Around the world with Czech Tatra campervan
In the early 1930s, Tatra car factory in Czechoslovakia started
manufacture of the Tatra 72. This was
a continuation of the family of air-cooled vehicles with a tubular
central spine chassis. This model was mainly designed for the army. It
fairly small and it had a four cylinder air-cooled engine. The four
wheels were all driven. As a result of this, the car was able to drive
quite difficult terrain, over uneven tracks and the risk of becoming
was relatively low.
Dr Jiří Baum already had experience with two previous Tatras. In
1931 he drove the Tatra 12 from Egypt to the southern tip of Africa
sculptor Mr František Foit. This was not a hurried trip. Mr Foit was
in African culture, especially in sculpture. They spent some time in
places of interest and studied the work of native sculptors. Dr Baum
interested in zoology and collected specimens, studied the local fauna
numerous photographs. Their style of travelling was therefore
the car was primarily their method of transport to remote places, not a
of getting from A to B in the shortest possible time.
From today's perspective, the two travellers placed unbelievable
demands on the Tatra. The vehicle was often overloaded - Mr Foit's
of sculptures was often quite heavy - and they drove long stretches
the springs bottomed out. It was often necessary to drive through the
of muddy terrain nobody would think of venturing out to without a four
wheel drive today. Sometimes they tackled long stretches of mountainous
driving in reverse, as reverse gear had a lower ratio than first gear
that compensated somewhat for the lack of "low range" gears. There are
too many vehicles which would last for very long with this kind of
treatment. The Tatra 12 with its air cooled two cylinder motor made the
without a single breakdown. Only the exhaust, battered by the endless
of driving over very poor roads and bashed by countless rocks remained
somewhere behind. On his return from Africa Dr Baum used the slightly
bigger and more powerful Tatra 54 for several long trips around Europe.
he travelled with his wife Růžena. They visited Scandinavia, Spain and
even detoured to Morocco. Once again the Tatra proved its worth.
Dr Baum was already an experienced traveller before his trip through
Africa. He had already made two trips there, as well as trips to the
USA, South America and a study trip to Malaysia and parts of present
day Indonesia. In 1928 he completed his doctorate in zoology at the
University, specialising in ornithology and arachnology. He was
planning future trips, more strenuous yet again, and knew exactly what
vehicle he needed for them. The Tatra 72 was ideal for his purposes.
It came as no surprise that the custom car body factory Uhlík, which
prepared the Tatra 12 for the trip to Africa, received another
assignment - a
request for the Tatra "travellers edition". This miniature "campervan"
with a kitchenette / photography darkroom and everything for the
travelling zoologist. The Baums later playfully dubbed this vehicle
After a trial trip to Slovakia, the Baums set off for their biggest and
most significant trip - a trip around the world.
The trip started from Prague in the last days of year 1934. The
Baums travelled to Italy, where they and their Tatra boarded the
Romolo and sailed through the Suez Canal to Freemantle in Western
Australia. They arrived in the middle of summer, a pretty difficult
time for a
trip through the outback in a car without air conditioning.
After some time in Perth they went for their first trip into the
country, the aim was Lake Austin. The zoological results were not very
good, as it
was the hottest time of the year. Every living thing was waiting for
difficult times, hidden somewhere under bark or in the ground. On the
the Tatra proved itself to be a capable and reliable vehicle.
Jiří and Růžena returned to Perth and soon after went on their
second short trip to the southern part of Western Australia. This was
pleasant and productive. They visited Albany and returned to Perth. It
to start the trip across the Australian continent. The most difficult
stretch is from Perth to Adelaide across the Nullarbor Plain and is
still not undertaken lightly today. Today there is a sealed road. In
time there was an uneven track and each year only a handful of
made this pilgrimage.
There is a large petrol station on the border of South and
Western Australia and there is a wall of photographs showing how the
changed over the years. The photograph of "Miss Australia" is the only
the petrol station showing nothing but a narrow track and a primitive
sign on the stump of a twisted tree in the background. All the other
photographs were taken in later years when the area was more developed!
They seldom met another traveller and often travelled several
days without seeing another human being. There were no towns and just a
few "sheep stations" for a significant part of this trip. They even
to farm mailboxes, as was the custom - the official postman seldom
this part of Australia.
The most difficult part of this track was the Madura Pass, more
or less just a steep dry creek bed, but the Tatra managed to get
through without any
real problems. Jiří and Růžena enjoyed travelling in dry, deserted
country, but they had to hurry up - Jiří developed a rather serious
a tooth. The nearest dentist was hundreds of kilometres away. It was
unpleasant but fortunately nothing serious happened and the travellers
managed to get to the first big city on the eastern side of Australia -
The Baums continued eastward from Adelaide. They enjoyed an
interesting time in Melbourne, where they met and made many friends.
They also gave
lectures about Czechoslovakia on the radio.
On their way to Sydney they also visited the capital of
Australia. Canberra was still very much an unfinished city - when they
first arrived, they
were under the impression that they were still in the outer suburbs and
going! They realised their mistake when they found that they were in
open country again, so they turned around and returned. Most streets
still without many buildings and the buildings that were finished
in the large opens spaces of the emerging Capital of Australia.
Sydney was the next large city on their trip and the last one was
Brisbane in Queensland. Jiří and Růžena hoped to travel further north,
at least to Townsville, but they found out that Brisbane was the last
ships could dock and load "Miss Australia". Harbours north of Brisbane
lighters to load and unload ships and that would be difficult or
the Tatra. They decided to leave the car in Brisbane and make trip
train and boat.
Their visit to Far North Queensland was one of the most
interesting and pleasant parts of the whole trip. They met many local
people, spent a
few days on the (then) almost deserted Dunk Island and became very good
friends with the Morris family who were their hosts at Dunk Island. The
part of the trip back south - from Dunk Island to Townsville - was made
small local boats. During this trip they were able to visit Palm
where the "blacks" (aboriginals) lived. They were shown native dances
artefacts but even during their very short visit it was obvious to Jiří
and Růžena that the natives were not happy on this beautiful island and
that they would prefer to leave.
Soon after their return to Brisbane, Jiří and Růžena boarded the
Japanese ship Atsuta Maru with the Tatra for the trip to Japan. The
unloaded on Japanese soil at Kobe and the Baums travelled from Kobe to
Nagoya and Tokyo. It was not a very great distance, but the roads were
very narrow, unsuitable for cars and driving was tricky. They liked
the people were very courteous, everything was clean and again and
they were impressed by the good taste of Japanese people. They had the
opportunity to visit many interesting places and even made friends with
The next stage was a visit to the USA. Their original intention
was to travel from Los Angeles to New York, but it would be rather
winter time and Jiří had visited the Eastern States before. Instead
to the Mohave Desert, visited several National Parks in California and
returned to Los Angeles.
They returned to Europe through the Panama Canal. The trip took
almost exactly one year. It was not very fast, but Jiří was a
studying the countries he visited. Jiří and Růžena were pleased with
The Baums planned many more trips in their
little four cylinder home on wheels, but they were able to use it only
once more. Their trip to
Africa in 1938 was already in the shadow of the threatening political
in Europe. They followed the news in newspapers with sadness in their
hearts and deliberated on whether to cut their trip short to return to
homeland. They had no doubts that war was imminent and there was no
Dr Jiří Baum would personally join in the fight for liberty. In the end
the Baums decided to fight in the Resistance, as they would be able to
remain together. "Miss Australia" returned to Czechoslovakia two days
the Nazi occupation.
"Miss Australia" was quickly rebuilt back into a truck and sold
to a greengrocer in an attempt to prevent it being confiscated by the
for their army. The Baums actively joined the fight - typing up
helping to pass on foreign intelligence and hiding fellow fighters.
survived to the end of the war. Dr Jiří Baum died sometime around the
end of 1944 in a concentration camp in Warsaw.
Dr Baum carefully documented his trips with photographs and used
specialist equipment for this purpose. One of his cameras was a wooden
SLR camera with plates 6.5x9cm and a 42cm lens - it is now on display
the Technical Museum in Prague. If you would like to see more of the
photographs than we could print in this book, we would like to invite
you to visit
our archive on line at http://www.baum.com.au/Dr_J_Baum/archiv_foto
Dr Baum wrote a number of other books about his travels and about
the animals he studied with such enthusiasm. He wrote "Africkou
divocinou" (Through the African Wilderness) about his trip across
Africa. He describes an Africa in this book that no longer exists. The
places he describes have since gone through so many conflicts and wars
little remains of the original society and culture. He also wrote
"Toulky po USA" (Wandering the USA) about his student trip to the USA
the first world war. This book is also full of descriptions of places
have changed beyond recognition. His scientific work in arachnology was