"Mike I understand your frustration. I'm in Australia too and found it difficult to even buy a decent tandem here let alone be able to make an informed decision by test riding etc. In the end I bought a cannondale as that was the only decent spec bike that I could order through a local shop.
As for Thorn, they have successfully exploited a niche market where there is very little competition. But popularity doesn't guarantee that the product is optimised. I mean, Justin Bieber is popular but you could argue that his customers just don't have very good taste. With expensive bicycles it's even harder to gauge the product accurately based on other owner's feedback as people are embarrassed to admit that they've made a mistake and bought a bike that is heavy, overbuilt and doesn't handle very well. I've never ridden a Thorn so can't comment on their product based on experience, but I have read through their marketing material on the website, and in my opinion they are to some extent full of it. The drivel you quoted about drop bars is an example. They have misrepresented something to justify their position".
Some would consider my half bike, a Surly Long Haul Trucker to be heavy and overbuilt but it suits my requirements.
Mary and I have a combined age of 134 and we plan to do over night rides and short tours of up to a week in our home State Victoria and if that is successful we might get more ambitious. There a a lot of Rail Trails here with surfaces of varying condition which is why I want wider tyres and reasonably wide bars to handle the tandem in loose gravel.
The Thorn is coming out at a bit more than I envisaged paying in the first instance so it is down to Spending the Kids Inheritance or you can't take it with you scenario.
There are some quite nice road tandems around Melbourne but most have disk brakes which I do not like (not really sure why but I just don't like them) and run narrow tyres at high pressures which I find uncomfortable.
Re Thorn being "full of it" I don't disagree with you but so are many sales people who sell a variety of products!
If you have not already done so I urge you to read some of Dave and Jo's journals.They have done many k's in most continents.