[ Taken from A.C.E. club magazine No.37 Perth WA -
Thanks to the contributor, Kevin Lee]
The Spirit of Citroen ?
"So what's it all about then, Ralph?"
"It's all about enjoying yourself, Kev."
I pondered that statement as a small group of us sat around
drinking tea and coffee one evening, about a week before
the start of Raid Australia #3, 1996.
Eighteen months ago, I had bought my first Citroen 2CV, joined
the national club of Great Britain (2CVGB) and noticed an advert
in the monthly club magazine, looking for anyone interested in
joining a "Raid" around Australia. Partly because I'd always wanted
to take a look at Australia and partly because I wanted to find out
what a "Raid" was, I decided to take the plunge and sent my car
(Rosa-Lu) to the land of "No Worries".
I pondered that phrase too, as I sat there recollecting the sacrifices
I'd made to get this far. I'd left my girlfriend wanting, taken out a
bank overdraft for the flight over and arriving in Perth with ADlrs100
in my pocket not knowing anything or anyone. I'd been given the
address of a "safe house" just outside the city, owned by someone
known only as "Batman". When I arrived at Batman's place, I was
greeted by other visiting "Raiders" and told that Batman was
"away on business". I found a space on the floor and assumed
At the time, it all seemed very suspicious and to make matters more
so, I had arranged to meet an Austrian guy known as "Big Alex" at
the start of the Raid at Ayers Rock (some 3000km away). He was to
be my co-driver and meal-ticket for a further 6000kms through the
inhospitable Australian outback. To add to the confusion, Rosa-Lu
was ill prepared for the trip. She was in totally original condition,
with no chassis modifications or rough road preparations whatsoever
and I was no mechanic. I didn't even own a tool kit.
So as I sat there sipping tea that evening in the company of
organised, well-balanced (?) people, I felt as if my life was a huge
jigsaw puzzle and everyone was holding a piece of it except me.
Who was Batman? What was a "Raid"? How was I going to get to the
start of the raid with only ADlrs100? Who was Big Alex? Would he
be at the start of the Raid as planned? Would the car survive the
trip? Would my girlfriend still be there at the end of it all?
I went to bed that night with a head full of jetlag and worry.
"Let's face 'it', I thought to myself, 'You're a basket case'.
The following week was a merry-go-round of introductions, car
preparations and planning. Unbelievably, with plenty of help from
other 'Raiders', I eventually set off - with three other cars -
towards the start of the Raid. With nearly 3,000 kilometres to cover,
we raced along red dirt roads for four days. Towards the centre of
Australia's vast expanse, towards the centre of Big Alex's vast
wallet. The adventure had begun and I was feeling confident,
especially after travelling with Ron Westwood. Maybe I wasn't such
a basket case after all. As we stopped at regular intervals to tend
Ron's mechanical oilments, I developed a sense of responsibility
towards Rosa-Lu. It was up to me to get her through the Raid.
When we finally reached the start of the Raid, joing other cars
from around the world, I sensed a festive atmosphere developing
as old acquaintances joined forces once more. Meanwhile,
newcomers like myself, wandered around camp, bemused and
bewildered. It was a circus and everyone had their part to play.
The following morning was one of anxiety. Alex hadn't arrived yet.
"It's ok - he's coming", was all I got, as I continued to wander
around camp, making acquaintances and chewing on a little soul
food. Then it happened. I felt a lump form in my throat as I caught
sight of a big guy working his way through the camp. "This has to
be Big Alex", I thought. Holy shit, he was big. He must have weighed
at least 120kg. Despair overcame me as I walked over to Rosa-Lu and
nervously rocked her from side to side, as if trying to reassure us
both that we were in this together. I wanted to call my girlfriend and
tell her I would be home soon. As soon as what? There was no turning
back now. I introduced myself to Alex, like a lamb to the slaughter.
I lay in my tent that night, amidst a serenade of snoring Raiders, as
another piece of the jigsaw puzzle was cautiously laid on the table.
Now we were three. Only another 6000kms to go.
Our first day on the road together was a leisurely 120kms jaunt on
bitumen road to Curtain Springs bush camp. The Raid has started
and Rosa-Lu responded well to the extra weight she was being asked
to carry. Alex was a light traveller. I noticed he only had one bag
with him and I commended him on his ability to organise himself so.
"My other luggage is still at Alice Springs airport", he replied.
"Oh", I said.
"We will collect it in two days", he added.
"Oh", I said again and fixed my eyes on the road ahead.
I noticed an assortment of birds ripping the guts out of an
unfortunate kangaroo which had fallen victim to a road train the
previous night and thought of Rosa-Lu. That evening as I gazed up
at the outback heavens full of countless other worlds, I considered
my own small world and scrambled myself some eggs whilst watching
Alex dismantle the interior of Rosa-Lu. He was sleeping in the car,
he told me, until we found his tent at the airport.
I gave him one of my blankets and spent a chilly and restless night
listening to my co-driver snoring the paint off my girl and made a
mental note to check her interior fitments in the morning, just in
case anything had rattled loose.
Alice Springs came and went and after leaving the camp's pit-stop
atmosphere - already six days into the Raid - Rosa-Lu, Alex and
myself were about to experience our first real test.
The Tanami track. Over 1000kms of what the Raid itinerary described
as "rough dirt roads". For three days we crawled over iron-hard
corrugations and meandered our way around potholes and rocks.
Rosa-Lu behaved like a martyr, never complaining, while Alex slept,
took pictures, then slept again. 'It was a comfortable arrangement',
I convinced myself, as I struggled for space during one of Alex's
It was at the Halls Creek camp that I began to feel a bit more like a
"Raider". The Tanami track was behind us and we had survived it
with no real problems. Not even a puncture, I allowed myself a little
smugness and wandered around camp, indulging in Raid talk, getting
to know people and sharing food and beer (usually theirs!).
After the rigours of the Tanami, the mood within the camp was easy,
but as we moved on to Lake Argyle for more rest and relaxation, we
knew the worst was yet to come.
Traditionally, in Britain, the 12th of August is celebrated for being
the start of the grouse shooting season. Small flocks or "coveys"
of these birds are flushed or "driven" towards a line of waiting guns,
to meet their fate. Most end up on the table, but a lucky few survive
to fly another day. It was therefore no coincidence that this day was
chosen to travel the infamous Gibb River Road, another 1000kms
of rough dirt track. If reports and rumours were correct, then this
section of the raid would be more testing than the Tanami. Cars were
almost expected to fall by the wayside and only the strong would
survive. So as we all gathered in our coveys and were flushed towards
our fate, I felt something big was going to go down. Bigger than
Rosa-Lu's delicate little 125 tyres. Bigger even than Alex's breakfast
My confidence was low throughout that first 245kms to Jacks Waterhole
and wasn't helped by Alex, who delighted in giving me the statistics
of his raid experience, four years ago.
"We had 22 punctures and broke the chassis in several places", he
boasted with wide eyes.
My foot quivered nervously on the accelerator pedal as we swerved
our way through a patch of sand at our usual break-neck speed of
30kms per hour. I tried to change the subject.
"Look at that flock of black cockatoos over there!"
Alex was getting excited and I didn't want him getting restless. I was
having enough trouble controlling the car as it was. I needed calm
concentration. I needed my girlfriend, if indeed I still had one.
Meanwhile the outback sun beat down through intermittent clouds
of red dust as the other cars raced by, their occupants full of
eagerness and smiles. We pulled into camp that evening, unscathed
and listened round the campfire to tales of woe as coveys were
scattered far and wide. We, I concluded, as we quaffed Alex's beer
supplies with the Top Gun team, were the fortunate ones. How long
would our good fortune last?
There are no coincidences in life. So it was no coincidence that the
following morning, day thirteen of the raid, my superstitious mind
told me that today it was my turn to get my hands dirty. 10kms out of
camp, my suspicions were confirmed. Rosa-Lu suddenly started to
rattle. Then there was a grating, graunching sound, then a muffled
whimper from Alex as I jumped on the brake pedal hard and his
emergency first aid kit - a family-size bottle of lemonade - rolled
out from underneath Alex's seat and caught him on the achilles
tendon. I turned off the engine and we looked at each other, then
got out to inspect the damage. Alex breathed a sigh of relief as we
quickly realised the problem was not only relatively minor, (metal
fatigue around the shock absorber mounting), it was also luckily on
my side of the car. Thankfully the car behind us was carrying a spare
and we lived to fly another day.
We flew unhindered, along the remaining 600kms of the Gibb River
Road, sometimes reaching speeds in excess of 40kms per hour and
followed the others to Broome - a coastal town on the Indian Ocean.
The local papparazzi and statewide TV were there to greet us and all
75 cars literally bathed in the glory of the occasion. I washed
Rosa-Lu in appreciation at what I'd asked of her so far and paraded
her around town, leaving Alex to buy souvenirs and go camel riding
on the beach. As we all left Broome, like a travelling circus, I was
beginning to feel a little more like a Raider now. Part of something,
but still not sure what. We had already "Raided" for 3000kms and
still had another 3000 to go. With the most difficult sections of the
raid behind us, it felt like we were on the home straight as we
meandered our way south. I paused for reflection, while Alex took
his nap. I'd seen parts of this country that looked like the earth was
made yesterday. I'd been overwhelmed at times by the generosity,
helpfulness and hospitality of the other Raiders, but still I couldn't
put my finger on what this whole thing was all about.
So far we had travelled through National Parks, Aboriginal Reserves
amd vast tracts of emptiness. We'd travelled on roads that had
stretched beyond the horizon for hundreds of kilometres.
Dodged camels, emus, kangaroos and flocks of cockatoos. We'd
been mesmerised by the ever changing hues of the arid Australian
landscape, as the sun painted the earth in colours of red and orange
whilst it travelled unhindered across an immense blue sky. With the
horizon sometimes visible from all directions, outback Australia made
a mockery of the word 'space'.
So as we cruised down to 80 mile beach and ventured into the gorges
of the Pilbara on our way down to the finish line, I felt a sense of
achievement. Not just because I'd coaxed Rosa-Lu through some
difficult situations and not just because I'd realised my dream of
coming to Australia. Alex and myself were two completely people thrown
together for four weeks in a tiny car. Although sometimes we struggled
to get along - we had just had to get on with it.
When the Raid finally ended and everyone turned for home, I was
still looking for the answer to complete the jigsaw puzzle that seemed
so fragmented when I first arrived. Then suddenly one morning as I
drove Alex into Perth for some last minute shopping before taking him
to the airport, he made a casual remark which seemed to answer my
"So now you have experienced something of the spirit of Citroen",
I thought about that phrase as I helped Alex with his luggage. It
was the closest I would get to answering my question. A Raid was
more about people than cars. The cars were just the medium.
But as I drove out of the airport, with Rosa-Lu performing like a
spring chicken again, one last question came to mind as I watched
Alex's plane take him home. When Raid #4 came around in the
year 2000 and individuals from around the world polished their
Citroens and joined hands once more, who would be the chosen
one? Chosen to drive for "Big Alex!"
2CV Bamboo (Rosa-Lu)
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