Thornleigh Seventh-day Adventist Church (Sydney, Australia)

Home > Online Magazine > Online Magazine: Edition 56 - Summer (Dec-Feb) 2014/15 > Old Enough to Buy a Car! (by Pr George Porter)

Old Enough to Buy a Car!

by Pr George Porter

It was 1954. It was at Ophir Glen, Upper Burringbar where we lived in "Snake Gully".   My brother Robert and I lived at home with our parents and post-war siblings. We lived in a little old unlined wooden house on posts two metres high. The house was clad with rough-sawn, unpainted hardwood weather boards. It did have a corrugated iron roof which played music and sang to us whenever there was a tropical downpour. The house was very basic.  Two rooms four metres square with full length closed-in verandahs front and back. There was no passage way. We had the luxury of glazed windows and full wooden doors.

One end of the front veranda was designated the main bedroom for our parents. The remaining portion was for our younger siblings.  Robert and I used one of the central rooms as our bedroom and storeroom. Mum made the other room into a makeshift lounge with a few old chairs. Half the back verandah was used as kitchen, stove, and dining space. The remaining half, Mum designated as a family room and the place to entertain the pastor. He visited regularly from Mullumbimby where he was housed.  Two luxuries were added in 1955-6.  First we were catapulted into the future with the installation of party-line telephones.  This was followed by electricity.  We felt like city-slickers all over again.

Robert and I volunteered work to help our father out and regularly worked for other small crop and banana growers. We planted our own banana plantation. We commenced a bank account together and saved and spent money! Much younger we had learned to drive all sorts of vehicles owned by friends and church members who kindly suggested we learn, the earlier the better.  Our parents never owned a vehicle.  We boys longed and planned for when we would own our own vehicle and be lawfully licensed.

It was late 1954 and the urge to be an owner driver was sweeping my thoughts continuously.    Wow! I would be sixteen on the last day of March 1955. Two months earlier, at fifteen years ten months I would be eligible for a driver's licence.  Yippee!  For ten shillings ($1), I would be licensed and free! 

Late November the same year, Robert and I walked the two miles to the Upper Burringbar rail station, to take the morning train to Murwillumbah.  The train left Casino daily and returned late afternoon the same day.  Through the tunnel under the Burringbar range and 8 miles later, we alighted from the train at the terminal station in south Murwillumbah.  Directly opposite the station on the corner of the main road was the car dealership selling Holdens.  Ebbott and Fenner were the owners and they also had a large yard where they displayed second-hand vehicles for sale. We had to walk past the premises on our way to the main business and shopping area which was located west immediately over the large bridge which spanned the Tweed River. 

This morning we spotted a clean, well presented four seater tourer with folding soft top. The top was shiny jet black.  It had a newly painted,  glittering royal blue body.  The tyres were freshly painted a sparkling charcoal colour.  The wheels were made of large wooden spokes painted royal blue and held in place by heavy steel rims with gleaming silver paint. "It is a thing of beauty," said my brother Robert.  It surely was temptingly charming to young fellows on a day in town.  Better still it was a 1926 Chevrolet tourer.   What more do we need?  Money!   We inspected it inside and out. We sat in the front seats.  We changed to the back seats. We were impressed with the leather seats. As we sat, we lingered. We drooled. We convinced ourselves we needed the vehicle to do our missionary work every Sabbath (Saturday) afternoon. Not to mention the times we could go fishing and visiting far and near. 

Before buying we reasoned we should find Mr Ebbott, or Fenner, to get a little of the history of "Bertha" and oh yes, find out the price he was asking.  He was so helpful and cooperative.    "Only eighty pounds boys, ($160 or about $1,500 today) Take her for a drive and test her out for yourselves," he suggested.   Robert looked my way. I stared at him. He could read my thinking, 'Without a driver's license?'   We accepted the dealer's offer.

We drove out of the yard and left towards the rail terminal. Then the next turn right to take the old Pacific Highway to Burringbar.  We travelled about three kilometres to the "Do Duck Inn" take-away deli.  Oh man, were we on cloud nine!   We had just launched ourselves into the 20th century. We were away into life and beyond.  We eventually parked back in the dealer's yard firmly convinced that we would buy this most presentable limo!   We wrote out a bank cheque for the total amount.  Money up front for us, we are not paying interest! 

What do we do now?  "Drive home of course," said Robert.   Instead we walked over the bridge and bought fish and chips for lunch. This was followed with a medium sized fruit cake each, which we washed down with gulps of cream.  Naturally, we each had to have our own small bottle of cream. Having refuelled ourselves and purchased a few small items to use on the land, we headed back over the river to gloat over our glamorous new Chevy, "Bertha". 

We arrived back at the dealers and proceeded to collect our receipt for the purchase.  No rush in those days to fill out receipts!  The deal being completed we announced to the dealers that we were going to drive "Bertha" home.   They were delighted. We were more than delighted. They never even asked either of us if we had a license. Why would we be anything but delighted!

We drove out of the sales yard, turned left to the Pacific Highway then right and headed home.  Just past "The Duck Inn", we decided the leave the Pacific Highway and take the back road. This was a circuitous road through the dairy farming area on the river flats.  It took us through Stoker's Siding, Dunbible and back on to the old Pacific Highway to cross the Burringbar range into Burringbar.   We need not have worried about seeing any other cars.  Being late in the afternoon dairy farmers were off the road milking their cows.  Traffic was few and far between in those days.  We never even encountered the occasional interstate semi-trailer.

We arrived home safe and sound with our newly acquired treasure.  Our parents crashed into a state of shock when they caught sight of Robert and myself scrambling out of our pride and joy. Finally Mother said, "Boys, who is going to drive your car?   I gazed directly into her eyes and replied in past tense, "I did".   We then explained that our aim was to use it as transport to help the Church's missionary outreach in the district.  Now that quick thinking cooled our parents down, however, not for long.

Mother started firing questions in quick succession.  "Have you got your licence?" "Where will you keep the car?" "When do you intend to start taking it out on missionary work?   Then came the real stunning question, "Can you take me for a ride with your father now?" We want to try it out!" 

So, here we were, owning a car but without a driver's licence.  We had copious amounts of ambition to use the car for the Lord's Gospel work, but no legal right to carry passengers to our religious gatherings.   It was a long two months to the end of January 1956 when I could qualify for my licence.  So we relied upon our older church friends to take us in their cars on the Lord's errands.

This article is Copyright © 2014 by George C Porter.  Used by permission.

There are a few more stories about the escapades of the Chevy "Bertha".  Watch this site.   

Home > Online Magazine > Online Magazine: Edition 56 - Summer (Dec-Feb) 2014/15 > Old Enough to Buy a Car! (by Pr George Porter)