By Richard Kemp
My involvement with the Lang Lang Proving Ground was early and long. My father Maurice Kemp got the job of chief security officer as a promotion from Holden's Fishermans Bend plant. In early 1957 I went with him in his friend’s car and we did a tour of what had been started of the test track. I was 12 at the time.
The circular track had not been built except for the concrete underpass and it stood like a monolith in a lake of water. We could not see much of the area as the little Hillman could not handle the mud.
In September 1957 we moved from Hurstbridge to a 21-acre bush block at The Gurdies and Dad started work at the PG under, as I remember, Charlie Paterson. My dad always spoke highly of Charlie and had great respect for him. He was a tall man, and impressive. He did not take rubbish and commanded respect from everybody.
I started work at the PG in 1964 as a technical report writer. I was hired by Ron Burton who was responsible for the overall PG operation. Ron was easy to talk to and would always chat with me when he visited the PG. He would visit in a variety of new and exciting vehicles and say to me, “Why don’t you take it for a ride?” Well, what could a 20-year-old do when you are offered an Oldsmobile Tornado, a Fleetwood Cadillac, a Stingray or an experimental HR Holden 186 with four on the floor!
In some ways, working at the the PG was like working in a well-maintained wildlife park. There were lots of kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, tiger snakes, black snakes, copperhead snakes, wombats and echidnas. These did not make a good mix with high-speed testing. A lot of these animals were saved, however, by good driving skills.
As time went on, I was promoted to a position in charge of the day shift with a staff of 26 people comprised of mechanics and test drivers, including the first female driver. I did all the photography for the durability section and sent photos to the US, Japan and Germany. Later I was promoted to liaison engineer between the PG and the Technical Centre for the body , electrical and airconditioning groups. Working in this area was very rewarding.
I will never forget the occasion we dropped a Falcon 500 feet (170 metres) from a helicopter into a clearing that had been set with mortar loaded with explosives and concrete dust. This impressive stunt was designed to show the dealers what we needed to do to the opposition! It looked a war zone and actually rattled the windows In my house five kilometres away.
Peter Brock was an old school mate from Hurstbridge. One day when he came to do some photography and footage at the end of the Repco Rally, he challenged me to race around the truck road to see if my Torana with a V8 could beat his XU1. The cheeky bugger said he would give me a 30-second start on him. We were all set to go when a manager in charge (HV) put a stop to it.
“That saved you an embarrassment, mate,” I said to Brockie.
I left the HPG in 1982 for 18 years to take up a position running Nissan’s test facility at the Anglesea Proving Ground. But I was privileged after I left GMH to be invited to the 50th anniversary. I feel so proud and privileged to have worked at the Lang Lang Proving Ground with some of the most interesting characters and talented engineers in the industry. Men who had worked in the war effort with Spitfires, had worked with Barnes Wallis, Rolls Royce and many other projects.
The proving ground is a huge part of an area of natural bush that is a corridor from Nyora almost to Bass that is being ripped apart by sand mining. This corridor is unique and needs to be protected at all costs.