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Citroen tourer

A colour photograph of a yellow Citroen car with black hood.

Citroen tourer

The first car around Australia

This 1923 Citroen 5CV two-seater boat-tail tourer was the first car driven around Australia. Between August and December 1925, Nevill Westwood’s journey of more than 17,220 kilometres in his baby Citroen, nicknamed ‘Bubsie’, attracted great public interest. Following Francis Birtles’ drive across the continent from Fremantle to Sydney in 1912, and before the development of local car manufacturing industries, Westwood’s journey highlighted the possibilities of automotive transport in Australia.

Nevill Westwood's missionary journey

Departing Perth on 4 August 1925, Westwood, a Seventh Day Adventist missionary, and Greg Davies, a missionary college student, drove north to carry out missionary and explorative work across isolated communities. On barely discernible tracks, the two travelled to Meekatharra, Nullagine, Marble Bar and Broome, and were helped across the Fitzroy River by local Aboriginal people.

Westwood and Davies carried out gearbox repairs and fixed numerous tyre punctures with whatever they could find, including grass and cowhide. They drove in stages across Queensland and New South Wales, until Davies left the trip in Albury. Westwood continued to Melbourne and Adelaide, and was escorted into Perth on 30 December 1925 after 148 days of driving.

The Citroen's 1925 journey through Western and Central Australia

Family connection

Westwood kept the Citroen until his death in 1969, when it passed to his son Ron. In 1975, Ron Westwood began restoring the Citroen, intending to re-enact the 1925 trip for the 75th anniversary. He collected spare parts, commissioned bodywork and rebuilt the engine, retaining some original parts such as the radiator. The car's colour was changed from the original reddish-brown to yellow. Although Ron Westwood was unable to undertake the journey, he safeguarded the Citroen for the future by selling it to the National Museum in 2005.

The Citroen and some of its distinctive features

Back on the road again

Made in France from 1921, the Citroen 5CV was often known as ‘petit citron’ – ‘little lemon’ – because it was at first sold only with bright yellow paintwork. By 1923, when this car was made, other colours were available, and this two-seat tourer model was originally painted reddish-brown. The Citroen is 3.25 metres long, 1.4 metres wide, 1.65 metres high and weighs just 580 kilograms. It became a popular model in Australia, as it was cheap to run and simple to handle.

As part of the ongoing maintenance of the car, conservation staff and expert contractors have removed chloride corrosion, and chemically stabilised the chassis and body components. In 2006, the Citroen’s body, chassis, engine and transmission were taken apart, treated, reconditioned and reassembled. The Citroen is periodically driven to preserve it in working condition. The images below show a 2009 test run at Oran Park Raceway, in New South Wales.

Caring for the Citroen

Westwood on the road

The National Museum's collection also includes documents, photographic prints and glass slides detailing the journey made by Westwood in 1925. Throughout his journey, Westwood kept regular contact with his mother via letters and telegrams, providing a summary of his travels, the condition of the vehicle and his intended destinations.

From Hall’s Creek, Western Australia, on 9 September 1925, Westwood wrote:

My own dear Mother, Just a few brief lines as I may not have the chance of writing again for some time.

We left Broome on Sunday and reached Derby on Monday morning. Greg and I canvassed it by 4.00pm so we made out 26 miles to Yeeda Station where we stayed overnight.

The next day I broke all previous records by taking £20-3-6 worth of orders and then I had a run of success until last Sunday, taking £67 worth of orders, while Greg took another £6 for the week.

Thursday we crossed the Fitzroy being towed over by about a dozen natives. That night we took the back mud guards off ‘Bubsie’ and discarded them as my springs were a bit on the slack side, especially as for some weeks now I have been running with the discs reversed, which gives me a standard track. Anyhow, the wheels were beginning to bump on the mudguards.

It has in some ways improved the look of the car.

Just as I was nearing Halls Creek on Sunday night, I had my first serious breakdown, breaking part of my gear-box and stripping the gears. I hired a couple of horses on Monday and Greg and I walking in on Sunday, 4 miles, had tea and then with a number of others went across to the A.I.M. [Australian Inland Mission] hospital and joined in a sing-song, singing many of Alexander’s hymns. I rode out to the car, pulled the gear-box off and then we carried it to Moola Bulla and the blacksmith repaired it for us.

This morning put part in car and drove it to here. Wired to Turner and then proceeded on our way to the border, but the part that had been repaired gave out 1 mile from here. I am going to Moola Bulla tomorrow and will get the smith to try his luck again, as I am not keen on a six week wait here as the next mail isn’t due until the middle of October. The blacksmith is a genius with anything of a mechanical nature so I am hopeful that he will be able to do something for me. It is when these little things turn up that one feels rather annoyed; but one can appreciate the fact that Jesus cares, and that all the dear fold down south are praying for us and surely their prayers must prevail.

I had intended writing to Esteline this mail, but now I will have to make this letter do. Have not written to Heidelberg so must ask you to give them my news. (Have since written to G.H.P.)

All being well, will leave here on Sunday and should reach Katherine by 23rd (leaving week later, by 30th). If so will wire you on the first opportunity.

My route is as follows - Flora Valley 30. Nicholson 70. Farquharson 50. Wave Hill 100. Victoria River Downs 100. Delamere 60. Willaroo 50. Katherine 70. The latter is, I think I’ve told you before, the terminus of the railway line. Wave Hill is a wireless station as well as being a Cattle Station, and is the end of the Katherine mail route. Victoria River Downs has an A.I.M. hospital.

Must close now dear Mother with heaps of love to you and Esteline, also to Guy and Father when you write.

Address all mail to Darwin via Sydney, unless you receive further notice in the shape of a wire.

I am looking forward to my homecoming in about 12 weeks’ time.

Love from your affectionate son, Nevill

The Citroen tourer is currently on show in the Hall at the National Museum of Australia.