Inside the Collection

Dick Smith’s Variety Club Bash Car

The 1964 EH Holden driven by Dick Smith in 1985
The 1964 EH Holden driven by Dick Smith on the first Variety Club of NSW Bourke to Burketown Bash in 1985. Gift of Variety, the Children’s Charity, 2004. Collection of the Powerhouse Museum, 2004/50/1.

Last Sunday the 2012 Variety Club of NSW Bash participants left the inner-Sydney suburb of Balmain for their annual trip. The unusual Australian term, ‘Bashing’ probably short for bush-bashing was used in 1985 by businessman, adventurer and philanthropist, Dick Smith, when he invited a few mates on a drive to the outback. The drive was eventually called the Bourke to Burketown Bash and went from Sydney to Bourke, in far western NSW, and on to Burketown, in Northern QLD. The idea was to relive the fun and adventure of the Redex car trials of the 1950s, popularised by Gelignite Jack Murray, and to raise money for the Variety Club of NSW, a charity which provides goods and service for children with special needs.

Dick drove this 1964 EH Holden in that first Bash with a surfboard on the roof-rack hundreds of km from the nearest wave. His friends on that first drive included John Newcombe, Len Evans, John and Belinda Singleton, Simon Townsend, Ron and Valerie Taylor, Gordon Elliott, Peter Ritchie of McDonalds, and Kevin Weldon from Weldon’s Publishing. In all, 52 vehicles and about 200 participants took part. Smith had purchased the car for about $800 second hand from a person at Hornsby.  After the first Bash, Dick Smith sold the car to another Basher and it eventually ended up in the hands of the Variety Club.



The Holden's cab, showing its wear and tear, all part of the car's story.
The Holden’s cab, showing its wear and tear, all part of the car’s story.

Despite its informality there were actually rules and regulations for the Bash which stipulated that all participating vehicles had to have been built before June 1966 and have no performance modifications. In the days before mobile and satellite phones they all had to carry a 40-channel UHF CB radio, be fitted with laminated windscreens and have tow bars fitted front and rear. Twenty litres of drinking or radiator water, 5 litres of oil, and numerous spare parts like fan belts, oil filters, spark plugs and fencing wire had to be on board. On the trip there were mobile workshops with welding kits crewed by mechanics, engineers and technicians who undertook roadside repairs to vehicles to get them to the nearest town.


Under the bonnet of the much abused EH Holden.
Under the bonnet of the much abused EH Holden.

Methods of fundraising during the Bash included issuing vehicles with fines for unauthorised modifications. There were also fines for going too fast or too slowly, cheating or not cheating, not enjoying yourself enough, taking the Bash too seriously by bribing officials and not giving refreshments to officials. Bonus points were awarded for vehicles with style, gimmicks, clever details and general outrageousness. Prizes awarded to winners of the Bash were of minimal value to make sure that as much money could be raised for the Variety Club as possible.

Dick’s Holden went on to participate in all Bashs up to 2001 and raised $2 million in that time. The car was fitted with many safety modifications to withstand the rough road conditions on the Bash trips such as under body protection for the engine sump, gearbox and diff. The engine was secured in case of an accident to stop it being forced back into the passenger compartment or forward into the radiator. On the large roof rack are an orange dust light, various spot lights, extra indicator lights and two spare tyres. Over the years almost all parts of the car had been replaced except for the driver’s door. The car is finished in red and white, the colours of the Variety Club of NSW, and is called The Entertainers. Interestingly, Dick drove the EH only in the car’s first and last Bashs. The Variety Club had lent the Holden to Smith for the 2001 Reunion Bash. Unfortunately, during the Reunion Bash the front chassis rail was broken which finished the car’s Bashing career. It was donated to the Museum in 2004.

All Bashs go to and from places in Australia which start with the letter B. This year’s 2012 event is going from Balmain to Bamaga on the tip of Cape York in Queensland, a distance of 4202 km. Over previous years there’s been Botany Bay to the Barrier Reef, Bourke to Beagle (in Darwin), and Bayside to Barossa. Although the Variety Bash began in NSW, it’s been was taken up in all states of Australia and has also spread to New Zealand, USA and South Africa.

Post by Margaret Simpson, Curator, Transport




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