Tom Carriera has finished his HQ mission to Cape York and back with an extended solo detour through the heart of Australia to help raise charity funds for Aussie veterans.
The Wangaratta, Victoria bloke headed west through Mt. Isa, then down to Tennant Creek and Uluru, Alice Springs and Coober Pedy in his humble six-pot, four-speed ute, racking up a total of 11,338kms over four weeks.
“In Hughenden the first night, there was a mini-tornado or something,” Tom says. “Sirens went off and I nearly got blown out of my rooftop tent! I was shitting myself.”
Keeping the 202 fed across the NT’s 130km/h roads proved tricky. “I thought that was going to be the bee’s knees; the foot was down and I was up her,” he laughs.
“I knew the roadhouses up there would be spaced out, but I didn’t realise just how spaced out. I was just watching the fuel gauge go down, so I ended up having to slipstream behind a caravan for 70 or 80 kays because I was running out of fuel.
I pretty much made it to the Barkly Roadhouse on fumes, and it took 75 litres of fuel – pretty much a whole tank! I thought it was hilarious when I got there, of course.”
There was a close call with a scrub bull on a waterlogged roads out of Tennant Creek, and Tom found himself avoiding camels later on. “I thought I was home free once I got through the top half of South Australia, but I was very wrong,” he says.
Just an hour from home, an unlucky kangaroo found its way into the Quey’s front end. “I wasn’t speeding but I was thinking I should take it easy because there were probably a few around,” Tom chuckles. “The second I thought that, old Skippy came out and I didn’t even have time to brake.”
The impact punched the radiator into the clutch fan, bent the nosecone under the bonnet, mangled the radiator support and snapped off a driving light.
“I rang my brother and he had a spare radiator sitting in his workshop, so he brought me that while I pulled the roo out of the grille and smashed out as much as I could with a 4lb hammer,” Tom says. “I was going to just ask him to bring the car trailer and load it up, but I thought it’s come this far, it can bloody drive home!’
Despite the last-minute smash, Tom’s stoked to have embarked on the trip, with his time spent at the Cape a highlight. “You can’t describe what it’s like up there,” he says. “Through the Territory and Uluru are just so different to here, and the people I met through the ute were just sensational.
“I had that many people try to talk me out of it. Don’t listen to them, and just give it a go!”
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June 22, 2023: An unlikely 70s classic has just notched over 4600km in a pilgrimage to Australia’s northernmost tip, raising money and awareness for a good cause along the way.
27-year-old Tom Carriera of Wangaratta, Victoria has driven his HQ Holden ute all the way to Cape York to accompany mate Cam Gray and his dad Andrew on a fundraising mission for Young Veterans, dubbed ‘Tassie to the Tip,’ in which they’ve loaded up a 1978 HJ45 LandCruiser.
It’s got personal meaning for Andrew, who’s just retired from the RAAF after more than 35 years of service.
Tom explains he didn’t expect to tag along at first. “Cam said I should come, and I said ‘no way I’d get time off work, and I don’t have a 4×4 to do it in.’
But then my boss said I could take as much time as I want over winter, so I said ‘what about a month to go up to the Cape?’”
Tom’s an HQ fanatic, with a GTS sedan and Kingswood that make regular Street Machine Summernats appearances, so he decided to have a go with the farm-fresh ute he picked up earlier this year.
“It’s just a 202 and four-speed; nothing flash,” he says. “It’s still got the banjo single-wheeler diff, and I had all the Sandman gear in the shed. Because I was tagging along I thought I’d put a few Young Veterans stickers on the ute, just to help them out a bit.”
The trip kicked off with a 600km leg from Wangaratta on June 9. “The day we left was the day I finished the ute,” Tom laughs. “I got it registered and did 25 kays around town getting fuel and stuff, then hit the road!”
It was all fairly smooth sailing until the bitumen gave way to north Queensland’s corrugated dirt. “They were pretty hectic, so it actually rattled the carby in half! I pulled over and one of the screws was completely out. She rattles around a fair bit; it’s been nearly 1000 just on the dirt” Tom says.
When we chatted with Tom earlier today, he was camped out 45km from the tip of the country, waiting for Cam and Andrew to tackle the iconic Old Telegraph track in the Cruiser. “I did a little bit of it, which I probably shouldn’t have,” he laughs.
“The poor old ute’s not made for that and it was pretty hairy! I’ve got a fridge in the back, double batteries, a rooftop tent and heap of tools, so she’s not overly great on fuel either.”
The trip’s been well-received so far, with Tom getting some good-natured ribbing about putting the ute to work along the way. “People have been coming up going ‘you’re a dickhead’ and laughing with me,” he says.
“A bloke on the HQ Holden Facebook group said he did the whole Telegraph track in his HG ute 30 years ago – not everybody had 4x4s so they just used what they had.”
The journey doesn’t end at Cape York for Tom, with a major detour in the works for the way home. “It depends how much money I spend on fuel and stuff, but I might go from here to Darwin, and down the centre.
“Fuel up here’s $2.80 a litre for 91, but you can’t put a price on it. It’s been so good.”
If you want to chip in to Tom, Cam and Andrew’s awesome cause, click here for the Facebook fundraiser!