he sight of two Army ambulances drawing into Alice Springs would cause some conjecture among the locals, but imagine the effect their appearance would have on the opal miners of Coober Pedy! That is exactly what happened in the late summer of 1960.
To get to Coober Pedy and points south the ambulances took a surprisingly devious route via Innisfail, 2000 miles due north of their starting place, the Army Design Establishment in Maribyrnong, Victoria. Thence they journeyed across the Queensland outback to Tennant Creek, south to Alice Springs, and back through South Australia and Victoria to Maribyrnong, a round trip of 5000 miles.
This arduous journey was arranged to test two experimental Australian ambulances. Each ambulance body is mounted on the long wheel base (109 inches), four-wheel-drive Land-Rover chassis. The bodies were designed and produced by the combined efforts of the Army Design Establishment, the Rover Company, and the Pressed Metal Corporation, Sydney, to meet the Army requirement for a light, highly mobile ambulance that could operate efficiently under pan-Australian conditions.
One of these ambulances, known as the Indian Pattern, has a fabric flap at the rear and a non-insulated body. The other has rear doors and a double skin body insulated by one and a half inches of "Coolite". It has a pressurizing fan to exclude dust, a most welcome addition in the "bull-dust" areas of the Centre, and the copi dust region near Lake Hart. Both ambulances have tropic roofs.
Both are fitted to take four stretcher cases or six seated patients together with the driver and an attendant. En route the ambulances took turns at towing a loaded half-ton trailer. A 2½ ton cargo truck towing a 200-gallon water trailer served as a tender vehicle for the trials team.
The ambulances were tested under "hot-wet" and "hot-dry/dust" conditions. The aims of the exercise were:-
- To assess the suitability, performance and reliability of the ambulances, with particular emphasis on patient and crew comfort.
- To determine the extent of deterioration of vehicles and components when parked for long periods in the open under tropical conditions.
- To obtain data to assist future design.
- To study servicing requirements under tropical conditions.
It was possible to carry out some of the specified trials while the vehicles were en route. The trials involving special "hot-wet" conditions were carried out in the Innisfail area at the wettest period of the year, when monthly average rainfall exceeds 20 inches and relative humidity approaches saturation point. One such trial was the three weeks static trial of the ambulances left unattended in the jungle. During this period observations were made at regular intervals for signs of corrosion and general deterioration.
The next phase of the trials provided a marked contrast between East Coast conditions and those of the Centre, where rain at that time of year is almost a complete stranger, shade temperatures around the 100 degrees Fahrenheit mark are commonplace, and the relative humidity is not worth mentioning.
As may be imagined, the going on this varied journey was not easy for men or vehicles. Shortcomings in vehicle design and performance were expected and, to some extent, realized. In general, however, the ambulances stood up well and proved more suitable for use in the tropics than previous types. There are still defects to be cured and weaknesses to be removed before they can satisfy the exacting standards set for this type of vehicle.
The tour itself has provided a wealth of detail for the design engineer, and increased knowledge on climatic conditions, terrain, personnel administration and general information on tropical Australia which will prove invaluable when planning similar trials in the future.