Words and Photos by Daniel Borton
By now you probably know all about the Shitbox Rally from our preparation. But now we’ve done it. It was an epic week (or two including the drive to the start), and here’s the run down. It’s far too long in one article, so it’s been broken down and will be published over the next few Cruise Controls. I started writing as soon as we got back, but life got in the way, so from about Day 6 onwards was written about 3 months after the rally.
For anyone that doesn’t know about the Shitbox Rally, it was started by James Freeman in 2010 as a way of doing something after losing both his parents to cancer less than a year apart. About 250 teams of two drive cars worth less than $1500 on an outback adventure but have to raise at least $5000 for the Cancer Council before going. Each rally raises over $2 million for cancer research now, and since its inception the Shitbox Rally has raised over $37 million for cancer research.
Anthony and I have known each other for a little over 20 years, having met in Motafrenz when we were both in our 20’s. I’d done the rally twice before, and the cause is close to my heart having lost two friends to cancer. But it’s also an amazing road trip. We were driving a 2011 Suzuki Alto that had been my daily. It was a hail damaged insurance write-off bought back from my insurance company for $1000 (originally bought for $1900) that we had to fit a new clutch and air conditioning compressor to. Our team name was Not A V8, a bit of a piss take on the 3-cylinder, 1.0 litre 50kw sewing machine powering the Alto.
All up we raised $11,461 for the Cancer Council, including $635 raised from the Motafrenz Magical Mystery Tour. We set what we thought was an ambitious target of $10,000, and had some great ideas for fundraising, but unfortunately both of us were pretty flat out and didn’t get the time to actually do much.
I’ll skip most of the details of the drive up, because the rally is really what it’s all about. We decided to break the 2450km trip to the start line into four days, with relatively longer days at the start and finish.
About 3-4 hours into the first day, it was starting to get a bit warm, so we turned the air conditioner on. After a few minutes it was still getting a bit warm, and our air conditioner that was fixed just two weeks ago was no longer working. Some posts on a few Facebook pages, and we’d arranged to take the car into a workshop in Brisbane where another rally participant worked. He was able to quickly find a leak, plug it and refill the air conditioner all for a slab of beer. It held up the whole rest of the rally. Having done the rally once before without air conditioning, I really didn’t want to do it again.
We saw a few other rally cars along the way, I think the first was the Posh Bogans parked on the side of the road in Byron Bay. They were in a W126 Mercedes, one of a few on the rally. The rest were mostly on the final day of driving from Brisbane to Rockhampton where it was 39 degrees outside, but a very comfortable 20-something inside our air-conditioned Alto. The temperature finally hit us when we stopped for lunch at Gin Gin and we had to get out of the car. We saw about half a dozen other rally cars in Gin Gin, including one (decorated like Lightning McQueen from Pixar’s cars) undergoing a roadside repair, having its fuel pump replaced.
In the lead up to the rally, I’d constantly reminded Anthony that we needed to pack lightly. The Alto was very small, and we decided against roof racks to really try and enforce light packing. We ended up being highly successful in our light packing, with the boot and back seat being packed well below the window line. We even managed to pack the luxuries of a third spare tyre (our tyres were very small that getting replacements on route may be a challenge) and a full-size 25 litre Esky. The light packing meant we weren’t bottoming out, but could also find what we needed relatively easily.
We arrived in Rockhampton and checked into our serviced apartment, where we’d be staying for two nights, and our last night of the luxury of a proper bed before the rally.
Daniel’s pictures, packing the car and random holiday snaps from the trip up.
Friday Night Briefing
The day before the rally started, everyone met for the rally briefing. It was also where we met our buddy group, heard about their cars and why they were doing the rally. Our buddy group is the other six cars we’ll be travelling with for the week. While everyone does the same route, you stay together with your buddy group to support each other and in case something goes wrong.
Each group has a mechanic or someone who’s got pretty good mechanical skills and a first aider. Our group was a bit different, we had 2 teams with mechanical experience, 1 team with first aid experience, and 3 teams with both. Then one team with neither, which was Anthony and I.
Our buddy group was the perfect summary of the diversity of people that you get on the rally.
- Hocus Pocus – Lisa and Veronique who dressed as witches and had been friends for over 35 years, but one lived in Noosa and the other in Perth. They were driving a PT Cruiser.
- Premo – Beamsy and Troy who’d been friends for years, with one living near Bendigo and the other in Perth. They were our main mechanic’s and drove a VZ Commodore wagon.
- Rusty Wrecks – Neil and Nikki were like rally royalty. They’re a couple in their 60’s who were doing their 13th or 14th Shitbox Rally. They do some as support, and some as participants in their trusty VW Transporter. Although we did learn this wasn’t their trusty Transporter. This was their replacement Transporter after their previous one had caught fire too many times on a rally, and the faulty drivers door that often wouldn’t open created a bit of a safety risk.
- Defiance Duo – Two semi-retired guys from the York Peninsula in South Australia. They were the seventh highest fundraising team, driving a BA Falcon wagon.
- Wanna Go for a Drive? – Chris and Jazz from Sydney. After getting accepted into the rally last year, Chris had a paragliding accident leaving him a paraplegic. He spent a lot of time in hospital and rehab, but the rally was a test to prove he could still do things. Later this year he’s participating in a surfing championship. They had a car all organised, but the accident meant Chris had to resit his drivers licence, and only had time to do it in an automatic. So they had to get another car, a Mitsubishi Grandis and have it converted to hand controls.
- Frosty – Rob and Taryn, a couple from Byron Bay who’d done the Rally before and were doing it in a 94 Toyota Corolla hatch, one of the last Australian made ones.
- Not A V8 – Daniel and Anthony, friends from Melbourne driving a Suzuki Alto.
We also heard from the Cancer Council about some of the research the rally funded last year. Two of the projects were run out of Melbourne Uni, and three of the projects related to bowel cancer, something well known to me as both of my Aunties in Australia have had bowel cancer with one having major surgery to remove an aggressive tumour a week before we left.
One of the main things at the briefing is to collect your rally book. It’s basically a book of maps for the rally route, 60 pages in total. It has an overall route map, then more detailed turn by turn maps, maps of towns en route that have petrol, and maps and aerial photos of the camp grounds.
We also got a briefing of all the do’s and don’ts of the rally. This year was slightly different, as day 5 had a very strict deadline. All teams had to arrive at Corio Bay in Geelong to check in for the Spirit of Tasmania before check in closed at 5:45. Normally teams arrive in each night between 4:00 and midnight, but this deadline meant that day 5 would be a relatively easier day with fewer kilometres, and all on the seal.
After the Briefing, we returned back to our hotel to put our team name and buddy group stickers on the car, as well as the rally sponsors.