Wowser and Dinkum's Australian Road Trip


FIDO Blog | Jan 11, 2018

Clive Birtles (L) and Wowser (R) ca. 1912.

Melissa: If you've been following Car Talk online, we know you've seen this picture before. We've always wanted to know the story behind it. So, we did a little research, and what we found was a tale of an epic road trip that in classic Car Talk fashion, did not always go according to plan.

Dr. Sip: Our story starts in September 1912, Melbourne, Australia, and spans a four-month period in which the Birtles Brothers (Clive and Francis) pulled a publicity stunt in a 20-horsepower Flanders Touring car. Their goal was to drive across Australia in the Flanders, which was perhaps Flanders’ attempt at competing with Ford Motor Company.

Melissa: Some Car Talk fans undoubtedly know all of this and perhaps even know all the car specs by heart. But we're more excited about the dogs that tagged along for the ride, Wowser (pictured above), a bulldog-pitbull mix owned by Clive, and Dinkum, who we'll get to in a minute.

A 1912 Flanders, as advertised in Dutch.

Dr. Sip: While they didn’t have the Center for Pet Safety back then, or seat belts, or roofs for that matter, the Brothers' Birtles still managed to consider Wowser’s safety.

Melissa: Since there were no windows in the Flanders Touring car, rocks, dirt and pretty much the entire Outback could kick up into the car, causing damage to poor Wowser’s eyes. So naturally, the brothers protected Wowser to the best of their ability with a pair of customized goggles, despite ignoring basic clothing protocols for themselves...

Francis Birtles inappropriately dressed for the Outback. We can only guess, but our theory is that in addition to being automotive pioneers, they also might have been trailblazers in the lucrative Shirtless Man Calendar Industry.

Dr. Sip: The quartet left Melborne, headed to Sydney, then Brisbane, Charters Towers, the Gulf of Carpentaria, and finally back down to Melbourne. According to our newfangled Google Maps, that would take about 102 hours today, which translates to about four and a quarter days, give or take a few rest stops and breaks for selfies.

Melissa: Back then, it took four months.

This is our rendering of the route they took. Before you criticize, remember, we get paid to know about animals, not to draw maps!

Dr. Sip: And it turns out brother Francis brought his dog along for the ride, too.

Melissa: Please have a better name than Wowser, which according to this podcast on the Birtles, meant such unsavory things as "prostitute," then changed to an "obtrusively puritanical person" or "prude," and later to an adorable 50s expression for “the comic book hero got the bad guy.”

Dr. Sip: The dog’s name was Dinkum. How I love 1900s Australia!

Melissa: What a relief. Dinkum is Australian slang for "authentic" or "genuine." A great name for a loyal hound.

Dinkum takes the wheel!

Dr Sip: Their journey wasn’t all McDonald's Happy Meals and cute puppies.

Melissa: Nope, they had their share of difficulties, like irritating tiny potholes.

The National Library of Australia thinks this is Francis Birtles, trying to dig the car out of a bog on the Leichhardt River.

Dr. Sip: On the plus side, being in middle of nowhere for four months means at least they didn’t have to bring a pooper scooper. Who’s going to catch you leaving doodies behind?

Melissa: Still, we’re glad the Shirtless Birtles (and Wowser and Dinkum) did the hard work and that we get to read about their adventures assisted by the comfort of our warm laptops. Read more on the Touring team via the links below.

About the Flanders Touring Car, including history.

Listen to the audio podcast that inspired us for more information on the adventures of the Brothers Birtles.

And some more info on the Birtles, just for fun.

More about Dr. Sip (who is a practicing vet in Berkeley, CA) and Trainer Melissa (who wrote “Considerations for the City Dog”) and can be found here

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