We had an unexpected discovery as we made our way up from Melbourne to Mildura, a huge hunk of metal in a dusty north Victorian town that goes by the name of Big Lizzie.
Part tractor, part camel (yes really) this 100-year-old monster now sits by the roadside in Red Cliffs.
As ever, my curiosity got the best of me, so we pulled over to find out more.
Here’s everything I learned about Big Lizzie – the well-travelled desert tractor of Red Cliffs.
What is Big Lizzie?
Big Lizzie is a bloody big tractor.
Built in 1915, with unique tracks designed to deal with the sands of New South Wales. Her designer, Frank Bottrill had worked in Broken Hill and seen the inefficiencies that came with moving large amounts of goods by camel and decided there could be a mechanical solution.
So he came up with one.
Designing the unique ‘dreadnought’ wheel, which spread the load of the wheel over the sand (you can see the extra ‘planks’ attached to the wheels above) he built Big Lizzie in Richmond, Melbourne, but she had a long way to go.
Why is Big Lizzie in Red Cliffs?
(INSERT PHOTO OF WATER CANISTER)
Well, not easily, that’s for sure.
Big Lizzie left Richmond in early 1916, aiming to travel the 843km to Broken hill by early 1917. At just over 2km a day, that doesn’t sound like much really.
But she never actually got there! It was a journey riddled with challenges.
It is said it took two days just to get out of Melbourne (bear in mind it was pretty small at the time) with power lines having to be raised and fines given to Bottrill for the destruction of roads on the way.
In Kilmore, Big Lizzie’s weight burst through the main bridge, causing damage to the water canister which you can still see today.
In Runnymede, the river was flooded, so they diverted to Elmore where it took three weeks to post-flood debris from the river and re-cut the bank.
At Echuca, Bottrill was told Big Lizzie wouldn’t be allowed to cross the main bridge (even in 1916 news travelled fast, I’m sure the mayor of Kilmore had lodged a call) so he cut a path to Swan Hill instead where problems with the wheels were discovered which needed removal and repair – taking five months.
By this time it was August 1917, seven months after the initial plan to arrive at Broken Hill and they were still 576km away!
In October 1917, the desert train reached Mildura, to find the Murray River in flood once again, so Bottrill decided to put Big Lizzie to work in the local area to earn some money.
It wasn’t until 1920 that the first association with Red Cliffs is found. When the First World War had finished soldiers were offered 15 acres of land here, so clearing the area to make space for the settlement was needed. Step in Big Lizzie who could pull up to eight trees at a time, much quicker than any man.
By the time work was completed in 1924 there was a bridge built up to Broken Hill, but with better roads and vehicles available there was no need to take her up there, so Bottrill took a job in Glenginning, another 500km and 18 months travel away.
It was here Big Lizzie met her end, with work finished and her left to rust in a field for 40 years.
In 1971 as part of Red Cliffs’ Golden 50-year Jubilee celebrations, she was brought back to Red Cliffs, restored and now stands proudly under a sun shade by the roadside.
The second trailer of Big Lizzie was located recently at Heywood and is currently being restored, but it was not on display when we visited.
If you want a full history of Big Lizzie, watch the video below as it is thoroughly researched and goes into great detail.
Why Is She Called Big Lizzie?
It’s not entirely known.
Some say she was named after a huge World War One gun or the battleship that it was on.
But given Bottrill was a religious man, this seems unlikely.
Others say that the tractor was named by his wife, but no one knows after what or whom.
Big Lizzie Dimensions
Well according to the information panel on the side, Big Lizzie is a whopping 18ft tall – which according to my research is the average size of a giraffe.
They didn’t have one there for reference, so I cleverly Photoshopped it in (barely noticed, did you!?).
The full statistics are as follows:
- 34ft (10.3m) long
- 18ft (5.5m) high
- 11ft (3.3m) wide
- 45 tons
- A load capacity of 80 tons
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