Like most people in Weipa, on the west coast of the Cape York Peninsula, 45-year-old Tim Forsyth works for Comalco and, like most people in Weipa, he owns a four-wheel drive. With good reason too. Weipa is one of the most geographically isolated towns in Australia and utterly isolated during the wet season. Since the place is run by Comalco, it doesn’t receive any cash from the state government for road maintenance.
The only way into town is along a dirt road that, if it hasn’t been graded for a few weeks, will shake any ordinary car to an early trade-in. Every corrugation is like a small explosion under a four-wheel drive’s wheels that hammers the vehicle and tears at the driver’s and passengers’ nerves. Bitumen? The only bitumen up here are the occasional scabs that remain from long-decayed sealed roads built during World War II. Many roads and tracks on the Cape become impassable or at least difficult to negotiate in the wet season. You can’t explore the Cape in anything with only one diff. A four-wheel drive up here is more of a life support system than a vehicle. Tim has been a 4X4 enthusiast for years, even pedantic about them. He has a well- rounded mechanical knowledge of all-terrain vehicles and how they work, he can fix most things if they fail in the middle of nowhere and has an unfailing memory for mechanical specifications and clever aftermarket parts. Having owned a succession of off-roaders, through experience Tim has learned what will survive in the truck-eating tropics.
It wasn’t long after the birth of Tim and Di Forsyth’s first child that they realised their two-door GU Patrol ute – in every other way a capable vehicle – was now too small. “To get a baby capsule on the front seat, I had to cut the gear lever off at the base and weld in a 100nun long off-set section so the lever would clear the front edge of the capsule,” says Tim. It was all too difficult, and only intensified with the arrival of the couple’s second child, forcing even more stuff to be crammed into a diminishing space. The Forsyth ‘family needed a bigger four-wheel drive, but their options were limited. Extra storage space, a larger cabin, comfort, off-road ability – it was a tough call. “It came down to the Toyota TroopCarrier, the GU Patrol wagon, the Hilux, and the 100 Series LandCruiser,” he says.