Big Lap ‘history hunters’ discover the real Australia

Published: September 23, 2021
Ian and Susan were thrilled to discover an old Nickelodon in Cue

After travelling Australia off and on for the past 35 years, veteran grey nomads Susan and Ian Wilcox are as excited as ever as they continue to explore and to learn more about the history of this country and the people who built it.

While they love the scenery and the camaraderie of the road as much as the next nomad, it is the past and stories from bygone times that illuminate the adventure for the pair.

And although they did their first Lap in 1987 and are now on their fourth van – a 18.5’ Wonderland which they pull with a Land Rover Discovery – they’re still finding something new in something old.

A recent tour around WA didn’t disappoint.

“At the Granites in Meekathara, we found some indigenous hand tools and stone flakes, and viewed relics of the gold mining in the main street,” said Susan. “And Sandstone had an interesting display of vintage cars in the parks and street corners.”

The couple also loved the historic buildings they found in Cue, including one of the oldest two-storey iron buildings in the southern hemisphere. The highlight there for them though was a 1920’s ‘nickelodeon’ which looked like a pianola but had a metal roll 1.5 metres long instead of a paper roll.

And then, of course, there were the ghost towns. “Gwalia has been saved by volunteers who have each adopted a house and rescued it from collapse,” said Susan.

“A large number of Europeans worked the mines and built tiny houses out of any old corrugated iron they could find … it’s hard to imagine how difficult it must have been for the miners who had left their families behind.”

Like many grey nomads, Susan and Ian also find it fascinating to visit bush graves and to try to piece together the stories of those who lay there.

Academics like Hilda Maclean from Griffith University say grey nomads, or ‘grave nomads’, are playing a key role in ensuring another link with Australia’s pioneering past isn’t permanently severed.

“Scattered across the vast reaches of outback Australia are dozens of tiny burial grounds and lone graves which stand as a silent testament to the lives lost exploring and settling this wide brown land,” she said. “There is an urgent need to photograph, record and geo-locate these graves and make this information discoverable to family and local historians who do not have the capacity to visit the graves themselves.”

• Is learning about Australia’s history an important part of your trips? Comment below.

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