5 September 2022

'Jeeping' to what's left of Canberra's WWII internment camp

| James Coleman
Start the conversation
2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee L

The 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee L. Photos: James Coleman.

It’s something of a pilgrimage. If you own a 4WD in the ACT, you must – at some point in its life – take it into the Brindabellas.

Of all the 4WDs, the Toyota LandCruiser might be king, but it was still a twinkle in the eye when Jeep was bouncing over the battlefield.

I’ve borrowed the new, rugged-looking Grand Cherokee L from the Gerald Slaven Jeep dealership in Belconnen for the weekend and I can feel the dirt tracks of the mountains calling.

In a way, Jeep has a stronger connection to this place than many.

READ ALSO Jimmy Barnes takes to the stage for Summernats’ 35th anniversary

About 15 minutes along the main thoroughfare of Brindabella Road is a turn-off for Blue Range Camp. During World War II, this place served as an internment camp for Italian nationals from NSW.

The first group of immigrants arrived in 1940, initially in tents, before 20 two-person huts were built. When the war ended five years later, the camp was so well established with huts, gardens, irrigation channels, fruit trees and a cement wash pool, many opted to remain.

They were all gone by 1966, however, and ACT Forests developed the area into a campsite. Then in 2003, everything except the wash pool was razed to the ground by bushfire. Only a plaque marks its past.

If you know your car history, you’ll also know the original Jeep dates back to 1940. The US Army put out a call for a general-purpose vehicle – small, lightweight, with four-wheel drive for cross-country travel, and capable of carrying a light machine gun.

Willys-Overland won the contest with their MB, or as it came to be known, Jeep. The word has since reached ‘Hoover’ status, where a ‘Jeep’ is a ‘4WD’ in the same way you might ‘hoover’ up crumbs on the carpet.

READ ALSO This hidden concrete ‘pool’ is all that’s left of Canberra’s WWI concentration camp

But if you think the Jeep of today is far removed, open the petrol cap on the 2022 Grand Cherokee L and you’ll find a small embossed silhouette of the original. Point that out to your friends and they’ll start making appreciative noises and nodding their heads.

Apart from that, it’s nothing like a Willys. And that’s a good thing.

I’m in the mid-spec Limited model, starting at $87,950, and there is soft-touch leather, plush carpets, faux wood trim, panoramic sunroof and clean infotainment system.

Some of the plastics leave a bit to be desired, but joy of joys, there are also physical, pressable buttons – I don’t have to fumble my way through a screen every time I want to lower the temperature by half a degree. Other manufacturers take note.

It’s also been more than a decade since Jeep offered seven seats. The shorter models will come later this year, but for now, I am more than five metres long, nearly two metres tall and nearly three tonnes heavy. I’m basically piloting a small aeroplane.

READ ALSO Would you Haval go? Time to see how a Chinese car holds up on our pothole-ridden roads

This might make an earthly speed limit of 60 km/h feel like you’re about to stall, but on the highway, you are effectively reclining on a couch, dribbling a cluster of grapes into your mouth. It’s supremely comfortable. Even the horn sounds distant.

It handles the weight impressively in the corners too. And I didn’t even squash the neighbour’s outdoor dining set trying to reverse it into the carport, thanks to a very tight turning circle.

However, it is thirsty. When I inevitably pulled into the service station for a top-up, I rang the dealership just to triple-check it was the turbo-diesel V6 under the bonnet – the one that accounted for more than half of all sales for the outgoing Grand Cherokee. It isn’t. That and the HEMI V8 are both dead, replaced with a 3.6-litre petrol V6, paired to an automatic gearbox and automatic 4WD system.

I take on the twists and turns of Uriarra Road, and once this combination has decided that yes, I do want a lower gear sometime today, there is plenty of power there. And a pleasing roar. Sport mode helps, but once the tarmac makes way for muddy ruts, I flick the switch to Auto 4WD, with Sand/Mud and Snow modes yet to go.

The more diehard off-roading types will loathe this lack of blood, sweat and manual gears, but there’s something impressive about just pointing and shooting. Do you want to wade through that creek? Not a problem. Charge up the foreboding powerline clearing off Blue Range Road? Sure.

In that sense, it’s still very much a Jeep.

2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee L

It’s not a day until there’s mud flicked around the wheel arches. Photo: James Coleman.

2023 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Limited

  • $87,950 plus driveaway costs
  • 3.6-litre V6 petrol, 210 kW / 344 Nm
  • 8-speed automatic, automatic 4WD
  • 0-100 km/h in 8.5 seconds
  • 10.6 litres per 100 km combined fuel usage

This car was provided for testing by Gerald Slaven Jeep. Region has no commercial arrangement with Gerald Slaven Jeep.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.