Like finding a well-hidden key and unlocking a side-quest, you have found your way into the mythical third chapter of our Shitbox Rally adventures that never made it to print back in 2012. There was no juicy blow-up in the corridors of High Performance Imports that caused this to happen, it was more that I couldn’t be stuffed writing it at the time. But every good franchise deserves a sequel, and like George Lucas, I am a slave to the whims of my viewers (and unfortunately a damn sight poorer).
To quickly recap, Part 1 covered the eventful purchase of our Daihatsu Move, stolen from an outlaw motorcycle gang. Part 2 covered the destruction of this same car in the middle of the Queensland outback.
And so we arrive at the point where our precious Move is being torn apart and cannibalised in order to keep other cars going, underneath the harsh fluorescent lights of a school shed in outback Windorah. We tried to have cheer ourselves up by dropping cans into the now-open cylinders – if you do your maths, you’ll understand why they were a perfect fit – and turning the crank just enough to watch them bounce up and down. Aaron and I both had a beer or two to try and dull the pain, but eventually just skulked off to bed, feeling totally at odds with couple of hundred campers all excited to continue their journey the following day.
Day Five – Windorah to Winton
We were awarded our commiseration medals at the morning briefing (which I still have as a memento, along with the compliance plate from the car), and then pushed the dead Move carcass over to one side for the local council to collect and take to the dump. I have it on good authority that it instead ended up at a nearby indigenous community, where it was used by the kids as a cool toy push-car they could drive around.
To add insult to injury, rally participants with dead cars are subsequently dispatched to other vehicles with sufficient space for the rest of the journey. For keen drivers like Klaver and myself, being banished to the back seat of a random car is a fate worse than death. For me, I joined ‘Nanna’s Last Stand’ with good friends Dan and Sara, and the combination of the saggy rear suspension of their $1000 Toyota Camry and my additional weight made for an amusing, bouncy ride to Winton. Suffice to say it was the most action I’d ever seen in the back seat, and yet with so little reward.
I’d loved to say I remembered more of day five, but I instead did what most bored kids do in the back of the car on long trips: I slept. We rolled into Winton late in the afternoon, and as Aaron and I set up our tent for the evening, it was clear that he was hating life as a passenger as much as I was. There was only one solution. One that had never been attempted before in the history of the rally: buy a replacement car mid-rally. During the middle of the week. In Winton. For $1000 or less.
Naturally, this would require the assistance of Winton locals, and given that half the town was already helping out with catering for the rally at the town oval, it made sense to start there. After a few dead ends, salvation came in the form of one of the ladies serving thirsty rally-goers behind the bar. A couple of phone calls later, and we got the full story: her sister had recently arrived in town from Brisbane, and her car at the time (an early 1990s Mazda 323) was clearly not cut out for driving in the bush. Having upgraded to a 4WD, she’d not been able to offload the 323 to anyone locally, and it had been sitting on her front lawn for almost 12 months. Asking price? “Whatever you think is fair.” Perfect.
Day 6 – Winton to Undara
With the vast majority of rally-goers up and setting off by 8am, it was clear Aaron and I were going to have our work cut out for us getting a car purchased and prepped in time, but our faithful Group 16 buddies opted to stay back and wait for us to get the job done. The rather sad looking 323’s battery had long given up the ghost, but being manual meant we could push start it, and being a shitbox meant we could push start it with one of our buddy-groups cars. Once fired up and running under its own power, it was clear that is was still in pretty decent nick. The seller was delighted with the $400 offered, and Klaver was sent off to check fluid levels and tyre pressures while I tackled the next challenge: the number plates had been surrendered, and the chances of a South Aussie and a Victorian registering a car in Queensland at short notice were somewhere around zero.
One glorious aspect of outback towns is the way they are able to overcome adversity through ingenuity and diversity. In the case of Winton, the local courthouse also serves as an agency for pretty much every other government department. Theoretically, the person behind the counter issuing your nana’s death certificate one week could be the same person renewing your driver’s licence the next. Having advanced problem-solving skills is essential. With word getting around the town about our plan, the resident problem-solver behind the counter offered to come to work an hour early and help us get the car sorted. The solution? A three-day temporary permit to get us all the way to Cairns. BAM.
With permit in hand, a fresh tank of fuel and twelve months’ worth of red dust removed from the 323 (courtesy of the windscreen washer at the local servo – sorry!), “Monster Chef II” was ready to roll. Cosmetics were not forgotten: the absence of one hubcap made it ‘rally-spec’ and reflective duct tape racing stripes and team name were applied.
The semi-sealed roads north of Winton certainly helped, but it was immediately obvious that life in the 323 would be a good deal more luxurious than the Move. Klaver and I could hold a normal conversation without shouting, for starters. It almost felt like cheating, travelling in such comfort. Our spirits were instantly lifted and the banter from our buddy group via our UHF radios resumed its usual vigour. Red dust and desert gave way to gum trees, bushland and – hallelujah! – river crossings to challenge the rally entrants.
A special shout out to the town of Hughenden at this point. I don’t normally go through a town in the middle of nowhere and expect such beauty, both in the buildings and gardens of the town itself, and in the friendliness of the people living there. Hughenden is a real oasis in the bush, nestled on the banks of the Flinders River. Make sure you stop in town if you’re ever passing through.
Onward we travelled on what can only be called the most ridiculous bitumen roads I’ve ever driven on. It’s one thing to have the tight-arse-special one-lane-of-bitumen roads connecting towns, it’s another entirely to allow road trains to run along them. Initially it was cattle trucks, then mining trucks, and while they were fairly easy to spot oncoming on straight stretches, sudden appearances around corners resulted in frantic calls over the UHF radios and cars scattering in all directions to make way. Even worse was getting stuck behind them travelling at 80km/h in the same direction, as overtaking was completely impossible unless they chose to pull over (which they never did).
Nevertheless, we all survived the journey to get settled in at Undara Resort, and with a late start planned for the final day’s run to Cairns, we joined most other teams in having a cracking dinner followed by a sneaky beer or six.
Day 7 – Undara to Cairns
With a short run of 264km for the final leg, some teams took the opportunity to go sightseeing at Undara and check out the lava tubes. Buddy group 16 instead took the option of sleeping off our respective hangovers, then getting some team photos to remember each other by. It’s impossible to explain the sense of camaraderie that comes from taking on and beating some of Australia’s most challenging roads in ridiculous cars, but as I sit and write this six years later, I have remained good friends with the majority of the members of our group ever since.
Having only just been greeted by bushland, we could almost pinpoint the exact spot where the scenery flicked a switch and the rainforest began. It was a true treat, given the range of different landscapes we’d already passed through. A bit further down the road came our first sighting of a sugarcane crop. One team, whose car was covered in astroturf, celebrated this occasion by jumping onto the roof with a golf ball and a 3-wood, driving the ball deep into the canefield. And Queenslanders thought toads were their biggest problem!
(that’s a termite nest, in case you’re wondering)
And as we rolled into Cairns, it was quite a spectacle as local onlookers and friends and families of entrants lined the streets to welcome us to the end of our journey. Arrival at the non-descript block of land behind our destination hotel was rather anticlimactic, but the hoots and cheers of those who’d arrived before us made it worthwhile. Klaver and I, having suffered the devastation of the death of the Move, had opted to pay $500 or so to drive 800km over the last two days rather than sit in the back of someone else’s car, and we didn’t regret it for a second.
As for the car, well we were a bit late checking into the hotel, which meant our car, with a completely dead battery, parked hard up against a fence, and blocked in, never made it to the auction, where competitors’ cars were sold for a pittance to every eager overseas back-packer in Cairns. With no number plates and a temporary permit due to run out, I rang a local Iron Chef customer and gifted him the car. Being the savvy creature he is, then changed the battery, found a hubcap, cleaned off all the red dirt, and turned a tidy profit on it (hardly difficult given he got the car for free). In an unusual twist of fate, he later went on to become Dobby, our Iron Chef Imports social media genius.
The weary, dirty rally participants then proceeded to use all of Cairns’ fresh water (in the shower/bath), then drink all of Cairns’ alcohol at the pool bar downstairs. The Group 16 shenanigans continued, including hand-held UHF radios being hidden in other team members’ hotel rooms so that “special messages” could be sent during the middle of the night. Before we knew it, we were on planes heading home and dealing with the all-too-common “post rally blues”.
One of the things I’ve come to realise, in reflecting on this event six years later, is that modern life has become very ‘comfortable’, but ultimately also very unrewarding. Whether it be the Shitbox Rally or a different event, cars offer a great opportunity for people from all walks of life to come together to bond with one another, courtesy of a common interest. In the case of SBR, it offers entrants the opportunity to experience adversity, but with the necessary support, so that you don’t end up stranded deep in the Aussie bush, having to drink your own urine while praying for a passing motorist. Overcoming shared adversity as a group forms bonds that will last forever. Whether it be joining the rally, or just getting together with friends and doing a challenging 4WD trek through the outback, our beautiful country offers many amazing challenges to those willing to step out of their comfort zone. Get out there and explore.
Many thanks to Dan and Sarah from ‘Nanna’s Last Stand’ for the additional pics in this part of the story. Klaver and I were so depressed after Movey died we didn’t really take many more.