The Australian Army Land Rover 110 4×4

New vehicle, new adventures.

If you’ve been following my instagram (https://www.instagram.com/thejungleisneutral/) you’ve probably seen pictures of a light brown, almost pink coloured ex-army Land Rover being repaired and kitted out in the backyard.

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Line diagram of the Australian Army Land Rover 110 Fitted For Radio model – from the user’s handbook.

Sadly, the time has come to retire the old Shorty Forty Toyota Landcruiser, and the next best alternative was an ex-army Land Rover. Some may consider these kinds of vehicles primitive since they have soft canopies, no turbo, sliding non-power windows, and no aircon (OMG!!!), but in my opinion their capabilities and well-thought-out configuration more than makes up for a lack of luxuries. The seats are really comfy so that has to count for something… doesn’t it? Besides, the old Forty Shorty Landcruiser was more basic than these vehicles, so the Landy is a comfort upgrade for me.

In this post, I’ll describe some of the general characteristics of these ex-army Land Rovers from a new-user’s perspective.

From about 1987 to about 1993, these special 110 Land Rover 4x4s were supplied to the Australian army. The vehicles were supplied in knock down kit form from Land Rover in the UK, which is normal for military sales. The vehicles were completely stripped, chassis and bodies highly modified to Australian Army specifications on the Jaguar Rover Australia production line. Modifications included the engine and gearbox, electricals, body, chassis (lengthened, strengthened and hot gal dipped) and more. By the time a given vehicle was accepted into service with the Australian Defence Force, fully 50% of its components were Australian made, meaning that the ex-Australian Army 110 Land Rovers are a truly Aussie 4WD.

Until 2020 when the last of the Australian Army 110s are replaced by G-Wagons, the Landys are available from monthly auctions in several capital cities auctions via Grays Online. If you purchase one from the NSW auctions they are supplied complete with a NSW blue slip (a type of roadworthy certificate) and you can immediately take the paperwork down to their local motor registry, pay for your compulsory third party insurance and vehicle registration. Bolt your new numberplate to your Landy and drive it home. They aren’t provided with roadworthy certificates in other states and will require a full inspection for registration. As a consequence the NSW ones are usually more costly, but if you get a good one, these things are a bargain.

In-service, the engines were changed after around 36,000km and the speedo zeroed, so you’ll often see them with less than 30,000km on the clock. Sure, they were probably driven like they were stolen, but a series of upgrades and mechanical renewal programs over the life of the vehicle’s service means that you’re getting a 30-odd year old vehicle, but it’s mechanically only 5-10 years old, and very well maintained. It’s little wonder that serious four wheel driving enthusiasts in Europe, the UK and North America are buying up these vehicles en mass. They are so much more capable than the civilian Land Rover 110 Defender which used to be the only choice. Once the last one is sold off the Grays auction lot some time in 2020, that’ll be it.

My ex-Army Land Rover 110 is a 1989 manufactured “Truck, Utility, Lightweight, FFR, Winch, MC2”. A lot of folks call these ex-Aussie army Land Rover 110s “Perenties”, but mine doesn’t have anything about any Perentie on the data plate, so I’ll stick with calling it a “110”. I understand that the batch manufactured in the early 1990s had “Perentie” on the data plates, so they are the true Perenties, despite being identical to the older batches like mine. The term “perentie” comes from the name of the original 1980s procurement effort to replace the old-timey Series III Land Rover tactical vehicles then in service. This effort was code named “Project Perentie”.

My particular model is an FFR, which stands for “Fitted For Radio”. What this means is that when in service, the vehicle had a separate 24 volt power system run by an alternator which charged a bank of four batteries for radio use.

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Military data plate from my vehicle. No mention of a “Perentie”.

 

It’s a little different to a basic General Service (GS) army 110 Land Rover such as the one Les Hiddins used in the first couple of seasons of the classic Bush Tucker Man TV series., but despite the radio modifications on the FFR, they are the same base vehicle.

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A production still from the “Bush Tucker Man” TV series circa 1988. MAJ Les Hiddins in his bogged Australian Army Land Rover 110 General Service (GS) model towing a modified army No. 5 1/2 Ton Trailer.

The FFR models have a canvas canopy which is double-layered with completely opaque material to ensure the rear of the vehicle can be completely blacked out, even when observed with night vision equipment. There’s even a so-called “fume curtain” which can be rolled down and secured in order to completely isolate the rear of the vehicle from the cabin. For general use, this special canopy is a lot quieter than a standard one, but it lacks windows, so visibility is an issue when driving in inclement conditions with the canopy all buttoned up.

The FFR models have a series of four bolt-on antenna mounting brackets fitted to the vehicle, two on each side. These are, as you could imagine, perfect for fitting various aerials for comms equipment such as a UFH CB or an HF radio, but the astute FFR owner will also come up with other uses such as bases for a high lift jack mount, tie-off points for a hootchie or tarp for your swag or even as attachment points for a folding or roll-up slat camp table.

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Auction photograph of an FFR model. You can see the radio antenna brackets on the side of the vehicle, the galvanised chassis and the chassis rail-mounted jerry can carriers on the rear.

The battery bank is perhaps the most useful part of the original FFR power system. The batteries are fitted into lockers built into the side of the vehicle’s tub, about where back doors would be if it was a civilian Land Rover Defender. Along with the normal cranking battery under the passenger’s seat, that makes a total of FIVE batteries. You can probably start to see now how one of these vehicles might be put to excellent use for overlanding or remote area touring.

There’s a power distribution box in the rear of the FFR vehicles designed for use with radios. It uses MILSPEC 3-pin connectors which are available if you wanted to make up some customised power cables. The box has a total of five output sockets, but also has two input sockets which are designed purely to charge the four big radio batteries. These batteries can be charged by an external 24 volt generator or from another FFR vehicle using a power cable.

There’s a light in the rear of the vehicle which has a three way switch – for bright white light, night vision red light and off. It’s normally attached to the centre hoop of the canvas canopy which serves to minimise shadows when fiddling with radio equipment.

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This auction photograph of an FFR  in in-service configuration shows the interior rear. You can see the power distribution box forward of the left side dickie seat and the white/blackout interior light unit is visible attached to the centre canopy hoop on the right side.

The tailgate on the FFR model is fixed and doesn’t open. It’s a half-tailgate so signals personnel can clamber in and out of the rear of the vehicle quickly and more easily, without having to waste time opening and closing a tailgate.

Finally, there’s a lockable interior compartment which was used for radio spare parts and such, and which doubled as a mounting platform for radio equipment.

Aside from these differences, the basic vehicle is the same as the normal Australian army 110 Land Rovers – two-doors, an Isuzu 4BD1 naturally aspirated 3.9 litre diesel engine, four speed gearbox, factory lift, galvanised chassis, old school drum brakes all round, bullbar, roll over protection system, camouflage net carrying rack on the roof, blackout lighting system, recovery points, underbody spare wheel carriage, airlifting points, de-ditching tools on the bonnet, folding windscreen, pintle hook for towing, jerry can carriers on the rear chassis rails, etc.

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The base vehicle, an Australian  Land Rover 110 GS (General Service) model. The Australian army’s tactical vehicle fleet began to be painted in camouflage colours from about the late 1980s. Many of the Land Rover vehicles left the production line in an all-over olive drab colour.

Some General Service and Fitted For Radio vehicles also came with a PTO winch installed. This winch, made by Thomas, is operated by the drive shaft of the vehicle, and so doesn’t rely on battery power for use. Battery powered winches are fine, but even with the engine running and the alternator charging, a battery operated winch can run down a vehicle’s battery and it is vulnerable to wiring faults or very wet and muddy situations or conditions. A PTO (Power Take Off) winch only needs the engine to be running and the PTO engaged.

There’s one breed of Australian Army Landrover 110 which I consider to be the ultimate overlanding vehicle (with a few caveats), and that is the RFSV (Regional Force Surveillance Vehicle). This is an FFR body which has been modified and upgraded for dedicated remote area use by the Australian Army’s Regional Force Surveillance Units – NORFORCE, the Pilbara Regiment and the 51st Royal Far North Queensland Regiment. These guys are our eyes and ears in the most rugged and remote parts of northern Australia. In order to complete their mission, they need to be mobile and they need vehicles which are highly capable and super-reliable. That vehicle was the RFSV. Modifications-wise, the RFSV has – heavy duty rear diff with lower gears, upgraded chassis, specialised storage bins in the rear, PTO winch, dual fuel tanks, under-bonnet air compressor, side carriage racks for water and fuel jerrycans, snorkel, high lift jacking points, split rim wheels, carriage for two extra spare wheels on the rear, carriage for two jerrycans on the rear, civilian style dual 12v battery system, side brush bars, power steering, upgraded suspension, heavy duty clutch, rear disc brakes, etc. Awesome specs which for the most part make the RFSV a seriously capable vehicle.

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This auction photo shows off some of the main features of the RFSV variant of the Australian Army Land Rover 110. Aside from the high canopy, you can see the side brush rails fitted to the bullbar, the special split rim wheels, the snorkel, and the side mounted jerrycan storage racks.

The big problem with the RFSVs is that they are crewed by three people, but there are usually only two seats in an Army 110 Land Rover. The solution for the third seat was to chuck a dickie seat with full safety harness into the back of the vehicle, but then that meant the roll cage (Roll Over Protection System – ROPS) had to be made higher so the Patrolman in the back wouldn’t bang his head on the roll bar, and of course, this meant the canopy had to be made higher. With the camo net rack installed it’s a lot higher than I would like and it’d be impossible to fit a civilian Land Rover Defender aluminium roof panel due to the ROPS. The higher canopy is more susceptible to damage from vegetation and the vehicle is more top-heavy than the usual Land Rover 110.

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This auction photograph shows the rear interior of an RFSV variant and you can see the rear dickie seat which causes the height problems with the barwork on the RFSVs.

With the side jerrycan storage racks fitted, and the rear spare tyre carrier and dual jerrycan carrier fitted, what you have with the RFSV is a vehicle which is too high, too wide and has too crappy a departure angle for harder tracks, trails and water crossings. The width isn’t too much of a problem since the side jerrycan racks can be unbolted easily enough. For use as a daily driver, the height of the canopy – particularly with a camo net carriage rack fitted – means you’ll be excluded from most airport and shopping centre car parks due to height restrictions.

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In-service photograph of an RFSV during a comms stop by a Regional Force Surveillance Unit patrol in North Western Australia. The vehicle has the canopy removed and camouflage scrim on all the barwork. The height of the ROPS on the RFSV is vividly apparent in this picture.

My ex-army Land Rover would be a daily driver, so when not in the mountains, rainforests, deserts or on the plains and out in the dust and mud, it’s tasked with carting groceries, driving to and from the city, dropping off or picking up family and friends from the airport, doctor’s appointments, cinema car parks and all the other things that a vehicle is used for day-to-day.

There’s another 4×4 Australian army Land Rover which evolved from the RFSV design which was used as a weapons platform in Iraq and Afghanistan by Australian Special Forces, called the SRV -SF (Surveillance and Reconnaissance Vehicle – Special Forces). These are available for auction sale to private buyers and with a standard land rover 110 windscreen fitted they can be road registered in most states of Australia.

Awesome vehicle with lots of well-thought out modifications and features, and without the height problems associated with the RFSV, since these vehicles needed to be loadable into various aircraft such as C-130 Hercules and the CH-47 Chinook helicopter. Unfortunately, an SRV-SF wasn’t even on my radar since the prices for a good one start at almost A$30,000 and with many of the Special Forces-used SRVs being combat veterans, I’ll leave them for the collectors who will treat them as the historic artefacts they are.

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SRV-SF in use by the Australian Army’s 2nd Commando Regiment during operations in Afghanistan

I ummed and ahh’d for a long time about whether to purchase an RFSV or an FFR. My ultimate vehicle would have been an RFSV with a normal height FFR or GS ROPS and canopy fitted, but the task of tracking down the required parts at a decent price proved too much. In the end, since it was the base vehicle for the RFSV anyway, the FFR won out, and with my particular FFR I came very close to hitting the jackpot. I’ll tell you all about it in the next post.

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Camp lighting, classic camping style – the folding candle lantern – Part 1

Aside from the comforting red-orange flickering glow from a campfire, some sort of camp lighting is a must-have.

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My modern canvas bell tent lit by the soft glow of a folding candle lantern during a canoe trip a couple of years back.

Nowadays the options for camp lighting are many and varied – from the UCO Micro candle lantern through to the awesomely-effective inflatable, solar powered LED lanterns or the much-maligned compact but super-bright LED headlamp – why much maligned? Invariably if you’re out camping with a group and people are using these headlights, you’ll be blinded every time someone looks at you. At times I have taken to wearing sunglasses at night around the campfire when camping with larger groups and I personally won’t use a head lamp out of a pure disdain for them.

If you like the old-timey vibe, you can go for a pressure lantern such as the Coleman Powerhouse dual fuel lantern. If you’re boring, then use a gas/propane lantern. If you’re going to do that you might even go for some 12v LED strip lighting or fluoros…

For “classic” camping such as I practice, the options for camp lighting are somewhat limited, but they are definitely cool.  One of my camp lighting favourites is the candle lantern.

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A selection of some of the folding or collapsible candle lanterns I tend to use. Back row – Replica brass Stonebridge lantern, Swiss Army candle lantern, Tin-cased Excelsior Lux. Front Row – Aluminium cased Excelsior Lux lantern, 3-sided German/Austrian WWI trench lantern (copied from the French M1910 lantern), NZ-made copy of a standard UCO candle lantern

I favour the old-style folding candle lanterns. They are compact, cheap to feed and give off a light bright enough to cook, eat or even read by.  In general they are light enough to take hiking and I have one as part of my swaggin’ it kit – either a brass Stonebridge replica or a Swiss Army model. They impart a nice, dare I say it romantic, light to a classic camp, and illuminate a canvas or japara tent quite nicely with a warm, diffuse glow.  Although I own different models of modern UCO candle lanterns and clones as well, I won’t cover them here since they aren’t old-timey enough.

All of my old-style folding candle lanterns have clear mica windows.  This material is actually a transparent natural mineral with a similar feel to plastic. It is lightweight and fireproof and is far less fragile than glass. You may sometimes see clear mica referred to as “isinglass” or “talc”.

1970s SWISS ARMY FOLDING CANDLE LANTERN –

This particular incarnation of the Swiss Army folding candle lantern dates to the 1970s and is windproof, rain proof and folds completely flat.

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1970s Swiss Army Folding Candle Lantern. Shown here with a Woolworths-sourced basic household candle.

It is designed to take special stearine candles, but if you gently bend the sides of the sprung clamp inward with a pair of pliers, you’ll discover that cheap-as-chips normal household candles will fit securely.

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My old green one shown here folded flat, is from the 1920s and is a very similar design to the Excelsior Lux lantern of the 1910s, but is about a 3rd larger.

These Swiss lanterns originally came into service in the 1920s and are a larger, highly-modified version of the turn-of-the-20th-Century Italian mountaineer’s “Excelsior Lux” lantern shown further below. Used by the Swiss army as EMP-proof bivouac and camp lighting, they were also included in the Swiss combat medic kits of the 1970s and 80s.

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The lanterns were standard equipment in Swiss Army combat medic bags of the 1970s and 80s.

Whereas earlier models were made from olive drab-painted tin and had only three windows, the 1970s Swiss lantern is made with a stainless steel body and has clear mica windows on all sides. It is assembled by unfolding it completely, hooking the two end panels together on their long sides to form a rectangular box shape, and then swinging the top and bottom panels into place and securing them with attached wire rod latches. The lantern has a spring-loaded door in one panel which is used to insert the candle into its spring clamp and light it.

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The Swiss lantern disassembled and folded flat. You can see the damage to two of the mica windows on this one. Bummer, because it’s one of two I own and use regularly. Still, the damage is slight and doesn’t really affect the operation or light output from the lantern.

They’re tough, very well designed, very effective, almost completely windproof, can be lightly modded to take normal supermarket candles (cut in half) and said half-candles will last for two or three hours depending on ambient temps. I would say they are pretty much the pinnacle of folding candle lantern design. The only improvements which could be made might be an oil-burning insert (for using with kerosene, citronella, diesel, maybe even animal fat or used cooking grease), and a casing made out of hard anodised aluminium or even from titanium as a means of keeping the weight down. Until someone comes up with heat resistant, thin, transparent polymer sheeting, the weak point in these lanterns will always be the relatively fragile mica windows.

Availability of these online in places like ebay is good, but they are pricey. At time of writing there’s a few on ebay out of Austria and Germany (search on ebay.de), and you’d be looking at around A$110 (US$85-ish) posted to purchase one. Gone are those heady days of the early 2000s when these lanterns first came onto the surplus market in their tens of thousands for $5 to $10 each until they were bought up en mass by wedding planners, cafe owners and interior designers who used them once for a wedding or photoshoot and then discarded them.

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Camp lighting via Swiss Army candle lantern on a recent swag walk.

Are they worth current prices? You’ll have to be the judge. If anything ever happened to my pair of Swiss Army candle lanterns I’d happily replace them at the current high prices. I reckon they are that good, and I have gotten that much use out of them.

NEW-MANUFACTURE “REPLICA” STONEBRIDGE FOLDING CANDLE LANTERN – 

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I thought I’d show you this one before showing you the original. It’s quite different from the original, so calling it a replica is a bit of a stretch. How different you may ask? Well, it’s as if the person who designed it had a copy of Stonebridge’s earlier 1906 patent and a few photos of Stonebridge’s later 1910 vintage lantern, but no measurements, let alone a sample of the original lantern to work off.

It’s a lot smaller than an original, the proportions are all off and it’s missing a few important features of the original such as the adjustable vents and the spring-loaded windscreen, so when used in windy and rainy conditions, it’ll blow out or rain will blow in and douse the candle – this has happened to me. They are nowhere near as effective as an original (nor as the Swiss or Excelsior Lux lanterns for that matter), but they do have some advantages.

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Size difference between the replica (right) and the original

The smaller size means it’s lighter and suitable for hiking or swaggin’ it. It’s made from raw, unlacquered brass sheet so you can polish it and keep it shiny and pretty or you can let it tarnish or go all verdi-greasy (verdigris) for that well-used look.

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Replica Stonebridge Lantern all folded up with some other bits and pieces for a swag walk.

In most conditions the lantern works pretty well. It easily takes UCO lantern candles, so beeswax or citronella candles are an option, and I have used cheap discount store-bought church candles in it too, which are a little thicker than the more expensive UCO candles. The supplier also sells specific candles for this lantern but I haven’t used them so I can’t comment on how they go.

Unfortunately it is designed in such a way that the thinner-than-usual mica windows wear a bit faster from normal folding and unfolding, but the good news is that the mica windows are easy to replace, maybe even easier than those on an Original Stonebridge lantern.

Probably the best points of this lantern, apart from the solid Kephartian vibe it gives off are that these are relatively cheap (if you live in the USA), availability is good, and there are even accessories available for them.

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Replica Stonebridge lantern shown here tied to the tarp ridge line during a recent swag walk.

At time of writing the only place you’ll find them is at Garrett Wade . If you’re outside the USA, then shipping on these is overpriced. When I bought mine a few years back, the shipping cost was more than the item itself, but that appears to have changed. As of September 2017, an Australian buyer would be looking at about A$50 for the lantern itself and then about A$30 postage, for a total of about A$80 shipped. The shipping cost is high, but they are the only game in town for a new-manufactured classic camping style folding candle lantern.

Are they worth it? If you can’t find a decent Swiss army surplus lantern, sure. If treated with care your kids and grandkids will be using this lantern.

Field Telescope – the real deal

You may have read a post I wrote ages ago about an inexpensive Indian-made “training” telescope? Well, here’s the real deal. A while back I was lucky enough to acquire a very nice 1917-vintage old-timey brass military telescope to use alongside my 1900-ish deer stalker’s telescope, and of course the half-sized, Indian-made “decorative” telescope.

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1917-vintage Broadhurst, Clarkson & Co Sig., Tel (MkIV) in its natural environment, being used as an aid for field panorama sketching. Seen here a couple of months back on a mid-winter swag walk in the mountains west of Sydney.

Here’s a tip if you’re ever looking at one of these old telescopes online or at a second hand store with a view to buying it – If the seller says it must be broken because it won’t focus, then you’re probably very close to getting yourself a bargain. Why is that? These multiple draw telescopes won’t focus if you just twist the eyepiece. In fact, if you do that with this particular model, the eyepiece will unscrew and fall off! Nope, to focus these you must push in or pull out the last draw tube until the image comes into focus.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, on to my telescope. The telescope is a World War One era British signalling  and general service telescope. It was used by signallers before radio communications became commonplace. Flashing electric light or signal mirror Morse code or perhaps semaphore flags were used to send messages over long distances and the message was received by an observer with a telescope.

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Trainee signallers at a South Australian army camp circa 1915. Two heliograph (signal mirror) units on tripods are the “transmitters”. A telescope on a tripod  is the “receiver”. Until well into the 1940s, this was the most common use of the military telescopes – on land at least.  SLSA B46130/235

Probably more famously, these were used by British and Commonwealth snipers in the First World War and while they were replaced in British service by a lighter model, this particular model of telescope soldiered on with Australian reconnaissance parties, intelligence officers and snipers during the Second World War too. In fact, I can’t lay my hand on the photo, but I’m pretty sure there’s a picture of an Aussie sniper spotter using one of these obsolete telescopes during the Korean War of the 1950s.

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Simply captioned “Snipers 5th L.H., one firing and other pointing with telescope.”, I believe that this image shows famous Australian Light Horse sniper Billy Sing and one of his two main spotters, “Jack” Idriess on Gallipoli in 1915. The spotter here is seen using one of the telescopes in question which has been camouflaged with hessian strips. Idriess of course would later become well known as the author Ion L. Idriess. AWM P10522.024.003

The telescope is marked with the following –

“TEL. SIG. (Mk IV) also G.S.
BROADHURST, CLARKSON & Co
LONDON
1917
22084”

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The Low Power eyepiece is shown above its leather pouch. With a relatively narrow field of view, sometimes it’s easier to use the telescope with this lower power 20x eyepiece fitted.

As far as I can tell, it’s a variable 20x to 40x telescope with a brass body and has a leather covering on the barrel and the extending sun shade. It has two leather end caps, a shoulder strap and a small tubular leather pouch threaded onto the shoulder strap which holds the low or high power eyepiece – whichever isn’t fitted to the telescope at the time.

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The telescope extended. It’s over a metre long and in fantastic condition for a 100 year old piece of equipment.

I bought it online from overseas with very little info from the seller. The pictures supplied by the seller were promising, with the 100 year old leather components looking almost pristine. I figured that if the leatherwork was in such great condition, then the rest of the telescope would be too. Sure, there was a risk that the objective lens may have been infested with fungus or smashed, but it was worth the risk and I was not disappointed. It’s a truly beautiful instrument.

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If you look closely you can see the markings.

The weight was a huge surprise to me. I’ve taken the telescope along on several overnight bushwalking and swagwalking trips and you definitely notice the extra weight of the telescope and tripod.

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The telescope is carried by the shoulder strap. The tripod seen here is not original to this telescope, it’s actually a few decades older and was originally a deer stalker’s or target shooter’s tripod since it came with a rifle rest attachment as well. When strapped up in this fashion, the tripod can also be carried on the telescope’s shoulder strap.

I’ve been using it for field panorama sketching and it really helps with the details. You could use binoculars for this purpose, but I think that to get the same sort of powerful magnification as with this telescope, the binos would be huge and prohibitively heavy for this sort of work.

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When all closed up with both leather end caps fitted the telescope is very well protected and quite compact. Still very heavy though!

This is a powerful telescope – really powerful. Last full moon I set it up in the backyard to check out the moon. The image was spectacular. Clearly defined raters and debris trails from the meteor impacts. Due to full time auto focus on my phone’s camera I unfortunately I haven’t yet worked out how to take a photo through the telescope, but when I do I’ll take a whole lot and post them. It has to be seen to be believed.