In Pictures: 36th Corowa Swim-In and Military Vehicle Gathering

By: Tamara Whitsed


Military vehicles travelled from Corowato Mulwala for a display on March 12. Photograph courtesy Les Garbutt. Military vehicles travelled from Corowato Mulwala for a display on March 12. Photograph courtesy Les Garbutt. Military vehicles travelled from Corowato Mulwala for a display on March 12. Photograph courtesy Les Garbutt.
Major Graham Docksey urges people with rusting ex-military vehicles to donate them to enthusiasts or museums to ensure they are preserved. Major Graham Docksey urges people with rusting ex-military vehicles to donate them to enthusiasts or museums to ensure they are preserved. Major Graham Docksey urges people with rusting ex-military vehicles to donate them to enthusiasts or museums to ensure they are preserved.
Trucks on display in Albury after a parade through the city. Trucks on display in Albury after a parade through the city. Trucks on display in Albury after a parade through the city.
Kel Baxter drove his 1997 Land Rover in a parade through Corowa. Kel Baxter drove his 1997 Land Rover in a parade through Corowa. Kel Baxter drove his 1997 Land Rover in a parade through Corowa.
Owner-driver John ‘Dutchy’ Oldenmenger marshalling a Studebaker fire truck prior to the Corowa parade. Owner-driver John ‘Dutchy’ Oldenmenger marshalling a Studebaker fire truck prior to the Corowa parade. Owner-driver John ‘Dutchy’ Oldenmenger marshalling a Studebaker fire truck prior to the Corowa parade.
Ron Fry and his daughter Matilda Fry with Ron’s Mack tank transporter which carries a tank. Ron Fry and his daughter Matilda Fry with Ron’s Mack tank transporter which carries a tank. Ron Fry and his daughter Matilda Fry with Ron’s Mack tank transporter which carries a tank.
Jeeps lead a parade of 200 military trucks down Sanger Street, Corowa. Jeeps lead a parade of 200 military trucks down Sanger Street, Corowa. Jeeps lead a parade of 200 military trucks down Sanger Street, Corowa.
John Hedges’ Monkey Face Blitz, previously owned by the late Vic Phillips and used on the Conargo mail run. John Hedges’ Monkey Face Blitz, previously owned by the late Vic Phillips and used on the Conargo mail run. John Hedges’ Monkey Face Blitz, previously owned by the late Vic Phillips and used on the Conargo mail run.
Military vehicles on display at the Corowa Showgrounds. Military vehicles on display at the Corowa Showgrounds. Military vehicles on display at the Corowa Showgrounds.
Luke, left, and Michael Johnson of Wagga Wagga, NSW, aboard a Cab 12 Ford Blitz. Luke, left, and Michael Johnson of Wagga Wagga, NSW, aboard a Cab 12 Ford Blitz. Luke, left, and Michael Johnson of Wagga Wagga, NSW, aboard a Cab 12 Ford Blitz.
Tony Elliott of Ganmain, NSW, with his 1941 Ford CMP Blitz F60L Cab 12. Tony Elliott of Ganmain, NSW, with his 1941 Ford CMP Blitz F60L Cab 12. Tony Elliott of Ganmain, NSW, with his 1941 Ford CMP Blitz F60L Cab 12.
Corowa Swim In and Military Vehicle Gathering TradeTrucks13 John Hedges of Yass brought his Monkey Face Blitz. Corowa Swim In and Military Vehicle Gathering TradeTrucks13
200 military vehicles on display at the Corowa Showgrounds. 200 military vehicles on display at the Corowa Showgrounds. 200 military vehicles on display at the Corowa Showgrounds.
Corowa Swim In and Military Vehicle Gathering TradeTrucks15 Corowa Swim In and Military Vehicle Gathering TradeTrucks15
Kel Baxter drives his left-hand drive Studebaker. Kel Baxter drives his left-hand drive Studebaker. Kel Baxter drives his left-hand drive Studebaker.
Troy Creamer and KVE secretary Jan Thompson plan to marry in Corowa at next year’s event. Troy Creamer and KVE secretary Jan Thompson plan to marry in Corowa at next year’s event. Troy Creamer and KVE secretary Jan Thompson plan to marry in Corowa at next year’s event.

More than 200 ex-military vehicles converged on Corowa for the 36th Corowa Swim-In and Military Vehicle Gathering. Tamara Whitsed finds Kel Baxter amid a sea of khaki

 

It’s 9am on March 14 and detours are in place to allow ex-military vehicles to parade down the main street of Corowa, New South Wales.

The parade of about 200 vehicles is the highlight of the Khaki Vehicle Enthusiasts’ (KVE) week-long Corowa Swim-In and Military Vehicle Gathering. Jeeps lead the way, followed by old military ambulances, motorbikes, Land Rovers, Humvees, scout cars and even amphibious vehicles.

We are here to see the trucks: Blitzes; Studebakers; Internationals; Dodges; Chevrolets; Macks; Austins; Bedfords; Unimogs; and a Kaiser Wrecker.

Some date back as far as World War II. Many are in military colours.

Others have been repainted to reflect their roles as farm vehicles, fire trucks and commercial trucks after they were sold at military surplus auctions.

With military precision, they take up both sides of Sanger Street before making their way to the local showground for a static display and swap meet.

It’s a sea of khaki at the showground as locals and visitors admire the military vehicles and meander through stalls at the swap meet.

Here we find Kel Baxter, a well-known trucking identity from Kelvin Baxter Transport which is based in Berrigan, NSW and specialises in bulk haulage.

Kel poses for a photograph beside his ex-Army 1945 left-hand drive Studebaker which worked on the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme during its civilian life.

Kel has four other vehicles on display. With help from friends, his 1997 Land Rover, a Mercedes-Benz fire truck and two Jeeps also took part in the parade.

He is wearing casual khaki shorts and a shirt for the occasion, but others are walking around the swap meet in authentic-looking Army attire from decades past.

Men wearing the Arab-style headdress of a WWII Special Air Service patrol from North Africa stand out from the crowd.

There are also a few men dressed in German military clothes. Some Corowa locals must be questioning what they have wandered into.

"I’m not as extreme as some of them around here," Kel laughs, agreeing that a casual observer might be baffled by the spectacle. But when he explains his passion for military history, the whole KVE event begins to make sense.

Kel’s attraction to military vehicles dates back to his days at Scotch College in Melbourne where he drove Jeeps and Land Rovers in the Army Cadets Corps.

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Liberty

His late father, Bert Baxter, shared Kel’s passion for Jeeps. Bert had been a prisoner of war in Germany at the end of WWII.

"He used to talk about the Jeeps coming into the prisoner of war camps and liberating the prisoners," Kel says.

So when Bert’s hip began to slow him down, Kel bought a Jeep, restored it, and used it to drive Bert and his Digger mates in the Anzac parades at Berrigan, Jerilderie and Finley. Bert passed away in 2003 but Kel still drives the Jeep on Anzac Day.

Kel’s uncle William Baxter died flying a Lancaster bomber over Germany during WWII, and his grandfather Jack Arnold fought in France during World War I. Kel considers his military vehicle collection a tribute to these brave men.

KVE secretary Jan Thompson estimates the event attracted 1,000 people and 218 military vehicles to Corowa. Many of the vehicles were used in wars including WWII and Vietnam.

This is the 36th year the Swim-In and Military Vehicle Gathering has been held at Corowa. They call it a ‘Swim-In’ because it attracts amphibious vehicles which make the most of the proximity to the Murray River.

The 2015 event is a special tribute to General Motors (including Chev trucks) and emergency vehicles.

A week of activities included a parade through Albury and a display at Mulwala.

Jan’s father, Hugh Thompson, is displaying his 1945 Ford Blitz Ambulance which was used by the Royal Australian Air Force during WWII.

Owner-driver John ‘Dutchy’ Oldenmenger from Londonderry, NSW has brought a bright orange 1943 Willys Jeep to Corowa.

He says the Jeep was used by the Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RAEME) after WWII.

It was painted orange by a NSW bush fire brigade before it became part of a private military vehicle collection.

Dutchy subcontracts for Mid West Transport and ITS. He carts dangerous goods, oversize loads and general freight.

During his long trucking career in Australia and Europe he has carted freight as varied as toilet paper, scrap metal, and high explosive rockets. In Europe he even carted radioactive material.

He is passionate about military vehicles and the KVE.

His collection in Londonderry includes a 3-tonne Chev Blitz, a Federal 604 tank transport prime mover, an AEC Matador four-wheel drive, two 1943 Jeeps and a 1942 Bedford QL.

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Blitz

John Hedges of Yass has been collecting and restoring Blitz trucks for decades, and is proud to show us his Monkey Face Chev Blitz.

The truck was previously owned by the late Vic Phillips who bought it in 1955 for a mail run at Conargo, NSW.

During WWII Vic helped construct roads and aerodromes in the Northern Territory, New Guinea, Morotai and Borneo.

John befriended Vic 20 years ago and is eager to preserve the Blitz to honour his memory.

Ron Fry of Seymour owns a Mack 1945 tank transporter which is one of the largest vehicles at Corowa. The Mack is carrying a tank.

Ron served in the Australian Army for 23 years. He was medically discharged when he returned from Afghanistan and says working on his collection of military vehicles is therapeutic.

Major Graham Docksey was managing the Army Museum at Bandiana when he retired from a long army career in 2010. He is now president of the City of Albury RSL Sub-Branch and retains a passion for military history.

He acknowledges the important role ex-military trucks have played in Australian transport, agriculture and emergency services. But he wishes more military vehicles could be preserved in original condition.

"It’s unfortunate a lot of our historic vehicles out of WWII have been sold off and have been cannibalised for other purposes — like Bren Gun Carriers that have been cut down to drag logs out of forests. We need to capture some of these vehicles because they are vital to our history."

Graham is concerned some farmers allow military vehicles to deteriorate in paddocks.

"They would rather see it sit there and rust which is a shame because the Australian War Memorial and other enthusiasts like the KVE could use those vehicles, restore them to their former glory and display them.

You can’t buy history. You’ve got to keep it. And you have to try and keep it as original as you can," he says.

Graham urges readers with unwanted military vehicles to donate them to collectors and restorers or museums.

The 2016 Corowa Swim-In and Military Vehicle Gathering will take place at Corowa again next year from March 14 to 20. For more information, visit www.corowaswim-in.org.

 

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