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More Record Breaking & Firsts in Australia

Record Breaking in Australia

G . Gilmore White, a grazier from a wealthy Adelaide family, was an early motoring enthusiast who purchased his Talbots (at least 3) from the noted Adelaide firm of Vivian Lewis Limited.
In January 1909 White and chauffeur P. Donoghue in the Talbot, then in standard touring condition, drove from Adelaide to Melbourne accompanying Bertie Barr Smith and Murray Aunger in a 60hp Napier. Barr Smith was intending to set a record for the Melbourne to Adelaide run, which he did in 22 hrs 24 mins in February 1909. By March, and having driven the route several times, Gilmore White was set to make his attempt and he now had Fred Custance, one of Lewis’s top mechanics, as co-driver. The Talbot had a special body fitted for the return run and a significantly higher clearance than Barr Smith’s more powerful Napier. White’s car handled the treacherous Coorong sand hills and tortuous road conditions better than the Napier – the Talbot’s time was 20 hrs 6 mins, an average speed of 29½ mph for the 597 miles. In December 1909, White and Custance, in the same 35 hp Talbot, broke C.B. Kellow’s Melbourne to Sydney 1907 record by 4 hours making the run in 21 hrs 19 mins. Gilmore White commented after reaching Sydney that the roads had been far worse than those on the Adelaide record drive and that he might now retire from inter-city record attempts; the Talbot had suffered a broken headlight and mudguard.

G G White was back again in March 1910 with Custance and the same 35 hp Talbot to successfully set the Sydney to Melbourne record at 19 hrs and 47 mins. They then had the distinction of holding the record for the journey both ways, in addition to the one for Melbourne to Adelaide. The Clement-Talbot Company were so impressed that they had two massive gold medals struck, with the monogram of the Talbot Company on one side, the record breaking in Australia the other side suitably inscribed, and forwarded to the Vivian Lewis Co. for handing on to White and Custance.
Fred Custance became a noted aviation pioneer and flew with the Australian Flying Squadron in Palestine in WW1 before returning to the motor trade in South Australia. He died on a lonely outback track while attempting to recover a stranded vehicle.
Noted rifleman and militia officer G. G. White served in the 1st AIF in France, but shortly after returning to Australia, was struck down by an illness from which he never fully recovered and died in 1920.
Period newspaper reports indicate Gilmore White’s Talbot was painted red and used leather tread, steel-studded Continental tyres.

An interesting historical side-note to Fred Custance’s achievements. On March 17, 1910 the first (most likely) powered flight in Australia was achieved in Bolivar, South Australia by Custance piloting a Bleriot. The Bleriot had been imported by local businessman Fred Jones who shared the task of getting the aircraft airborne with Custance and his engineer, Bill Wittbar. This “first” flight, on March 17th, commenced at 5am and was 5 minutes and 25 seconds in duration. However, conflicting reports and a lack of witnesses have raised numerous doubts over the years as to whether the flight actually took place, let alone achieved a 5-minute duration. It is impossible to confirm this flight as Australia’s first, some believe that the flight by world famed American showman and escapologist, Harry Houdini, aka the Great Houdini (Erik Weisz), was in fact the very first. Houdini’s flight left on March 18 1910 - one day after Custances’s. Houdini had purchased a Voisin Biplane in Hamburg, Germany, which he had shipped to Australia. The Voisin’s flight was at Digger’s Rest, 30km north of Melbourne. Today, many experts believe that this was Australia’s first flight and there is no doubt about this flight’s validity, as a crowd of over forty was in attendance, and reporters who witnessed the flight used stopwatches to confirm its distance of 6 miles.

Fred Custance      


The Talbot Owners Club magazine is published bi-monthly and contains news, updates and informative articles. It is edited by club secretary David Roxburgh.

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The essence of the Club is to ensure that members meet and enjoy themselves; the Club is open and democratic, dialogie is encouraged. It is for people of all ages who like Talbot cars and want to enjoy the company of like-minded people and also to support current Talbot involvement in historic competition.