Sylvia Wilson drove around Australia in an electric car. It cost her $150.90.
Wilson, 70, a retired farmer from near Biloela in central Queensland, had planned the trip of a lifetime with her husband, Rod. One impulsive evening in mid-2016 they went online and, sight-unseen, bought a Tesla S75 electric car for the journey.
A few months after Rod died last year, Sylvia announced to her family: “I think I’ll do that trip.
“Most of them were really keen. A couple of them said ‘you’re mad, you’ll never do it’,” Wilson told Guardian Australia.
It took Sylvia 110 days and 20,396km door to door to navigate the Round Australia Electric Vehicle Superhighway – a loop of charging stations. She is the first woman to drive the route and the second person to loop the country in a Tesla.
Her daughters, sisters, friends and a daughter-in law – in total seven different women – flew in and out from various points to keep her company along the way.
“I had to stick to a schedule because they had to book their flights, so there was no mucking around. I was flying blind to a certain extent. I booked all my accommodation, and that had to be tied in to what the car could do,” Wilson said.
Some of the more remote charging stations had never been used until Wilson rolled into town in Bluey, her affectionate name for the Tesla.
In the Kimberley, at Fitzroy Crossing, she arrived late on Friday afternoon and discovered the charging station not working.
“They found the only electrician in town and he came and did something and it worked,” she said.
At the next town over, Halls Creek, the power socket was at a business that was shut. At the local motel she found a 15amp power supply and was able to plug in overnight.
“They call it range anxiety. That’s what everyone talks about. It’s totally valid to have that, to be thinking about the next charge, once you’ve got an [electric vehicle].
“But the reality is that if you can see the lights on, or that the kettle works, then you can charge. Even in the remotest places you can still charge the car. In a way there are more places to charge an EV [electric vehicle] than there are a fossil fuel car.”
Sylvia recalls the night in mid-2016 when her husband Rod sat down beside her at the computer. By 9pm, they’d bought the Tesla.
Three months later, it turned up at their cattle farm, between Biloela and Gladstone, on the back of a truck.
“My husband and I, in the old days, disagreed on a lot of things,” Wilson said. “I was the greenie, he was the brownie. As he got older, I must have won I think. He became very concerned about the mess that we’re making of our little globe.
“He just started to take on board things like buying an electric car. I live off the grid here [with solar power] and charge the car off grid too. I couldn’t do those things without him wanting to do those things, too.
“He never drove it. He had Parkinson’s and he had a few problems because of that. It kind of amazed him that it was electric.
“I think he would have been tickled at how successful the trip was.”
Having the experience of driving around Australia – and fulfilling the dream she and Rod had planned – was only part of Sylvia’s motivation.
“My other purpose was to prove a point,” she said. “These are good cars and you’re not stuck to just going down to the shops.
“The concern about the environment was front and centre. These cars are bloody expensive. But once you’ve paid for the car, your running costs are bugger all.”
The same trip would have, conservatively and based on city prices, cost more than $3,000 in petrol in a conventional sedan. Charging the car cost $150.90 in total, partly because people often did not want payment.
“Motel people and others who just let me charge and said ‘don’t worry about paying, off you go’. They treat it like a laptop or a phone.”
Wilson is recognised by 350.org in a report released on Wednesday as one of the “heroes building Australia’s low-carbon economy”. The report recognises investors, business leaders and everyday Australians whose private efforts to reduce carbon emissions are leading the way as the federal government backs away from the Paris agreement targets.
The chief execuitve of 350.org Australia, Blair Palese, said people such as Wilson were filling a climate change “leadership void” that had been vacated by politicians.