As a kid, Royce Dunbar collected Matchbox Rolls Royce’s – toy cars – and dreamed of owning a real one. Perhaps a childish notion but dreams can come true and after an eventful life, including surviving the Voyager disaster, Royce ultimately owned a Roller.
Born in Western Australia during World War II, he enlisted in the Navy just before his 18th birthday.
Before long, he found himself assigned to serve on the HMAS Voyager.
However, on 10 February 1964, the Voyager collided with the HMAS Melbourne during manoeuvres.
Sliced in half by the larger ship, the Voyager sank.
Accounts of the incident inevitably describe it as Australia’s worst peacetime military disaster.
82 men died.
Rescuers plucked him bleeding and battered from the ocean, and also bloated from ingesting oil and seawater. Although he lived, the young man never recovered from the trauma of that night. Another survivor described him as still horribly distressed in 1967. Those who knew him say that night haunted the rest of his days on this Earth.
Survivors of the Voyager Disaster
After he recovered physically, Royce worked for some time at the naval base at Jervis Bay. However, he left the navy as soon as he could.
After quitting the Navy, he returned to Western Australia and became active in the Perth gay community. In 1984, he wrote about the local gay rights movement for a national gay magazine.
Later he moved to Darwin where he worked at the casino for a while. Then he took on the role of Executive Director of the Northern Territory AIDS Council. Co-workers remembered him with great affection and as a very able administrator.
Throughout the years, he continued to enlarge his collection of Rolls Royce Matchbox cars.
Finally, after years of legal argument, a court-ordered compensation paid to the Voyager survivors.
Royce could now buy an actual Roller.
He moved to Cairns and bought the car, as he described it, a champagne cognac Rolls Royce.
As a child, he just wanted the Roller, but after a lifetime of wishful thinking, the car now came with its own business plan.
In 1994 he opened Restaurant Royce and voiced radio ads for his new venture.
Hello, this is Royce and I would like to invite you to the ultimate in elegant dining.
For $55, you will be chauffeured to my Restaurant Royce in a Champagne Cognac Roll Royce, enjoying a complementary flute of champers along the way.
After making your selection from our fine menu, be entertained by the largest collection of miniature Rolls Royce’s in the southern hemisphere.
For all the intended elegance of the experience, the restaurant suffered badly from location.
Not on the Cains Esplanade with ocean views, or in a ritzy outer suburb – the normal locations for elegant fine dining in Cairns. Royce plonked the restaurant on an arterial road next to a takeaway chicken shop. Midway between a notorious area of public housing and Legoland, a precinct of cheap apartment blocks, the most distinct characteristic of the neighbourhood was economic disadvantage.
Not quite an oasis of elegance and aspiration.
Lord knows how he protected the Rolls on the street. Perhaps armed guards or a reinforced underground bunker. Unwise people who left their cars on the street overnight in that neighbourhood sometimes awoke to find their vehicle sitting on concrete blocks and the wheels departed to places unknown.
Despite visits from celebrity chef Bernard King, the venture never succeeded, though it never actually ruined Royce.
He owned the luxury car outright, his bank account showed a healthy balance and superannuation lay unclaimed in government coffers.
However, with that car and that restaurant he achieved his life-long dream and nothing else mattered.
Late one night he drove the Rolls Royce to Buchans Point. The bluff at Buchans Point overlooks the local gay nude beach. Royce sat in his long dreamed of champagne cognac Rolls Royce and gazed out to see. He drank from a bottle of cognac.
With the bottle empty, he attached a hose to the exhaust of the car and gassed himself.
He bequeathed the car to relatives in Western Australia and thousands of dollars to pay for a dance party dedicated to his memory.
No drag queens
However, the money came with just one stipulation, no drag queens.
By all accounts, Royce disliked the local drag queens. He apparently felt the sting of their mockery on occasion and resented it.
So, after long and careful planning, the party went ahead. But that final wish? Despite that wish, the organisers allowed the attendance of drag queens.
Royce was dead.
However, the local drag queens were not.
They not only attended the party – they performed at it – having a great big fat drag show made it easier to spend the thousands of dollars he budgeted for the event.
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