Stationed on the street outside the family’s house in Jannali, and occupying so much of the road that every other driver had to squeeze their way around without snapping off a wing mirror, she stood there gleaming and glowing in all of her yellow glory. She was like a Queen: glorious, victorious and triumphant after having just survived a long, treacherous drive from Victoria to Sydney where Matt had previously worked at a winery. He finished at the end of May in a little remote town called Myrtleford, mapped his journey to Sydney and left just in time to meet me in June. Upon sighting Her Majesty the Land Rover for the first time and having only ever seen photos of Matthew’s pride and joy, I was shocked to discover that she was strikingly larger in real life.
A 1981 Stage One Series Three V8 Land Rover with the original 3.5 litre engine, Matty had bought her from the state of Victoria when he first arrived in Australia the year before. She wore a flattering shade of inca yellow knowing full well how to draw attention to herself. With the original box-sized windscreen, black leather interior and enormous spare wheel on the rear door, she preserved her classic, vintage elegance. Yet she had been purchased by a 21 year old backpacker so naturally, there had been a few controversial changes that Matty had made like scribbling out the ’N’ on the bonnet to read ‘Lad Rover’, and pasting the famous image of a tennis girl with no pants on to his sun visor. He had also gone to the laborious effort of ripping out the back seats, storing them in a roof box and constructing a bed frame out of spare planks of wood to squeeze a double mattress into the back of the car. This proved to be a surprisingly comfortable way to sleep, and Hotel Jennifer ultimately became our permanent residence for two months. Matt had named the car Jenny after his favourite film: Forrest Gump. There was little sentiment or personal significance behind the name, but it strangely stuck; it seemed to fit her classic 80’s image. We found ourselves addressing the car as a person, as opposed to an inanimate object. ‘It’ and ‘the car’ became ‘she’ and ’Jenny,’ and we soon regarded her as a fellow traveller joining us on our escapades. I had many curious people ask whether I was Jenny; I would love to have watched their expressions change had I joked with an air of sincerity ‘no it’s Matt’s ex-girlfriend” before throwing him a rehearsed glare. But neither of us ever dared.
We had spent five days in Jannali, and now the time had come to begin our adventure up the East Coast. We had spent countless hours map-reading, scrolling through ‘unmissable to-do’ lists online, soaking up all the necessary travel advice from Matt’s family friends, and ensuring that all the essentials were done before we left, like setting up an Australian bank account and purchasing an Aussie Sim card for my phone. Anyone flying to Australia on a working holiday visa should probably do both. I opened up a bank account with Commonwealth and so far, haven’t experienced any problems. Their online app is convenient for instant transfers and cash withdrawals. As for the Aussie phone networks, you have about three choices: Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. My personal recommendation is to opt for Optus.They are reasonably priced with good signal range. You can top up monthly online with how ever much you think you will need. I tend to pay about $40 or so a month (about £20) and receive 8GB of data and unlimited talk and text, and 300 international minutes, essential for those long phone calls with mum to reassure her you’re still alive.
The tedious affairs were in order; the necessary loose ends were tied. We were ready. We said our farewells to the lovely family we were staying with, packed our lives into the Land Rover, and so began our memorable road-trip… with me perched nervously behind the wheel.
Far from a dream, she was a demon to drive. Turning the steering wheel alone was like trying to manually rotate the hands of Big Ben. The gear stick would only budge out of neutral if you applied both hands and full force, and God help if you had to reverse her as this begged the assistance of the passenger. A journey in Jenny would typically require both driver and passenger to commit to an intensive three month period of vigorous, hardcore exercise before stepping inside the vehicle as even attempting to open that bloody aluminium door demanded full strength. But she moved; not very rapidly but she had a functioning 3.5litre engine that would carry us along the country’s golden and glorious coastline. The roar of her engine was thunderous; it could reverberate through the streets and shake stationary traffic. Matty took great delight in slamming his foot on that gas pedal to signal to other drivers of his questionable superiority on the road (typical man). However the raucous engine also meant that any conversation between Matty and I would have to either wait till the next stopover or be bellowed with full lung capacity into each other’s ears (I was considering buying a megaphone at one point.) On many occasions, we lost our voices, accepted defeat and blasted the Spotify road trip anthems instead. There was never a dull (or quiet moment) in Jenny. She may have been a difficult car to drive, but she made our trip memorable and proved to be the toughest old car we had ever driven.