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Horace Hooper Murray Aunger (1878–1953)

by John Playford

This article was published:

Horace Hooper Murray Aunger (1878-1953), overlander and motor engineer, was born on 28 April 1878 at Narridy, near Clare, South Australia, fifth of nine children of John Aunger, farmer, and his wife Ann Moriah, née Tucker. Educated in Adelaide, Murray served his apprenticeship in the Kilkenny workshops of G. E. Fulton & Co., consulting engineers. He then joined the cycle works established by Vivian Lewis; they later collaborated with Tom O'Grady in building the first petrol-driven motorcar in South Australia. Riding Lewis bicycles, Aunger was the colony's one-mile (1.6 km) champion in 1899 and in 1901 held the Australian record for fifty miles (80 km). On 5 October 1904 at the Methodist Church, Bowden, he married Emily Charlotte Pearce (d.1931).

As co-driver and mechanic, Aunger made two attempts with Henry Hampden Dutton to be the first to cross Australia from south to north by motorcar. They left Adelaide in Dutton's Talbot on 25 November 1907; Darwin lay almost 2100 miles (3380 km) away. Obstacles confronted them on long sections of the route: rivers, treacherous sandhills and boulder-strewn country had to be traversed which no modern motorist would tackle without the advantage of four-wheel drive. Beyond Alice Springs, Northern Territory, the partners met the pioneering cyclist F. E. Birtles. The pinion in the Talbot's differential collapsed south of Tennant Creek and the vehicle had to be abandoned with the onset of the wet season. Dutton and Aunger returned on horseback to the railhead at Oodnadatta, South Australia, and thence to Adelaide.

It was a reverse, not a defeat. Determined to try again when the rains ended, Dutton bought a larger and more powerful Talbot. With Aunger, he left Adelaide on 30 June 1908. At Alice Springs, Ern Allchurch joined the team. Tennant Creek was reached in thirty days; the stranded car was repaired, driven in convoy to Pine Creek and freighted by train to Darwin. Continuing their journey by car, the trailblazers reached their destination on 20 August. International motoring circles have recognized both expeditions' feats of skill and endurance. The second Talbot is preserved in the Birdwood museum, South Australia.

Speed-record attempts between Australia's capital cities received wide publicity. In 1909 Aunger accompanied Robert Barr Smith in his Napier which set a new time for the Adelaide-Melbourne journey, but they held the record for only a few weeks. Aunger regained it in February 1914, driving a Prince Henry Vauxhall with F. Bearsley; they attained speeds of over 80 miles per hour (129 km/h) on the pipeclay of the Coorong. They next broke the Adelaide-Broken Hill record in the same car. In 1922 Aunger joined another expedition of three cars that travelled from Adelaide to Darwin and back; the party included his brother Cyril, Samuel White and a local parliamentarian Thomas McCallum who explored the possibilities for settlement along their route.

Having left Lewis Cycle Works in 1909, Aunger established Murray Aunger Ltd which held franchises for several well-known cars. In 1925 Chief Commissioner W. A. Webb persuaded him to become motor engineer with the South Australian Railways on an annual salary of £1000. There had been a large increase in the use of motors in the railways and Webb had also commenced bus services to various parts of the State. A number of politicians believed that Aunger (previously an agent for railcars bought by the S.A.R.) had received favoured treatment from Webb. Aunger twice visited Britain and the United States of America for the S.A.R.

In 1930 Webb returned to America. For several years attempts were made in political circles to wreak petty revenge upon Aunger, despite his having played an important part in rehabilitating the State's railway system. He was dismissed in June 1937 for contravening section 37 of the South Australian Railways Commissioner's Act (1936); cabinet rejected his application for two months long service leave. On 6 June 1942 he married a widow Eileen Victoria, née Scott, late Woods, at the Congregational Church, North Adelaide. They moved to Melbourne. Aunger died on 14 September 1953 at Mordialloc and was cremated; his wife survived him, as did the two daughters of his first marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Blakeley, Hard Liberty (Lond, 1938)
  • T. R. Nicholson, The Trailblazers (Lond, 1958)
  • D. Blackwell and D. Lockwood, Alice on the Line (Adel, 1965)
  • R. I. Jennings, W. A. Webb, South Australian Railway Commissioner, 1922-1930 (Adel, 1973)
  • P. Donovan, Alice Springs (Alice Springs, NT, 1988)
  • R. Linn, Nature's Pilgrim (Adel, 1989)
  • A. Barker, An Illustrated Treasury of Australian Epic Journeys (Melb, 1990)
  • G. Davison (ed), Journeys into History (Syd, 1990)
  • South Australian Motor, 2 Mar, 1 July 1914, 1 Jan 1916
  • Mail (Adelaide), 22 July 1922, 22 Dec 1923
  • Chronicle (Adelaide), 26 Dec 1925
  • News (Adelaide), 7 Mar 1938, 21 Sept 1953
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 15 Sept 1953
  • PRG 877 (State Library of South Australia).

Citation details

John Playford, 'Aunger, Horace Hooper Murray (1878–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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