By Ivor Jones
A trial that has lived long in the memory of many in Australia is not a criminal trial but one of reliability of Australian ingenuity and endurance. I am referring to the world-famous “Redex Reliability Trials” of the 1950s – a rally around the nation in a motley collection of motor vehicles driven by an even more motley collection of drivers and navigators, some of which were to become household names in Australia and even further afield.
One such person was the legendary larrikin,” Gelignite Jack Murray”. Jack was definitely a true blue Aussie character with a dry sense of humour. During the 1953 Redex Trial, Jack’s Plymouth overturned on a bush track.
A passing competitor yelled out – “You alright Jack?” Jack replied “Got a ring spanner? Nine-sixteenths SAE?” Thinking … followed by the puzzled query: “A ring spanner. What the hell do you want that for?” “I thought I’d do the brakes while the wheels were up like this.” Silence … then everyone started to laugh.
Gelignite Jack once said that he got the nickname during the 1954 Redex Trial as “They christened me ‘Gelignite Jack’ after the big bang in the tin outhouse at Townsville Showground”, he is quoted as saying “Gelignite wouldn’t hurt a flea out in the open. It’s just the same as a cracker, only louder.
Jack’s co-driver and navigator at the time were Bill Murray (no relation). Bill Murray was a construction and explosives expert. The two Murrays took boxes of gelignite on the trial with the intention of clearing any fallen trees or other obstacles blocking the narrow outback roads. It was never used or required for this intended purpose. The gelignite became Jack’s toy.
The first Redex Trial in 1953 was organised by Dunlop executive Harry James, and there were 187 cars entered for that first trial. Some commentators referred to it as a race whilst others referred to it as a Rally which it was.
Each car had to be kept stock standard, except for limited underbody protection and changes to seating, exhaust, carby’s, shock absorbers, lighting and instruments.
Repairs were allowed to be made on the run. Drivers lost points for lateness at check-in points along the route. They would lose one point for every minute late to enter a control point, as well as a further 100 points for disobeying a direction from race adjudicators. If a driver had to swap apart at any point during the race, they would also have 500 points deducted from their overall score.
The 1953 route ran Sydney – Bundaberg – Rockhampton – Mackay – Townsville – Mount Isa – Darwin – Tennant Creek – Alice Springs – Kingoonya – Adelaide – Melbourne – Albury – Sydney. From Townsville to Adelaide, except for the bitumen between Mt. Isa, Darwin and Alice Springs, the route was little more than a collection of faint tracks crisscrossing claypans and saltbush.
There were 50,000 people at Sydney Showground to see the start, which saw the first competitor, Ted Hoy in the Air now, leave at 2pm. and the last, Queenslander, Miss J. Hill, in a Renault 750, at 11.33pm. The leaders averaged about 50 mph (80 km/h) up the Pacific Highway to Brisbane, with mechanical failure taking points from some of the novices.
The eventual winner of the first Redex Trial in 1953 was 37 year old Ken Tubman in a Peugot 203 who had won by 25 seconds from Ken Robinson driving a Humber Snipe – 25 seconds after 10,500 kilometres of murderous country.
“Gelignite” Jack Murray and Bill Murray were the winners of the 1954 Redex Reliability Trials.