Saturday, February 29, 2020


My good friend Hans Tholstrup has made a meal of distance – many times, but the unearthing of some famous photos taken in 1970 urges me to again pay tribute to a man many people, especially me, admire for his achievements.

Hans, born in Denmark, was inspired to a life of adventure when he met his idol,  Thor Heyerdahl.

The Danish explorer and five companions sailed the Kon-Tiki, a raft constructed of balsa wood and other native fibres, 5,000 miles from Peru to French Polynesia in 1947, to demonstrate that ancient peoples could have made long distance sea voyages, to populate islands in the South Pacific.

Emulating his hero, in 1970 Tholstrup announced a plan to circumnavigate the Australian continent in a 17ft open boat, following in the footsteps of explorer Matthew Flinders who, with George Bass, explored the east coast of Australia in a tiny sailboat named ‘Tom Thumb’.

Recently I was given a series of black and white prints, showing Hans and famous Australian radio quizmaster, Bob Dyer, christening Hans’ own ‘Tom Thumb’ on a dock at Rose Bay in Sydney Harbour.

Bob Dyer ran a hugely successful quiz show called ‘BP Pick-A-Box’, sponsored by the British oil company. Hans’ craft was also sponsored by BP, among others, so who better to christen the boat than Bob Dyer.

It was a voyage of similar distance to Heyerdahl’s (9000 nautical miles) and took him just over a month. His boat was powered by a single 80hp Mercury outboard, and carried a 100 gallons of fuel.

I attended the press conference after his return, and laughed along with the rest of the media pack when Hans answered a question from a young reporter who asked: “How did you handle the navigation?”

To which Hans replied seriously: “I always kept the land on my left.”

However, that was just the start of a life of adventures for Hans Tholstrup.

In 1971 he raced a Falcon GT at Mount Panorama, Bathurst.

In 1972 he rode a dirtbike from Rockhampton across Australia to Perth.

Photo: Getty Images
Then, in 1975, he took a 10-day ‘How to Fly’ course in California, and successfully flew solo around the world in a single-engined Grumman AA1B trainer.

Showing his never-say-die attitude to adventure, he was momentarily halted when a seagull crashed into the prop over the Pacific. Hans managed to land the aircraft on a beach in French Polynesia, then deduced that if he cut the same amount from the opposite side, he would be able to fly to Papeete, to get a replacement, with only slight out-of-balance from the shortened propeller!

In 1976 he decided to drive a tiny Mini Moke from Hobart in Tasmania to Cape York in Queensland. There was the difficult issue of crossing Bass Strait, so typically Hans devised a novel solution.

He lashed the Moke, onto an Avon inflatable, attached a Mercury outboard, and simply sailed the ‘Rubber Duckie’ from Launceston to Flinders, on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, before continuing on to Far North Queensland.

With that exploit behind him, he approached me with the ‘crazy idea’ of driving a Mini Moke in the 1977 Singapore Airlines London-to-Sydney Car Rally.

I agreed, and we finished the 30,000km event at the steps of the Sydney Opera House after driving through 30 countries in 30 days!

In 1983, Hans Tholstrup devised a plan to cross from West to East in a car powered only by the sun. He relied on racing driver Larry Perkins and his brother Garry, to build the ‘Quiet Achiever’ to his specification and, once again sponsored by BP, Hans and Larry set off from the Western Australian capital.

Another good friend of mine, Tom Snooks, accompanied the team to record the crossing:

Hans and Larry completed the historic BP Solar Trek across Australia, with no overseas technology to draw on, no plans to follow, no previous mistakes to look at or learn from, yet in eight months they designed and built a whole new machine that ran for over 4000 kilometres with only some broken wheel spokes and a number of punctures. They took 20 days to make the crossing,

The journey of The Quiet Achiever would coincide with the 70th anniversary of the first crossing of Australia by a motor car – when in 1912 Francis Birtles drove a Brush car from Fremantle to Sydney, in 28 days.
Then in 1987, Hans created the very first ‘World Solar Car Challenge’ with entrants driving solar cars south along the Stuart Highway from Darwin to Adelaide. The biennial race was run for 32 years, becoming the most famous solar car event in the world.

In 1999, Hans again took to the sea in a boat similar to Tom Thumb and sailed it from Darwin, island-hopping, to Japan. Somewhere along the way he also drove a Datsun Cherry from the top of Norway, to Capetown, South Africa.

Hans has a restless spirit, and his agile brain is always trying to figure out some new adventure to pursue, however for the time being, he lives a quiet life in northern Queensland, where I visited him in 2018.

He’s man I am truly proud of, he’s a high achiever, of great integrity and someone I am honoured to call my friend.

Hans was made a Member of the Order of Australia in the 2008 Australia Day Honours for “service to conservation and the environment through the development of renewable energy technology and the exploration of alternative fuel sources."

John Crawford

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