When I first came across this particular photo amongst our family photograph collection, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had never in my life seen such a strange looking vehicle! It took a lot of rummaging around on the internet with some creative search parameters to finally identify this vehicle as a “charabanc”.
“A what?!” I hear you ask. Glad you did.
A charabanc, or char-a-banc, is a type of touring bus mainly used for sight-seeing, though I have also seen reference to them being used as normal buses – even school buses. Charabancs began as horse-drawn vehicles and eventually evolved into motorised versions. According to various online speaking dictionaries I tried, it is pronounced: sharra-bang.
Charabancs were popularly used for special events and it was a common sight to see charabancs crammed to overflowing with happy revellers. The annual workers’ day picnic in the country or trip to the seaside was an often keenly anticipated event by many employees and the charabanc was frequently the vehicle of choice to get them there. Charabancs were used all over the world though their popularity seems to have began to wane after the 1920s.
The Charabanc “Experience”
Charabancs were rather primitive vehicles and not really known for comfort. One newspaper article opens with this description of a typical charabanc ride:
Whereas an invitation to ride in a motor car is accepted as a favour, an offer of a trip in a charabanc leaves one cold. One envisages a picture of endless crawling in bottom gear, a system shaken up by running on solid tyres, the smell of overheated metal, and so on.1
I think this old postcard also succinctly, if colourfully, describes the charabanc “experience”:
Not only were they usually uncomfortable, they didn’t seem to be particularly safe either. Being rather top-heavy, as you can see from our photograph, charabancs tended to overturn rather easily – somewhat like modern SUVs. Trove throws up many, many articles about charabanc accidents – rolling over, colliding into other vehicles or trains, toppling down hills and embankments, and so forth.
The Shape of Me and Other Stuff
The charabanc in our photo looks rather similar to the 16 passenger Hudson Super-Six Charabanc below though ours appears to sit higher off the ground. Making it more top-heavy, perhaps? Note that the article says the front portion of the roof is removable and may explain why our photo shows only a partial roof.
However, charabancs come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.
And last, but not least, here is a photo from my own personal experience of a modern charabanc from our African safari in Botswana. After researching this article, I realised that I also had ridden in a charabanc without even being aware I was doing so. However, unlike the older versions, our truck was surprisingly comfortable given the rough tracks we travelled over. And it was lots of fun!
Have you ever had a charabanc ride or know someone who has? Please tell us about it!
1 NEW CHARABANC (1923, August 28). News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), p. 7 (HOME EDITION). Retrieved July 6, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article129817206
2 CHARABANC CAPSIZES. (1928, April 3). Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld. : 1906 – 1954), p. 7. Retrieved July 6, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article175816952
3 PICNIC ACCIDENT. (1928, April 2). Recorder (Port Pirie, SA : 1919 – 1954), p. 1. Retrieved July 6, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article95781451
4 CHARABANC OVERTURNED. (1919, July 12). Observer (Adelaide, SA : 1905 – 1931), p. 22. Retrieved July 6, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165893736
5 CHARABANC ACCIDENT. (1925, October 7). Tweed Daily (Murwillumbah, NSW : 1914 – 1949), p. 5. Retrieved July 6, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article191407174
6 ONLY ONE SAVED (1923, August 16). Tweed Daily (Murwillumbah, NSW : 1914 – 1949), p. 3. Retrieved July 6, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article190175112
7 CHARABANC OVERTURNS. (1923, December 4). The Riverine Grazier (Hay, NSW : 1873 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved July 6, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article140124856