Big Lizzie!

Big Lizzie!


by Red Cliffs and District Historical Society 

Just a short drive from Mildura is the township of Red Cliffs, home to one of the most remarkable pieces of Australian invention ever. 

Big Lizzie sits in a small park (it’s actually a big park, she just makes it look small) on the corner of Jacaranda St & Jamieson Avenue and looks not unlike a museum dinosaur exhibit; both is size and shape. In an evolutionary way, Big Lizzie could even be considered a forerunner of the motorhome; having not only transported but also housed the team of men it took to service and operate her.

Here, in the words of the Red Cliffs and District Historical Society, is a brief account of her fascinating story.

In early 1915 Frank Bottrill commenced construction of Big Lizzie (in Melbourne) to replace the camel trains which carried wool and other heavy loads in the sandy terrain. Fabrication and assembly of the huge prime mover and two trailers was carried out by Bottrill over a period of 12 months.

Early in 1916 Big Lizzie left Richmond, expecting to be in Broken Hill by early 1917. The route chosen was via Kilmore, Heathcote, Elmore and Echuca, where it was proposed to cross the Murray River. The first major problem occurred when the prime mover broke through a bridge near Kilmore, causing a dent in the drinking water tank which is still evident to this day. When Lizzy reached the flooded Campaspie River a suitable crossing site was located below the weir near Elmore. It took 3 weeks of de-snagging and earthworks to cross the river.

Bottrill was unable to cross the Murray at Echuca because of floods and the lack of permission to cross the approach bridge to the town, so he headed for Swan Hill. He arrived at Kerang in January 1917 and spent 5 months there carrying out modifications, but it was August 1917 before he reached Ouyen. In October 1917 Big Lizzie reached Mildura, only to find the Murray River in flood. Without a bridge to cross the river, completing his journey was out of the question, for several months at least. As Bottrill had not yet earned one penny of income he sought work in the area.

In 1920 Big Lizzie commenced clearing scrub for the proposed 6000 hectare irrigation area of Red Cliffs. This was to provide 700 Soldier Settlement blocks for veterans of World War 1. 

A gang of up to 16 men was employed to handle four heavy cables, which were attached with loops and hooks to as large a number of trees or stumps as possible. Repairs to damaged cables, etc, were carried out on the front platform of Big Lizzie, which was equipped with blacksmith's forge, anvil and toolbox.

Clearing work at Red Cliffs was completed in 1924 and Big Lizzie was driven to Western Victoria to find more work clearing land. In 1938 the Blackstone engine was sold and moved to Pyramid Hill where it was used to drive stone crushing equipment until 1942. It was finally broken up for scrap in 1945. 

In 1971 (the year of Red Cliffs Golden Jubilee) a committee was formed to negotiate the purchase and return of Big Lizzie to Red Cliffs. Big Lizzie and one trailer now hold pride of place in Barclay Square Red Cliffs. The second trailer awaits restoration. The shelter over Big Lizzie was erected in 1988 by Mildura Shire Council as a Bicentennial project.


  • Prime Mover - 10.36 m long, 3.35 m wide, 5.49 m high
  • Weight - 45 tonnes 
  • Payload -10 tonnes
  • Turning Circle - 61 metres
  • Trailers(2) - 9 m long, 3 m wide, 2.13 m high
  • Payload - 35 tonnes each

Mechanical Details:-

  • Engine: Blackstone water-cooled single-cylinder crude oil engine
  • Power: 44.74 kW (60 hp) @ 215 RPM 
  • Bore: 228 mm, Stroke: 450 mm
  • Single flywheel: 2.13 m diameter, Weight 3 tonnes
  • Gear Box 3.15 m long, 1.37 m deep, 0.91 m wide
  • Oil Capacity: 430 Litres
  • 4 forward speeds: 3.2, 2.4, 1.6, 0.8 km/h
  • 2 reverse speeds: 0.8, and 0.4 km/h
  • Crude Oil: 19,800 litres.
  • General purpose water: 3,400 litres
  • Drinking water: 1,000 litres
Find Big Lizzie HERE on Google Maps.

For the full article download Issue 16 of iMotorhome eMagazine by clicking on the link below.

iMotorhome eMagazine Issue 16 - 15 December 2012 iMotorhome eMagazine Issue 16 - 15 December 2012 (8897 KB)

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