Our Slider shows Australian adventurer, author and filmmaker Francis Edwin Birtles (1881-1941) with his car, a 14 h.p. Bean nicknamed ‘Sundowner’, at the Hadfields factory in Sheffield, after his latest successful trip.
Birtles was a veteran driver across continents – an endeavour for which he was given the name ‘Overlander’. He had already cycled around Australia twice and crossed the continent seven times between 1907 and 1912. He made the first west-east crossing of Australia in a car in 1912, and set records driving from Melbourne to Darwin, and Darwin to Sydney in 1926.
Our Slider celebrates that Darwin to Sidney journey, a sprint of 2,826 miles in 6 days 18 hours. It is taken from an advertisement for the Bean’s parent company Hadfields Ltd – “Where the Steel Comes From” – the car being equipped with Hadfields steel “in all the essential components”.
Birtles later attempted to drive from England to Australia in February 1927, in an experimental ‘Imperial Six’. In early August, after ‘considerable hardship’, the voyage was abandoned at Delhi, and the team returned to London.
Birtles’s second attempt would be in the Bean 14 h.p. ‘Sundowner’ car. He started in London on 19 October 1927, this time alone and with a planned route through Europe, Syria, Iraq, the Persian and Baluchistan deserts, crossing the north-western frontier into India and Burma, then onto Singapore where his car would be shipped to Darwin, and ending his journey in Melbourne.
A young Canadian, P E Stollery, joined Birtles in Calcutta, and by early June the pair had arrived in Singapore, and arrived in Darwin on 10 June 1928. From Darwin the pair proceeded east through Queensland to Longreach, and then southward along the east coast to Brisbane, arriving in Sydney on 16 July, and Melbourne on 25 July 1928.
In 1929, Birtles donated his ‘Sundowner’ to the people of Australia for a proposed national museum in Canberra. Today the vehicle is held in the National Museum of Australia.
Picture courtesy of the Richard Roberts Archive