Bendigo Swapmeet 2003

While planning my last trip to Melbourne I was delighted to hear that the annual Bendigo Vintage, Veteran and Classic Car Swapmeet was being held on dates that coincided with my trip. In talking with Len Smithers of Auckland I was intrigued to hear that the event is a three day event with Friday being "set-up" day (no sales allowed), Saturday and Sunday being sales and display days.

Given I was due to arrive in Melbourne on the Friday I decided to catch the first train up to Bendigo in the morning and the last train back. This would leave me around 6-7 hours to "do" the swapmeet. Len told me he was going to be there also and that he had planned to get a three day pass so that Day 1 could be used to look for the good stuff and days 2 and 3 could be buying days plus looking at the displays. If we spotted each other we would have lunch together. As it turned out I never saw Len there and my day was very busy as I tried to fit it all into the time I had available.

Just before I left a former hairdressing customer popped into the shop in Wellington and when I asked what he was doing he told me he was making armoured personnel carriers in OZ. I asked where and was astounded when he replied "Bendigo". I said give me your phone number and we’ll have a beer when I get there to which he replied "You’re going to the swapmeet aren’t you – I’ll pick you up at the railway station and we’ll go together!"

So there - it was arranged Steve would pick me up at the railway station and we’d have the day together looking at the models and looking at the full size cars and then he’d drop me back in time for the last train to Melbourne.

Finally the day cam and I was off at 8:30am on the train – it was the earliest I could get on a Saturday. When I finally got to Bendigo, two hours later, Steve was waiting in his Ford at the station and it was quick stop for some sunscreen, then a five minute drive to a parking lot, about 400 metres from the main gates, near the Bendigo Dirt Track and A&P Grounds.

The site was HUGE! It was basically the local equivalent of the A&P Showgrounds with a dirt track racing circuit around the centre oval of grass. The swapmeet took up the whole grounds apart from couple of acres of paddock used as a bus parking area.

We started in the two main halls just inside the gates. I met up with a couple of dealers I knew from Melbourne there (Pier from model Cars of the World and the guy who runs Early Model Kits, both of which are out in East Burwood). They were in amongst the 1:1 parts dealers – you could get anything in there from replica to original parts, spark plugs, etc. Then it was back outside and into the 6 little halls that ran along the front fence.

These were solely devoted to modelling items and diecast models. It was slow going as there was so much to see, inspect and make decisions on. I missed the set of Solido Porches but luckily Steve picked them up and passed them to me saying – "Your daughter collects Porches doesn’t she?". I looked at them and they were all in mint condition in near mint packaging albeit missing the cellophane from the window. So I bought it for her – five Porche models in original packaging for AU$20.00!

Further along there was a good selection of new Biante, etc., and then I spotted the Sydney Modellers’ table. An hour later I had collected a wee hoard of unboxed Dinky Toys that included an early Triumph, an MG Midget, a Bristol racer and an almost mint Wayne School Bus. That increased the weight of the backpack and lightened the wallet by several hundred dollars.

And on we went. The diecast and kitset modeller was well looked after with kits of all sorts – ships, planes, cars, trucks, motorcycles – and plenty of diecast to suit the collector of old and new items. There were even beautiful display cabinets in native woods, complete with glass doors and shelves, to be had if you were prepared to part with AU$800 to AU$1200. Magazines and books on all sorts of topics were also for sale and I thought I was in Modellers’ Heaven!

Finally we resurfaced in the open air where the temperature was similar to that indoors – hot and a stifling 41 degrees! Next stop was the Motorcycle Display hall where I was overjoyed to find they had several Arial motorcycles including one just like my first motorbike – an Arial 350cc single banger. The hall contained a representative selection of British, European and American bikes in all sizes, some going back to the very early years.

By this time the heat and lack of fluids was taking its toll, so it was into the café for a cup of boiling hot coffee and a bottle of cold water. I sipped the coffee as we walked around the outside stalls checking out the many varied and interesting items. I was just blown away by the sheer size of the meet and the age and quantity of items on sale. Everything from the spark plugs for 1919 Hupmobile to piles of rust being passed off as the rare front guards for a 1920’s something or other!

Next stop was the book halls – everything from ancient magazines to motoring books and bibles. Some were faithfully restored and others were in "original condition". Also on display here were posters of all sorts, tin signs, cardboard advertising signs, car number plates plus the usual plethora of reproduction items, some of which had been "weathered" to make them look older than they really were.

The it was outside and into the animal holding pens where enterprising stall holders were using every available piece of shading and shelter to protect their items from the intense sun. One thing that struck me was that no matter what a particular stall might be concentrating on there were always toys of one sort or another included on the or under the table – broken dolls, games, trains, diecast and pedal cars were everywhere! It was out here I lucked upon an original Streamlux bus (sames size as Fun Ho!), in excellent condition but without packaging, which after a bit of negotiation I got for AU$10.00.

Another thing that caught my eye were the replica pedalcars that were on display and for sale on some stalls. At AU$2500 each they were a bit out of my price range and, of course, a bit too big to pack them into my back pack or suitcase for shipping back to New Zealand.

After wandering around hundreds of outside stalls we decided some respite from the sun was in order so we popped into the Pedal Car Display. These were arranged in tiers inside an animal shelter with 5 foot high barriers to prevent people getting too close. This made taking clear photos difficult but I managed to get few shots of the various types of pedal car on display. Some had been restored, some were in original, played-with condition and others were brand new.

Once again we ventured into the mid-day sun (what was that about mad-dogs and Englishmen?) to peruse more of the general stalls. We also took a good look at the many varied full size vehicles on display including those that were for sale. One, of many, that caught my eye was a 1935 Ford V8 Touring Sedan with a genuine 27,000 miles on the clock! Another was the Austin Healy 3000 and if you think some of our ambulances are getting big, check out the rescue vehicle that was parked in the complex in case of emergencies!

Eventually we made our way into the very center of the showgrounds where there must have been close to a thousand stalls. The day was getting late and in the end we only managed to get one pass down the middle three aisles. I had the unfortunate task of pointing out to one stall holder who had a lot of diecast on sale, that the plastic, 1/87th scale Herpa items has been "brushed" by the sun as it peeped through a corner of his awning and they had warped so badly that on one the bonnet almost touched the roof of the model. What a pity as I was looking for some 1/87 items for a layout. In the end I bought yet another, almost mint Dinky item from him to add to the swag in my pack.

Finally it was time for me to get the train back to Melbourne, so Steve and I made our way to the station. Steve planned to go back on the Sunday to finish off the areas he had not got to. At t he station I asked the guard when I could get on the train as it was still in the high 30s, despite being after 6pm. He told me to get on and cool off and we got talking about early Dinky Toys, so Steve said his farewells and headed for home. Shortly after it was time for the guard to get back to his duties and off he went. However during the two hour trip he popped back several times and we talked about his passion for garden scale rail layouts (he had over 300 metres of track in his garden layout) and about his interest in Military Dinky Toys.

At last, at the end of a long day, I arrived back in Melbourne and headed off to the hotel. As I had not eaten all day I decided to wait for Lynne but when 10.30pm rolled round and she still hadn’t got back from the conference I went walk about and finally settled on a local restaurant for a HUGE Mixed Grill feed for AU$12.00 plus a couple of beers and a real coffee. What a way to finish off the day. (Lynne finally got back at midnight and we went out again for coffee and a stroll around Melbourne – and it’s a very pleasant city on a calm night.)



Ian Cousins, Wellington


Ian Cousins