Gilgandra Girl Goes South

March 1998

This is the story of a 75 year old lady (who will always remain a baby girl) and of her best friend Frank.

She was born a CitroŽn 5 HP in a factory on the banks of the Seine in Paris, a short walk now from the Australian Embassy. Along with some two thousand others, she emigrated to Australia and was sold by a distributor in Darlinghurst, who closed down many years ago. The building remained until 1996 when it burned down and the 1920's Chevron sign faded and vanished in the flames. How she spent her teenage years we are still trying to find out, but we know what she did in the War. In 1942 there were no new cars to be had and petrol was in short supply. Frank Foran saw an advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald for the "Baby" CitroŽn. He went down and traded in his 11HP CitroŽn for the little two seater that did nearly 50 miles to the gallon. He drove her back without mishap and she provided essential transport for many years. That trip from Sydney was no great event for her, although slow at 40 miles an hour. One of her sisters was the first car to circle Australia, driven by a pair of missionaries with much faith and little mechanical knowledge.

Frank eventually sold her in the late fifties and bought a CitroŽn Light Fifteen, a much bigger car. Used by police and gangsters, Gestapo and Resistance alike, they were the symbol of France in the 1940's, just as the little Baby was the darling of the twenties. It was a bad time for her, she was dismantled and the engine used for pumping water on a property. Eventually, Frank took pity on her and bought her back and then spent several years restoring her. From then on she was seen around town in her pale red paint and purple upholstery. Frank, a bush mechanic among the best, put much of himself in the restoration. He rebuilt another older engine like new and fitted it. Having no truck for funny French metric screws, he rebuilt the chassis and the body with locally available bits and lots of Whitworth bolts. She is still outrageously French but underneath the petticoats is pure Gilgandra.

Frank sold "Kulga" his property and moved into town over twelve years ago. He had no room and no use for his "Baby" and put her quietly up for sale along with enough spares to start another two cars. The rego. papers in 1972 show her as a Citroen Roadster Model "Baby", colour Red, with a market value of $100 and costing $46 for the year. Kevin Shannessy then bought her just to keep her in Gilgandra and close to Frank, who had given years and years to helping others out with their cars and machinery. Kevin had her resprayed in original Australian CitroŽn colours - Yellow and Black. She has been a familiar site until last year, in shows and rallies in Dubbo and beyond. Now, Kevin can no longer look after her. Although still a Baby, she is an old lady compared with the semis that tear up the highway. They have a timetable to meet and don't treat her with the dignity and respect she has earned. Even a drive to Dubbo is a worrisome outing. She was born with Altzheimers, having no odometer - so no one knows how far she travelled around the Western Plains in the summer of her life.

She has now a found a new home and a peaceful autumn in Wollongong, in the safe hands of the South Coast section of the New South Wales CitroŽn Car Club. There, they have ways of getting parts from France and will be able to restore her back to her French heritage, while protecting her from those nasty unforgiving trucks.

Although she has now retired to a well earned rest at the seaside, expect her back in adopted home town when the CitroŽn rallies and Raids pass through. If you hear on a quiet still evening, a whispered rendering of "Non, je ne regrette rien", you will know she is never far away and still reliving memories of Gilgandra.

G.A.Freed Copyright 1998

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