Photos by Nick Dimbleby
Land Rover enthusiasts on social media saw a lot of pictures over the Easter weekend from the Cooma event in Australia, the Down Under celebration of the 75th anniversary of Land Rover. While over a thousand Land Rover fans were there to celebrate, many North American enthusiasts don't quite know what the Cooma event is, or its long history of commemorating Land Rover's milestone anniversaries since 1988.
Cooma seems like a strange place to have this event for those without an Australian perspective. The town has a population of 6,742 people, and it’s not particularly close to any major Australian city, although it is in between the two largest cities in the country, Melbourne (384 miles away) and Sydney (247 miles). It’s also not that far from the capital of Canberra. It’s up in the Snowy Mountains, the tallest mountain range in Australia, and home to the continent’s tallest peak, Mount Kosciuszko.
After World War II, the Australian government developed the Snowy Mountain Scheme, which utilized the waters of the Snowy River, which began high in the Snowy Mountains, to increase the flow of the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers and create a hydroelectric power generation system, as well as help irrigate agricultural land. The program launched in 1949, and finished in 1972, at a total cost of Aus$820 million. Cooma would be, and remains, the headquarters of the Scheme.
The project began just as the Land Rover came into being, with the Rover Company looking heavily towards export markets to bring new cash into Britain. The Snowy Mountain Scheme needed durable 4x4s to head up into the mountains and work on the project, and the only thing available at first was well-worn leftover War Jeeps. Within the first year, Land Rovers were ordered and started landing in Australia, including the first examples ever sent to Australia. Hundreds of Land Rovers were ordered during the course of the Scheme, from 80” Series I to Series III. Towards the end of the construction, some Land Cruisers started to make their way into the fleet, but by and large, it was built on the backs of Land Rovers.
Because of this heritage, Cooma is the spiritual home of Land Rover in Australia and has played host to an anniversary event for every decade since Land Rover’s 40th in 1988. Traditionally it’s held over Easter weekend. After the 1988 event, a further one was held in 1998 for the Golden Jubilee, and in 2008 the event started to get some major traction. However, it would not be held again until 2018, at which point Land Rover fandom had fully entered the digital era, and a global audience started to be aware of the event. With the 75th anniversary in 2023 the first "mid-decade" major milestone since the event started, it was decided a few years ago to have a special extra event for this year’s Jubilee.
The turnout was fantastic, with about 800 Land Rovers showing up for the festivities, and over 1,200 Land Rover enthusiasts and 5,000 visitors overall. On Easter Sunday, a ninety-minute parade of Land Rovers drove through Cooma's main road, Sharp Street, with 640 vehicles. There were trials events, off-road excursions to nearby scenes in the Snowys, auctions, and gala banquets. All in all, it was one of the largest Land Rover events ever held.
Among the vehicles attending was the famous Oxford, of the Oxford and Cambridge Far East Expedition from London to Singapore in 1956-7. After decades in the South Atlantic islands of Ascension and Saint Helena, Oxford was brought back to the UK in 2016, rebuilt, sent on a return journey from Singapore to London in 2019, and shipped to the United States in 2020 for a Covid-curbed trans-American adventure. After it left the United States, it headed to New Zealand and Australia in 2021, and has been lingering in the Antipodes since. It led the parade of Series I vehicles during the event, alongside the Cambridge vehicle from a related trans-African expedition.
Several Land Rover luminaries attended the event from the United Kingdom, as well as a contingent of Series I enthusiasts from the United States. Nick Dimbleby, photographer of most major events in Land Rover history since the 1990s attended (and shared his photos with us). Bob Ives, winner of Camel Trophy 1989 and with his brother Joe the only British winners of the event, attended to regale with tales of the Amazon. Mike Bishop, from JLR Classic, also attended, returning to his Australian homeland to hand out the Mike Bishop Award, made to individuals, groups, companies, clubs, or other entries that have made significant contributions to the preservation of Land Rover history and heritage in Australia.
From the trails to the events and camping on the event ground, the event seems very familiar to anyone who has experienced a North American Land Rover event, with a similar spirit of camaraderie and joy. While not technically confirmed yet, it is easy to presume that there will be an 80th anniversary event in 2028, returning to commemorating decade milestones. As it is not guaranteed that there will be another special intercalated event in 2033 for 85, best to make plans to head Down Under for Easter in Cooma in 2028 now!
And for those who are looking to celebrate the 75th closer to home, don't forget about the ANARC Diamond Jubilee event at Greek Peak in Cortland, New York from June 14-18, 2023 -- certain to give the Aussies competition for celebrating this milestone!
Get the ROVERLOG Newsletter Delivered to your inbox
Sign up and receive once every 2 weeks