Driving a 50 year old Chamberlain tractor across Australia

By: Harrison Hunkin, Photography by: Sean Lander

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Mighty Machines' Harrison Hunkin joined the Chamberlain 9G tractor club of Western Australia for a journey across the country

If you follow the ‘Indian Ocean Drive’ north of Perth, you’ll be treated to some of the most stunning landscapes in the country. Red soils roll into farm land that eventually meets that golden Western Australian sand and the blue waters of the Indian Ocean.

Its landscapes like this that make the Indian Ocean Drive a hotspot for tourists and grey nomads.

But this wasn’t our adventure. Drive along this road from Perth for roughly four hours and you’ll hit the small fishing town of Dongara, which was the starting point for a truly remarkable 4x4 journey.

Harry and the Chamberlain 9g tractor club
Harry and the Chamberlain 9g crew

WHAT ADVENTURE?

It’s here in Dongara where I met with Hugh ‘Cumber’ Campbell, the El Presidente and brains behind the Chamberlain 9g tractor club. If you’re unfamiliar with the Chamberlain 9g tractor club, they’re a group of grey nomads who do things a little different.

They travel across the country, towing their camper trailers and caravans with their iconic Australian Chamberlain 9G tractors, all while raising a little bit of cash for charity. Extraordinary isn’t it.

After recently reading about their original voyage all the way back in 2000 (when they travelled with a convoy of 35 tractors from WA all the way to Byron Bay to coincide with the 2000 Olympic Games), my ears immediately pricked up at the idea of getting involved.

But I’ll be honest, I thought they were bonkers!

I’m no caravanning expert by any means, I’ve dabbled in a little bit as a kid during holidays with my Nan and Pop in their caravan, but to me, a month travelling inland over dust and dirt in a 50-year-old farm tractor seamed absurd.

However, for three days their 2019 journey, I joined Cumber, his partner Geraldine and fellow Chamberlain enthusiast George and his wife … as they set off to Temora in New South Wales.

A Chamberlain 9G tractor drving through the Western Australian desert
Giving the 9g a squirt on some rough outback tracks

AN IDEA WAS BORN

Fast forward to the end of day one. Covered in red dust, we grumbled our way into the tiny country town of Perenjori. You could surely imagine the stares we had as two 50-something-year-old farm tractors drove up the main strip.

It was here at the local watering hole, over a frosty schooner of Emu lager – a horrible beer by the way – Cumber explained to me the story behind the Chamberlain 9g tractor.

The origins of the Chamberlain 9g club can be traced back to the late ’70s when he and a mate dreamt up the idea of driving across Australia in a Chamberlain.

For more than 20 years nothing happened until the idea was brought up once again during the mid-1990s, this time the journey grew legs. Before you know it, a convoy 32 restored Chamberlain tractors plus support vehicles travelled from Steep Point the most western point in the country, all the way to Byron Bay, the country’s most eastern point, to coincide with the 2000 Olympic Games.

Along the way they rattled their money tins in support of the Royal Flying Doctor Service and various Children’s Hospitals, they collected roughly 60,000 dollars.

Since that debut Chamberlain adventure in 2000, the club’s members have embarked on more 20 treks – incredibly, they’ve even crossed the ditch to New Zealand and let loose over in the United States of America.  

WHAT’S A CHAMBERLAIN?

You could assume that this love affair for the Chamberlain brand is due to its connections with Aussie farmers of generations gone by. After all, once upon a time, the Chamberlain was ‘THE’ Australian tractor in a market dominated by the yanks.

Manufactured out of Welshpool in Western Australia, the first Chamberlain tractor to gain fame was a Chamberlain ‘Champion’ 6G (six gears) nicknamed ‘Tail End Charlie’, a machine that completed the full 1957 Mobilgas Round Australia rally, clocking over 18,000 km’s in under 20 days.

The 9g model was introduced in 1958 and proved popular here in Australia, with 8165 units rolling off the assembly line.

Chamberlain 9G adventure; Harry behind the wheel, featuring a special companion
Harry behind the wheel, featuring a special companion

THE RIG

Let’s talk a little bit about this Mighty Machine. Under the bonnet, the 9g features a 4-cylinder Perkins engine.

There isn't much in way of luxuries, but the nine forward gears (where the 9g name comes from) a comfortable bench seat and a canopy keep the oldies happy. A lot of the members have spent years and years upgrading their rigs to better suit the conditions – George, for example, has air-sealed his 9g to help with the dust.

And if you like taking in the scenery, then perhaps you should look to trade in your LandCruiser for a Chamberlain?

Top speed in this old banga is a touch over 50km/h, making it the perfect slow and steady vehicle. Only issue is, when you're humming along, the sound is deafening.

Overall, an experience to tell the grandkids one day.

'Cumber' the brains behind the trek
'Cumber' the brains behind the trek

JOURNEYS END

After three days with Chamberlain 9g crew, it was finally time to say goodbye. We had reached Paynes Find, a former gold rush settlement that’s only landmark nowadays is a trusty truck stop with a decent feed.

If you were taking a road with bitumen, it would be a five-hour, 450km trip – via dirt roads and bush tracks across farm paddocks in a 1950’s old Chamberlain 9g, it’ll take you three days.

And I could honestly say I wouldn’t have done it any other way. The first thing I did when I got home was google Chamberlain 9g for sale, the stare from my girlfriend was gold.

I think I also aged a bit on this trip. Not in a bad way, like it nearly killed me, more in a philosophical/spiritual way perhaps.

You see, everyone on the trip had a pair of those ‘clic easy’ glasses. You know … the ones that magnetically connect at the nose?

And now I’m contemplating purchasing some. I’m only 23 years of age.

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