TUMBY BAY - When I arrived at my first posting in Papua New Guinea’s Western Highlands in 1967, the Australian administration was well into transitioning its largely British made vehicle fleet into a Japanese one.
The tough Series 1 and 2 LandRovers that had been stalwarts for field work were rapidly being replaced by BJ40 Toyota LandCruisers.
The old LandRovers were primitive but remarkably reliable, easy to work on and not prone to rust because of their aluminium alloy bodywork.
However, unless they had been fitted with a Salisbury differential, they tended to snap axles easily and had curious features like a single hand operated windshield wiper.
They also tended to leak a lot in heavy rain.
The new watertight Toyotas weren’t too bad but their three speed gearboxes were a bit tricky, especially the synchromesh.
And after they’d been bashed around on the kiap roads the steering tended to get very loose.
I have vivid memories of Administration drivers pushing hard on LandCruiser gear sticks while listening to the pinging of shearing metal on the walls of the gearbox.
None of them believed in such sophisticated manoeuvres as double de-clutching.
Splay-footed LandCruisers were also a common sight where the front wheels pointed either east or west but never north. Tightened tie rods in the hands of an Administration driver usually lasted about a week.
A sensible and practical expedient to extend the longevity of most vehicles was swapping places with the driver once you were out of sight of the office.
For some peculiar reason only known to themselves the powers that be in Port Moresby also decided to change the colour of the new vehicles to dark blue.
The old light blue, white topped, LandRovers handled the heat quite well but you could cook an egg on the bonnet of a dark blue LandCruiser and bake scones in its glovebox.
The heavier British vehicles were also being phased out and being replaced by Toyotas and Isuzus.
The old Public Works Department Austin and Bedford trucks that littered the workshops in various states of disrepair and driver induced catastrophe soon began to disappear.
Even the old cantankerous BSA motorbikes (Beezers) were on the way out to be replaced by shiny red Honda 90s.
And while the latest model Holden attracted some interest when it eventually made its way into the highlands most of the expatriate staff in the Administration had quietly changed over their private vehicles to Japanese cars.
Len Aisbett, the District Officer who had interviewed me in Adelaide, now drove a Toyota Crown station wagon and Roger Gleeson, the affable council advisor out at Dei, drove a Toyota Corolla utility.
All this was happening a mere 20 years or so after the end of the World War II. Many older Administration officers had fought the Japanese in that war.
It must have seemed strange encountering this new Japanese invasion. The LandCruisers even had a military type appearance, based as they were on the American jeeps.
Even the big 6x6 Izuzu trucks looked like they had come straight from the battlefield.
A lot of kiaps on the outstations in the highlands and elsewhere tried to hang onto their old LandRovers as long as possible but they had to eventually and reluctantly give them up.
I developed quite an affection for the ones I drove but, after returning to Australia, bought a BJ40 LandCruiser. I had tried out the new Leyland Series 3 LandRover but found it wanting.
Later on, when I drove a Commonwealth government Leyland LandRover, I grew to dislike them intensely. Leyland vehicles were cheap and nasty.
One day while pulling the innards out of one that had broken down in the bush (again) I was amazed to find some fairly important bits made out of what looked like Bakelite instead of metal.
The poor old LandRover’s demise into oblivion seemed to parallel the decline of the British Empire and the rise of the Japanese motor vehicle industry made one wonder about who had actually won the war.