Age no barrier on epic road trip around Australia

Trusty old Ford Laser helps 93-year-old achieve dream to visit WA town with connection to his family.

Thanks to his personal drive, and a reliable Ford Laser, then 93-year-old Jim Stoner (pictured) completed a 11,500km trip around Australia, visiting a remote part of the country with a special link to his family along the way.

A widower of nine years and living at Paradise Point on the Gold Coast, Jim wanted to realise a heart-held ambition he had nurtured for many years to visit the township of Dongara in Western Australia.

Dongara was the place that Jim’s father visited from the UK in 1912 and worked there until the outbreak of World War I, when he returned to England.

Living on his own and in his 90s, Jim often reflected on his life and because of his father’s fondness of Dongara, developed a desire to visit the town.

The RACQ member wanted to find out if there were any historical records relating to his father from all those years ago.

After considering his options, Jim decided the only way he could get there was to drive himself.  His age did not deter him, nor the fact that his trusty Ford Laser was 28 years old. 

In late March 2019, Jim had his Ford Laser serviced, packed his bags, filled up a few water bottles and put the rubber to the road as he left his home in Paradise Point and headed for Dongara on the other side of Australia, a distance of about 5000km.

This is Jim’s story, an extraordinary achievement for a 93-year-old driving solo, through some of the remotest parts of Australia and clocking up a total distance of about 11,500km.

Jim’s story

I was born in 1926 in the small village of Ashington, Sussex, UK.  I lived with my parents and one sister in a cottage built by my father which he called Dongara, after a town in Western Australia, where he once worked and spoke so fondly about.

In 1912, my father came to Australia by ship from England, arriving in the port of Fremantle and then travelling to Dongara for work. 

He returned to England in 1914 to join the army and later served in France on the Western Front.  After the war, he married my mother and built “Dongara”.   As I grew up in Ashington, I was to hear many times about my father’s adventure to Australia and the town of Dongara.

Six months after marrying Wynn, the girl of my dreams, we migrated to Australia. We worked at a sawmill in Yetman, New South Wales, for three years, before moving Tamworth where we raised a family of three boys.  

We decided to move to the warmer climate of the Gold Coast in 1976 and established our home in the suburb of Paradise Point.  In 1991 we purchased a brand-new Ford Laser and I did quite a few trips around Queensland, New South Wales and even Victoria.  We were married for 61 years before my wife went to be with the Lord. 

Jim Stoner's journey around Australia
A map provided by Jim showing the route he took around Australia.

I have always been interested to find out about my father’s time in Dongara and to visit.  In March 2019, I decided to drive to Dongara in my 1991 Ford Laser. 

Heading to Dongara

I left on 29 March 2019, stopping every two hours or so at a rest area or, if available, or at a McDonald’s for a meal and free coffee.

My first overnight stop was at Morven, staying at Pick a Box Cabin Motel.  After travelling the next day, I could not avoid running over a large dead kangaroo in the middle of the road.  I found there was so many of them killed on the road, mainly by the road trains at night with the crows and eagles feeding on them during the daylight hours.

My next stop was at a Kynuna motel.  Leaving early next morning and driving on to the Barkly Roadhouse. On arrival, and as I got out the car to go into the shop, I notice a cockerel coming towards my car. When I returned to the car, he had all his hens feasting on the grasshoppers that had stuck to my bumper bar. A meal they may not have otherwise got.

Dongara, Western Australia
Dongara from across the Irwin River estuary.

After staying the night in a cabin at Barkly Roadhouse, I drove on to Mount Isa and then into the Northern Territory, finally stopping that night at the Palm Tree Motel in Katherine. 

On the next day, as I drove towards Kununurra, I took a wrong turn and ended up at Wyndham. I knew I had gone the wrong way for there were some buildings and even a motel which were all deserted and close to the sea. I had to drive back 56km to the main highway, then on to Halls Creek, staying at Auski Tour Village, WA.

The following day was a long drive to Meekatharra for an overnight stay at a motel. It was the next day, 8 April that I arrived at Dongara and booked into the Old Mill Motel for three nights.

Family connection

Over the next days I made inquiries to see whether there may have been any historical information in the town about my father’s time there back in 1912-1914, but no success. 

However, I experienced joy in finally being able to view the town where my father worked so many years ago.

One of the many road trains Jim Stoner encountered.
One of the many road trains Jim encountered.

During this time, I enjoyed my stay driving around the area and having a breakfast at a cafe on the beach not far out from Dongara. It is a lovely little town about a two-hour drive north of Perth.

I could not help but think that maybe in a few years’ time it will be like the Sunshine Coast back in Queensland.  I noted there were quite a few nice homes now being built there. I wished the township well and farewell as it was time to commence my journey back to Queensland.

The journey home

On 11 April, I started making my way home, staying at Merredin Motel then on to Kalgoorlie, Norseman, and stayed in Motel Balladonia before driving across to Port Augusta in South Australia and on to Broken Hill in NSW.

On reaching Broken Hill, I drove across to Nyngan and then on to Tamworth to stay with my son Colin and family for two days, before arriving back on the Gold Coast and the comforts of my home.

Jim Stoner takes a break on a lonely stretch of road.
Jim takes a break on a lonely stretch of highway.

The kindness of strangers

The Laser ran perfectly, except the air conditioner broke down while driving through the Northern Territory on my way to Dongara.

I pulled into a garage in a small village named Timber Creek but the owner there was not able to repair it.

However, he spent about an hour working on my car to make sure that everything was working OK and would not let me pay him.

I met many other kind and generous people who went out of their way to help me on my way around Australia.

I praise God for taking such good care of me as I drove around this great country of ours Australia.  The Lord Jesus was with me all the way. 

Story by Jim Stoner and his friend Rob McDonald