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Press Release: History repeats - First car to Cape Otway

Issued: 7 November 2011

OTWAYS baby Eliot Gratton-Wilson wasn’t quite four months old when his adventurous father Bill decided he wanted to be the first to drive a car to Cape Otway Lightstation.

That was 1932, Bill was the proud owner of a Model T Ford, and there was no road to the Lighthouse – just a bullock wagon trail used to transport supplies to the Lightkeepers and their families.

This Saturday (November 12), Eliot is returning to re-enact the trip of the first car to the Lightstation in what he’s calling his “80th birthday bash”.

Although Eliot was too young to recall the first rough journey, the story is writ large in his family’s collective memories of pioneer life in the Otways.

Bill and his wife Mary set out from Iluka at Wangerrip, between Yuulong and Lavers Hill, with their first born Eliot and en route recruited the help of three members of the Speight family at Johanna, who followed on horseback.

This weekend Eliot will relive the journey from Bimbi Park to the Lightstation in a 1928 Chrysler Plymouth owned by Apollo Bay’s Clive Milne.

And like on the first journey, they will be supported with riders on horseback.

Eliot’s cousin Cyril Marriner, of Cape Otway, says the Model-T Ford party would never have made it to the Lightstation without the Speight family’s support.

“The car couldn’t get over the sand dunes and they had to lay down timber in the ti-tree swamp so they could get through,” Cyril said.

He describes his trailblazing uncle as “adventurous and rather eccentric”.

A few years later Bill served in World War Two in Greece and was recaptured several times after escaping German prisoner of war camps.

Following the war he took his family to Japan where he served in the the British Commonwealth Occupational Force.
“Then when he left the army he became a designer of agricultural equipment and he died in a car accident in his mid sixties.”

Cyril said Eliot, a retired contract shearer, now of Esperance, contacted him two months ago and hatched his re-enactment plan.

“The Friends of Cape Otway Station have taken this on,” said Cyril.

“We couldn’t do the whole trip because the landscape’s changed so much due to fencing, farm practise and the encroachment of vegetation,” Cyril said.

Eliot, who attended Lavers Hill, Yuulong and Hordern Vale schools during the war years is looking forward to the re-enactment and is bringing his wife Lynette and three children.

“It was something my mother and father did that has been recorded in the family history,” said Eliot who is 80 on November 10.

“It was a fairly rugged trip evidently – over the sandhills.

“I think my mother was quite positive about it – she had only one concern at the time which was looking after me I think.”

Lightstation manager Paul Thompson invited the community to see the re-enactment on Saturday.

Mr Thompson said residents of Colac Otway Shire have free-entry to the Lightstation.

“When Bill and his family arrived at the Lightstation 80 years ago the Lightkeeper at the time offered them accommodation for the night and we’re happy to extend our hospitality to Bill on his re-enactment journey.

“This is another fascinating story from the Lightstation’s past,” Mr Thompson said.

Cyril plans to have Eliot back in front of the 1848 Lighthouse by 1pm on Saturday.

Photo credit: The Gratton-Wilson family.

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