost jolted clean out of my hand as I tried to capture video footage of one of our laps, so I quickly abandoned that quest, pocketed my own device (*wink wink) and held on for dear life as I enjoyed the thrill of hooning in the heavily armoured metal machine through the Strzelecki Ranges, all the while giggling like a crazed kookaburra.
Side glances at my 14-year-old revealed a grin that spread from ear-to-ear on his face, too.
Cameron didn’t take the Striker quite to its limit (about 100km/h), but we still had the ride of our lives.
It was not the most comfortable thing to travel in, but arguably one of the most fun.
This unique attraction is certainly worth the lengthy drive for anyone interested in military history, especially moving history, who’s looking to do something a bit different.
Sure, the kids might be straight back on the PlayStation once they get home, but they’ll be hijacking army tanks in Grand Theft Auto or engaging in Call of Duty warfare and probably looking at those things in a whole different light because they’ve heard some of the real stories behind such things.