Although she’s too modest to agree with the description, retired farmer Sylvia Wilson is an electric vehicle pioneer.
The 70-year-old Queenslander recently returned from driving an electric vehicle all the way around Australia, a trip of 20,396kms which cost her a measly $150.90 in electricity usage.
Sylvia and Bluey – her much-loved Tesla S75 – enjoyed an incredible adventure exploring the towns, cities, attractions and places along Australia’s coastline, travelling with family and friends who flew in and out to meet her along the way.
She spoke to Emma Sutcliffe about her and Bluey’s travels around Oz.
It all started one night when I was catching up on the latest Tesla news.
My husband was alive then and was interested in the technology and everything that was going on with electric cars. I was at my little desk and he sat down beside me and by the time we went to bed, we’d bought the car.
We just paid the deposit over there internet and 3 months later it turned up at the back door on the back of a truck. Easy!
We’d never sat in a Tesla before. But we had become sort of ‘greenie’; both concerned about the environment and what we’re doing to the world.
My husband was always pushing the envelope, always liked to try something new, so we decided to just do it to see if it was as good as some people said.
He loved it, he absolutely adored that car. He had Parkinsons so he’d never drive it. After he passed away in August 2017 I was wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my life.
At Christmas I said the kids ‘I’m going to travel around Australia in Bluey, who wants to come?’and all these hands shot up!
Most men name their cars after women, but mine is Bluey.
It’s due to his colour of course, but also because Blue cattle dogs are strong, don’t let you down and stick by you…sounds kind of silly but this is what we wanted from the car.
He’s an S75; Tesla aren’t making them anymore. I knew so little about it when we ordered Bluey, but it’s such an easy car to drive.
I spent most of January and February under the air conditioning planning the trip. Before I left home I had booked all the accommodation for the entire trip.
It took weeks; I’d never been to most of the places before and I had to calculate what the car could do and work out where I could charge up using the PlugShare app which was invaluable.
I also had family and friends joining me so had a timeline of passengers, and where we would do a bit of touring and make it interesting along the way.
That took a lot of planning yes, planning was very important for me because you know, it’s a girl thing, I didn’t want to get stuck.
A man called Richard McNeall had done the same drive in the opposite direction in August 2016 and he was a terrific help to me in the planning phase. We spoke on the phone and he helped me get the right adaptors and leads to take with me.
I left home on the 3rd of March.
I wasn’t trying to break a land speed record or anything, I was on holiday, I was enjoying myself. So I could take my time and if I had to, I stayed longer, although I I had my family and friends as fly in, fly out passengers!
They would set dates when it suited them to come and meet me and I would be there to pick them up and put them back on the plane.
So, when I say I took my time and charged up as long as it took, I still had to do it within that plan. And it worked.
I wanted to prove with my trip that anybody can do it. I’m not technical, but if I can do it, anybody can do it. You don’t have to be a mechanic or an electrician or whatever, its so easy.
In fact, it’s much easier than driving a 4 wheel drive around Australia, although I wasn’t able to go to all those clever off-road places in Bluey because I want to preserve him, not wreck him.
They’re such easy cars to drive and nothing seems to fall to bits.
While travelling, a comment I often got was…
…“oh, you must be carrying a generator.”! And of course I wasn’t. But, lots of people were passionate about electric vehicles, in fact I was surprised how many were.
The further northwest I got people were amazed that I was able to do it, interested in how far I’d come. You know, sort of rather incredulous that I’ve even tried it and travelled between charge points.
Many people thought you’ve got to have special infrastructure or Tesla Superchargers or some fancy thing like a service station down the road, but you don’t.
If the lights are on, you can charge, can’t you?
A few people I met didn’t have a clue what I was talking about or what I was trying to do, but on the whole it didn’t matter how far away from the east coast and the city areas I got, people were really aware that things were moving (away from internal combustion engines).
I was quite impressed.
I probably only had one moment when I thought ‘what am I doing?’.
I was tired, it was getting dark and it was dusty. I was sorting the charge leads out and Bluey was getting dirty and I’m a bit of a clean freak – at that moment, I just wished I was young and quick!
But, I never questioned the fact that I could complete the trip, I knew I could. I said to my family before I left that I was going to get up every morning and pretend I’m just going to town for a drive. I knew Bluey could do it, so I could do it.
And you know, at my age, you start to feel a little bit vulnerable if you are stuck (without a charge point). So avoiding getting stuck was top of the list for me before I left.
All my planning paid off, and besides a flat tyre in Canberra it all worked perfectly well.
I guess we’re the electric vehicle pioneer generation.
As I said, Richard McNeall was the first to drive a Tesla around Australia, and I think I’m the first woman. Another man, Jeff Johnson, has done it in a Nissan Leaf, while carrying a generator and there are at least 6 or 7 people who have crossed the Nullarbor now, others have travelled out to remote places like Marble Bar and Mount Tom Price.
We’re all pushing the envelope and I think the more these trips are done and people start to see it, the more the electric vehicle industry will develop, hopefully.
People see the car – and Bluey’s such a good looking car – and want to know what it is. Even the rev—heads! They come and say hello and realise it’s 100% electric and you can see them suddenly wonder how I got to this town or place.
Where did I charge up, how has the car got so far? That’s why we’ve got to get EVs into the outback more.
People think EVs don’t have the range to do a trip like this, in fact there was an article online about it just last week so I shared it to the Facebook page to highlight that I’d just done a very long and remote trip.
My husband and I came up with the clumsiest Facebook page name ever.
It’s called the Central Queensland Tesla Interest page. We were sitting on the veranda having morning tea, about a week after we got Bluey, and he said ‘we’ve got to come up with a way to tell people about these cars’.
And the only thing I could think of was to run a Facebook page.
The name doesn’t matter, it has grown a following. We didn’t have anything much to tell except that we liked the car, so I just started sharing the stories of other people I followed and we would have our cup of tea on the veranda and we would talk about the latest stories as they came up.
It was therapy in his last months.
I think my husband would be tickled pink by Bluey’s trip.
Several people said that to me on the way – he would’ve just loved it. And he would have loved the direction the electric vehicle industry is going.
Attitudes are turning. The problem is we still have the typical internal-combustion-engine-driver attitude that you need a service station on every corner, they want it to be quick and easy, don’t want to have to think about their trip.
But you know, when I was young and we lived in western Queensland, I remember my father carried a jerry can of fuel because there weren’t enough petrol stations in those days.
We move on and evolve.
The most helpful tool was…
…my mobile phone! That sounds funny, doesn’t it? It might sound silly, but it was the link between my brain and the car.
I can’t imagine how you would do that sort of trip with a bit of technology like this car without the convenience of a phone. And, do you know, the phone reception was there in every little town.
It might only be for a few kilometres but you can make a call, check a booking; how could you do a trip like this not knowing how far the next stop is or what the weather is doing?
My proudest moment was…
There were so many. It’s a struggle to answer that question.
When I got to Perth, Rob Dean, the president of the Western Australia Tesla Owners Group invited me to meet up with them.
It was late in the afternoon in Freemantle and the sun was setting across the Indian Ocean and they lined up Bluey in between all the other cars, EVs from Perth that had crossed the Nullabor, and took a photo.
That was pretty special, meeting them and having dinner.
The Australian Electric Vehicle Association have been trying to encourage destinations to install charging sockets and asked me to drop one off at the Elliot Roadhouse which I did.
I was also the first Tesla to go to Kakadu, and I had a lovely chat with the fellow that owns the business there and asked him if he’d be interested in having a socket as I had a spare one at the time.
I was able to gift it to him from the AEVA but he’d have to pay for installation. Turns out his son is an electrician, so that worked well.
I want to help spread the word about electric vehicles.
I’m a 70 year old woman who’s just had the funnest trip of her life! I can’t understand why everyone isn’t driving EVs already, but really it’s only a matter of time.
I guess there’s a role in advocacy and education through social media and I’m also involved in organising a few informal get togethers for EV owners and speaking to our local Council about hosting events like these.
I’m not planning to go back the other way around Australia.
My son came in the other day and said‘Now Mum, I think you should plan a trip every month’. I think he’s worried I’ll get bored!
I’m not terribly sure I want to travel long distances on my own, I’ll always take someone with me, so I haven’t got anything big planned. But my grandson wants to go to Charleville, we’ve been talking about it.
So yes, maybe that’ll be the next trip. Here we come Charleville!
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