TUMBY BAY - When Prince Philip married Elizabeth, the future British queen, in November 1947 my mother was two months pregnant with me.
Like a lot of English women besotted with the handsome prince she decided to name me after him. My Irish father had little say in the matter.
Apart from that tenuous and rather embarrassing connection, Prince Philip has otherwise been entirely irrelevant in my life, as no doubt I have in his.
That is until I read about his funeral. I say ‘read’ because by then I was entirely sick of the nonstop media blather and twaddle about him on television.
What interested me was the old Land Rover that had been modified to carry his coffin.
Apparently he was fond of Land Rovers and had a hand in designing it for the occasion.
I’ve always been fond of Land Rovers too, so not only did we share a name but also an interest of sorts.
Like a lot of things my interest began in Papua New Guinea.
When I arrived in the highlands as a Cadet Patrol Officer in 1967, the Australian Administration was in the process of transitioning its vehicle fleet from Land Rovers to Toyota Land Cruisers.
But there were still plenty of Land Rovers in service.
In those days they were Series Two Land Rovers, the best version of the marque ever built.
They were basic but would go anywhere and never stopped. There were a few diesel versions around but most were petrol.
The 2.25 liter petrol motor was simple and easy to work on, and the four-speed gearbox totally reliable. This was important on outstations where the closest thing to a mechanic was the local kiap.
Their only downside was a weak rear differential that was prone to snapped axles but that could be fixed by replacing it with a military grade Salisbury differential.
On the open road (and down the airstrip) you could get them up to about 80-90 kph.
And if you had to leave the machine somewhere, popping the rotor button out of the distributor and into your pocket prevented any chance of theft.
The new Toyota Land Cruisers were a lot like a tinny version of the Land Rover but with a three speed gearbox and a bigger motor.
There was no synchromesh on first gear and I have fond memories of government drivers jamming vibrating gearsticks down hard until they crunched into place.
You could almost hear bits of metal shearing and pinging off the walls of the casing.
After a year or so the steering would begin to collapse and it was common to see splay-footed Land Cruisers rattling along highland roads and bouncing off the verges. A Land Rover they were not.
When I returned to Australia and got a job at the South Australian Museum, I was given one of the new Leyland Series Three Land-Rovers to drive.
It was an absolute lemon of a vehicle and spent more time in the workshop than in the field.
Leyland, in their wisdom, built the Series Three on the cheap using inferior components. Even the aluminium alloy bodywork was inferior and tended to crack.
Some parts of the motor and running gear were made of bakelite. The starter motor was slung low down where it collected every bit of crud thrown up from the road.
You had to carry a heavy ballpeen hammer with which to belt it when it failed to kick over.
It was a sorry day for Land Rovers when British Leyland took over their manufacture.
I don’t know what poor Prince Philip did then. I guess he shed tears like the rest of us.
Fortunately Leyland went bust in 1978 and Rover took over again. Out of that came the 110 and then the Defender.
The Land Rover that carried Prince Philip’s coffin was a 2003 model Defender.
Production of the Defender finished in 2016, although a vehicle with the same name but no connection to the earlier model began production in 2020.
Land Rover had earlier produced a four wheel drive called the Discovery and, before that, its upmarket Range Rover, which the Prince liked until he pranged one and wasn’t allowed on the open road again.
The Discovery and the Range Rover were and are both prissy vehicles that no serious off-roader would drive and their current iterations look exactly like all the other Toorak tractors on the road today.
I’m hoping that when I eventually arrive at that patrol post in the sky I’ll be picked up by someone in a pale blue, white roofed, rag top Series Two Land Rover to be driven down the airstrip to the kunai roofed station office.
I wonder whether there was an old rag top to meet Prince Philip at the pearly gates.