Sunday, July 26, 2015

Across Australia by Tatra

The Baum Expedition 1935

In late 1934 Dr Jiri Baum and his wife Ruzena Baum set off on an epic round the world adventure in their specially converted Tatra T72 that took them across Australia, Japan and North America.

Several years earlier Dr Baum, a zoologist and assistant curator at the Prague Museum and his friend FrantiĊĦek Foit, a photographer had driven from Egypt to South Africa and back in a Tatra T12 sedan. Dr Baum had purchased the car in Prague because Tatra had a good reputation for building tough, reliable cars. The car needed to be tough as their journey took them across trackless wilderness and there would be no spare parts or registered repairers on hand. Nevertheless, even though the car was not specially fitted out for a cross continental journey, it performed outstandingly well. The pair and their Tatra made it from Cairo to Cape Town and back in one piece.

After trips to Spain and Morocco, Dr Baum and his wife Ruzena decided to embark on a much grander tour. Setting off from Prague they would drive south through Italy, catch a ship from Genoa through the Suez Canal to Fremantle, Western Australia. After exploring Western Australia they would drive across the Nullarbor to Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and up the east coast of Australia to northern Queensland before catching ship to Japan, drive across the country, then sail to the US west coast, drive across country to the east coast and then back to Europe. The purpose of the expedition was to collect reptile, insect and spider specimens for the Prague Natural History Museum. Although the trip was officially in the name of the Prague Museum, the Baum’s funded the trip themselves.

For this journey they chose a Tatra T72 light truck. The T72 was a six wheeled vehicle, powered by a four cylinder 1911cc air-cooled engine, driving the four independently sprung rear wheels. The truck was fitted with a custom body that included a darkroom, laboratory as well as living and sleeping quarters. The Tatra’s unorthodox design was of particular interest in Australia.

The lessons learned from their African expedition were applied to the design of the T72 caravan.

View of the cab

Radio and sofa/bed

Folding kitchen table
“The caravan is mounted on a Tatra 6-wheel chassis, the motor of which deviates considerably from the standard practice to which we are accustomed turned. A four-cylinder air cooled engine, the cylinders being- horizontally opposed, two on each side of lie crankcase, provide the power which is transmitted through a gear box giving eight forward and two reverse gearings. The drive from there goes to the two rear axles both of which are fitted with differential action. A locking device enables both axles to drive solid thus obviating any difficulty in sand or mud.”
'Interesting Visitor for South-West.', Toodyay Herald (WA : 1912 - 1954), 15 March 1935, p. 4.

The Baum's set off in late 1934 and disembarked at Fremantle in early 1935. Their visit attracted the attention of the local media who marveled at the two naturalists charm and their confidence setting off in setting off into the harsh Western Australian desert without any prior experience. People die out there!

Loading and unloading the Tatra is clearly a high risk and labour intensive exercise.

With its wheels safely on the ground a crowd immediately gathers to inspect the unusual vehicle.

Wherever the Tatra went it drew no end of comment; not only about its strange air-cooled engine and four wheel drive, but also its fully self-contained 'caravan' body.
“The whole caravan is a model of self-contained efficiency. It is built on a Tatra 2-ton chassis, with six 7.50-15 tyres, and the caravan body and special fittings were built by Ublik of Prague. Total weight is 4 tons. Inside the caravan, in addition to the accommodation for 'live stock' are bunks, a cooking stove, a dark room with running water for developing photographs, and every conceivable convenience that Dr. and Mrs. Baum and the designers of the fittings could think of to ensure comfort and efficiency in the work of the expedition. That all the contingencies of this expedition were carefully thought out in advance is proved by the fact that so far (7600 miles) there has been no accident and only four punctures since the tyres were fitted in Prague.”
‘TRUCKLOAD" OF TARANTULAS.', Mirror (Perth, WA : 1921 - 1956), 29 June 1935, p. 16.

The Sydney Mail, Wednesday 12 June 1935, pg 44

Their first expedition out of Perth took them north through the Murchison region. Unfortunately it was high summer and native wildlife was sparse in the dry and sandy heathlands of central Western Australia. Nevertheless they returned with a small collection of live reptiles and spiders which they sent home to Prague by air mail. The fact that all the animals survived the journey was itself the subject of many newspaper articles.

The monastery at New Norica north of Perth

They next headed 'down south' through WA's pleasant South West, before returning to Perth to stock up on supplies before heading east.

The Tatra draws a crowd at the Perth town hall. Wherever the Tatra went it drew interested crowds.
'Zoologist on Tour.'
“Apart from many interesting specimens which they had collected on their Northern tour, Dr. Baum and his wife had recorded two vivid impressions of that part of Australia. The first was of the flies, and Madame Baum raised her hands in dismay as she recalled the plague of thousands of insects which made life almost intolerable for them in the Cue district. The second impression was of the heat, and she contrasted it gratefully with the extremely pleasant conditions in the South West, and particularly at Albany. En route to this district, they travelled via Yallingup (inspecting the caves), Bridgetown, Manjimup and Nornalup, and spoke in terms of the highest praise of the scenery along that route. Dr. Baum was especially delighted with the Nornalup and Walpole districts, and the magnificence of the karri forests. They made a detour into the Valley of the Giants and took many photographs, including some cinema pictures, of the enormous trees there. Dr. Baum has travelled very extensively, but he confessed that he had seen very little to compare with our karri forests.”

Driving through the Valley of the Giants. Still an awe inspiring drive today.

Walpole inlet
“It was Dr. Baum’s intention to make a trip along the new road to Frenchman's Bay, partly to seek specimens and partly to secure photographs of the coastal scenery. He intended to leave during the weekend on his return for Perth, and there to prepare for the overland journey to Adelaide. He hopes to complete the trip across to South Australia before the winter," as he has been warned that difficulties might crop up "if he deferred the journey until the winter rains set in. He has had therefore to cut his stay in Western Australia somewhat shorter than he had intended.”
'Zoologist on Tour.', Albany Advertiser (WA : 1897 - 1950), 18 March 1935, p. 5,

Perth is often described as the world's most isolated (state) capital city. Separated from the next major city, Adelaide in South Australia by 2700 kilometres of barren desert called the Nullabor Plain. The name Nullabor sounds Aboriginal but is in fact Latin and means literally 'no trees.' Now you can drive between Perth and Adelaide on National Highway 1 in a little under 30 hours, non-stop. In 1935 however, there was no highway, just a track through the desert. The first car crossed the continent in 1912 but even 25 years later drivers attempted it at their peril. The track was bad and there were few services available if you broke down or got into trouble. Nevertheless, the Baum’s and their trusty Tatra made the trip without problems, arriving in Adelaide in April.

One of the great engineering feats of the 1890s. The Kalgoorlie pipeline takes water from a dam in the Stirling Ranges outside Perth and carries it to the mining town of Kalgoorlie 600 kilometres to the east as Kalgoorlie had no natural water source. The project was controversial in its time with popular opinion that the pipeline project would fail. The criticism of chief engineer, C Y O'Connor, was so intense that O'Connor shot himself before the project went live. The pipeline is still in use today.

The Paddy Hannan statue commemorates the prospector who discovered gold in Kalgoorlie

Sand roads were the least of the Baum's problems.

Further east the roads become red gravel and much harder on the suspension.

Refueling the Tatra. As with most central European cars of the period the petrol tank was under the hood.

The Tatra crossing Madura Pass. The Baum's thought this the worst track on their journey.

Boab tree

The poverty of the desert communities was an eye opener

The Baum's did not linger long in Adelaide and pushed on towards Melbourne, Victoria, then in short order headed north to Sydney, New South Wales.

The war memorial, Melbourne

The landscape and climate in southern Victoria was a welcome contrast to the desert conditions in western and central Australia

On the way they visited the capital city Canberra which was still under construction.

The caravan parked in front of the new parliament house. Canberra was an artificial city, constructed almost equidistant between Melbourne and Sydney, as the nations capital in 1929. Construction wasn't finished until well after the Second World War.

On the border between Victoria and New South Wales

Mrs Baum is entertained by Sydney dignitaries.

View of the Blue Mountains

From Sydney they drove on up the east coast to Brisbane in Queensland, where they discovered to their disappointment that Brisbane was the last city with a suitable port to embark the Tatra, so they took a side trip to Cape York by train, leaving the Tatra in Brisbane.

Reservation life on Dunk Island in the far north of Queensland. The Baum's observed the deep unhappiness of Aboriginals all across Australia with their treatment at the hands of white authorities.

Native spear fishing

In June the Baum’s set sail from Brisbane to Kobe, Japan. They made a short journey north to Tokyo before taking ship to the US. They disembarked in Los Angeles, but due to the weather at that time of year curtailed their plan to drive across country to New York, visiting a number of Californian national parks before returning to Los Angeles and returning to Europe via the Panama Canal.

California dreaming

Tatra were keen to capitalise on the Baum's international exploits for promotion.

The Baum family back home in Prague

The Baum’s went of several more expeditions, such as a trip through Africa in their Tatra in 1938 but returned to Czechoslovakia two days before the Nazi occupation. Sadly Dr Baum, who was active in the resistance was arrested, imprisoned and killed in 1944. Mrs Baum survived the war and later migrated to Australia.

Completion of this article wouldn't have been possible without the publication of the Baum's photo archive at A PDF book of their Australian expedition is also available online but only in Czech. All the photos are copywrite of the Baum family (even the photographs in the contemporary newspaper articles were the Baum's). I have edited a number of photos in order to better fit them to the article.

Rough route map of the Baum exhibition

Some links:

For more of Tatra posts check out my dedicated Tatra blog:

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