Catherine Grace GREGSON
Also known as: née Gregson, Catherine MacLean
Born: 19 June 1914
Died: 10 July 2007Additional Information:
1937 - One of the early women to drive around Australia. Catherine's daughter, Margaret, gave us a compilation of information. This included copies of a number of photos from Catherine's journey, receipts of supplies and car repairs, letters written to family, and diary extracts.
An extract from the information provided:
At first no-one took any notice of our statement and then it suddenly dawned upon everyone that my mother and self were in earnest. “But why?” and “A girl could never drive her mother there!” were chorused on every side of us. We assured them that it was possible and warmed to the task as the fresh and stale information concerning overland roads was constantly given to us. We became so feverish with knowledge that we announced our intention of continuing to Darwin from Alice Springs. This piece of news so astounded our hearers that we ventured to state our intention of returning via Broome, Perth, and the Nullabor Plains. Words were useless thereafter.
We spent three weeks at an Institute of Mechanical Tuition enough to make me realize how little I knew about a car. For the last hour before our departure from Tamworth whilst I was heaving last moment oddments into the truck, my brother was following me about with a piece of string. Instead of wire. A couple of bits of wood and a pair of pliers endeavouring to instil into my brain the art of tying a Cobb & Co hitch.
We decided upon a half door coupe utility truck without knee action. Her colour description was Coronado Tan which gave her the name of “Coronado” – commemorating the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. That truck however, carried her own crown – two extra spare tyres and the tent strapped on top of the coupe. To complete the picture her front mudguards had been discarded. A wee shield was placed at the back of the wheels to protect the body work from stones and gravel but at Ivanhoe NSW we found them insufficient to keep mud and that black soil from covering the entire truck. So thereafter “Coronado” bore galvanised iron wings which were exceedingly roomy when handling the front springs, or greasing her. The modern streamline mudguards are a curse to the overlander.
My lists for spare parts and tools had been reconsidered by many people but as no two people travel or camp quite the same way, we were doomed to travel with too great a load. We thought that it would prove cheaper to carry bulk stores from Adelaide to Darwin where we could restock before continuing on to Perth but our springs crystallised from overloading.
We had a 14’ x 6’ tent with a 14’ x 6’ veranda flap. The poles were heavy. For a country which is dry throughout the winter months a wigwam tent for emergencies would have been sufficient. And what a boon a wigwam mosquito net (cheese cloth) would prove! The nights are cool and dewy so that a hiker’s sleeping equipment, eiderdown, sleeping bag and waterproof covering is best. Our cold air mattresses, sheets, blankets, and eiderdowns were very comfortable but how clumsy. The light picnic table and chairs were never a curse. Dunlopillo cushions in cretonne covers – the woman speaks! – are a necessity.
Maps were obtained and our approximate route announced. Leaving our Tamworth home on 6th May, Sydney on 9th May, and Adelaide about 15th, our only time limit was to move on at our ease so as to escape from the north before the arrival of the monsoon rains. It became a recital – westward through Broken Hill to Adelaide – where we desired to gain more hints and the latest information before journeying north via the Coober Pedy opal fields to Alice Springs. To Darwin. Through VRD to Halls Creek to Derby and Broome, and the inland route from Pt Headland to Perth. Returning overland (not by sea) via Adelaide and Melbourne to Sydney. A stupendous notion for a girl with little practical experience!
But that was how it happened! There had always been that desire to go to the Centre and the opportunity had arisen. People’s scepticism drove us onward – having got so far why not further? If we reached Alice Springs we could continue to Darwin and Perth (there may never be another chance).
The outward appearance mattered little. However, it was necessary for me to gain further knowledge of the mechanism. I did show an aptitude for machinery and grease and received a few headaches puzzling over the electrical system which I am still slowly endeavouring to master.
Nothing that we had listed seemed to be indispensable. Our personal luggage was down to a minimum. And receiving spare spring leaves by airmail was not to be sneezed at. I should have carried rations from one store to the next with a fortnight’s spare supply and another fortnight’s extra emergency quota.
Lecture at a CWA meeting whetted my mother’s and my appetites to see the Northern Territory. My mother could always make money go a long way. WWI widow with pension – she fed us on her pension. I had an inheritance from my father – already diminished because my mother had persuaded my aunt who was a trustee of my father’s estate to use some of that money as fares for my mother and I to England and back. So I cashed more principle for essentials and all petrol was charged at Shell Depots and paid for upon my return.
I spent six weeks in Sydney doing a mechanics course at one of those small private schools – stripping down a Morris Minor and putting it together again. I loved that but on days when I had to learn the electrical system I always went home with a headache. A cousin who had been on the land in his youth had a garage and he made out a list of the essential spare parts and tools which I got at cost price. One wizard tool was a clamp to put on springs where the leaves broke so that you could drive to a place where there was a ramp or pit where you could fit a new sprint. I spent a lot of money on having springs flown into main centres – it was not until I reached Perth that a garage was able to tell me why I broke so many springs. I had a ton weight in a half-ton truck and the 1936 utility was the first utility to be fitted with ‘soft’ springs so that the utility would ride like a car. He changed my rear springs to the load-carrying type. So all the hidden potholes in the limestone country of the Nullabor road never broke my springs again. Neither my brother or that cousin or anyone had checked on those facts before I left NSW.
Image - Catherine Gregson MacLean
One of the early women to drive by car around Australia, is seen standing beside her utility at the end of the epic six month journey in 1937. Leaving Sydney for Adelaide, with her mother Grace who accompanied her throughout, the 23 year old from Tamworth, New South Wales did all her own maintenance.
Photo from NPWHF Ordinary Women, Extraordinary Lives exhibit.
Catherine Grace GREGSON - NPWHF folder contents, as of 8 May 2019, contain a CD of: diary extracts, letters, route maps, 100+ photos from the journey, and newspaper articles. For further information, please contact us.
NPWHF notes from an interview with Catherine McLEAN, 26 July 1999.