Monthly Archives: May 2016

Shit Box Rally – YES its finished!

Yes, it’s a sad day.

The very final report of what could be regarded as probably, if not possibly, the greatest athletic and sporting event since Philippides ran the approximately 25 miles or 40.2367kms to announce the defeat of the Persians to some anxious Athenians. Phil, (we called him Phil the Greek at the time which turned out to be prescient given the next Phil the Greek married Betty Windsor), ran the entire distance without stopping and burst into the assembly, exclaiming νενικήκαμεν (nenikekamen, “we have won!”). He then karked it. Karking it is an old Australian expression meaning dropping off the twig, kicking the bucket, being brown bread and taking a dirt nap.

Like Phil we had another one of our group kark it today. Yes friends, having survived the worst of outback Queensland, outback NSW, outback Victoria, inback Melbourne, St Kilda and the Spirit of Tasmania could throw at us, the team of ‘Two Girls Ones A Dude’ in their very hot 1989 Mazda 626, finally succumbed in a Tasmanian world heritage area. SurfStitch executives Brett Nipperess and Vanessa Heaney did a courageous job but it was heart-breaking to follow the once mighty Mazda up the Tasmanian world heritage hill, with the smell of its burning heart and the puddles of its Asian royal blood dripping to the tarmac like engine oil on bitumen.

Friends, like the Athenians in their righteous war against the Persians, the IMF and World Bank, we had started this crusade with a regiment of nine cars and eighteen brave souls. It is with heavy heart I have to report that only five of our noble steads entered the car park in Hobart yesterday.

Those Tasmanians are like the Persians. Very cheeky and tricky little monkeys. For instance, the signs warning of possible wildlife crossing the road show a car having its way with a kangaroo or vice versa. The town names are ironic: Paradise, Plenty, Promised Land, Garden of Eden and Lovely Bottom. Others are more honest: Nowhere Else, Cape Grim, Little Hell Bay and Pisspot Creek.

We North Islanders left the city of Devonport (population 25,246 and ironically named a city by the son of Phil the Greek in 1981), and turned right towards the tin town of Strahan.  The words of my father were echoing in my head. “Son, you’re always right turning left.” If only Australia, Tasmania’s Prime Minister and our rally team had heeded those words.

I know you won’t believe this but three times unlucky. Yes, our group turned right and once again we were lost. The Tasmanian wilderness is a hard mistress. It is full of (Tasmanian) Devils, Tigers (Tasmanian), Tiger (snakes), Copperheads and about 40 other creepy crawlies that can kill you in a minute when you embarrassingly have your pants down answering a call of the Greens and other minor parties. After three or four hours, our glorious leaders recognized we were lost and graciously admitted their failure.

Like plenty before them, the Tasmanians had thrown everything at us and we had survived.

You may rightly ask what have we learnt from the last seven days driving 3,500 across Australia and Tasmania?

Well if the people that worked in shops in rural and regional Australia could be transferred to the cities, David Jones and Myer would be in the black. Lisa from Opposite Lock in Mackay could give WalMart a few lessons.

The basic tenet of many religions is reincarnation. The concept that after biologically karking it you can begin a new life in a new form. Friends can I respectfully suggest you do not come back as a shock absorber on a Shitbox rally car.

Shit Box Rally – you can’t go anywhere without a guy in a parrot suit

Who doesn’t want to tour the beautiful coal burning Yallourn power station?

Well we didn’t, but our intrepid team of six cars and three support trucks who were dopey enough to think we knew where we going actually managed:

  1. to find it;
  2. drive around the inside six times while looking for the way out; and
  3. to convince management we were eco-terrorists out to kill 22 per cent of Victoria’s power supply while protesting the futility of coal in a Tesla, soy latte world.

Once the Victorian tactical response unit realised we were dim-witted rather than dangerous, they released us on a good behaviour bond. From there it was a relatively easy cruise to the Melbourne seaside town of St Kilda (population 17,795. You can get some idea of the features of this Beaulieu-sur-Mer with Luna Park from songs such as “Killed her in St Kilda” by Voodoo Lovecats, “St Kilda Nights” by Purple Dentists and “Melodies Of St Kilda” by Masters Apprentices.

Anyway the local residents were very pleased to see 400 or so of Australia’s, two of Tasmania’s, one of France’s and one of Canada’s finest dressed to varying degrees as pirates. Not many were arrested. Then it was on to that mightiest defender of our country’s seas – the Spirit of Tasmania. For those Greek, Tasmanian and other foreign readers the Spirit is the only transport between the two countries at the bottom of the world. Unlike her sister ship the Titanic, the Spirit was built in 1998 in Finland. After a series of near sinkings, engine failures, listeria and leprosy outbreaks it was decided to find some chump to buy what was then named the Marie Celeste.

Readers, you know the outcome. The same Australian government that has just given the sinkers of Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior the contract to build three submarines for $60 trillion bought the daughter of the Titanic and renamed the former mothballed rusting hulk the Spirit of Tasmania. Now many of our pirated hadn’t been on any sort of ship, let alone water before and by the time the waves in Bass Strait were approaching 20 metres there wasn’t too much Johnny Depp – much more Les Paterson talking to Bill and Bert on the big white telephone. For those Greek, Tasmanian and other foreign readers, talking to Bill and Bert is local slang for projectile vomiting due to acute seas sickness bordering on death.

Sorry readers not a long report today because I lost 60kgs on the way over and am feeling a bit too weak to keep tapping these keys.

But we will have a bumper report tomorrow if I survive the last day and rum & scallop tasting in Hobart.

Shit Box Rally Pirates

Shit Box Rally – The Dog on the Tucker Box will never be the same again

It’s a nice 236 mile drive from Cootamundra to Albury (population 45,267).

Unfortunately we were not meant to be going to Albury but Adelong (population 884) 177 miles before. Some of the more astute drivers in our group of six cars (more of this later) had suggested to our lead car that perhaps the Hume Highway was not exactly a rally track. But the lads whose identities will remain nameless, because you know who you are Todd, Jay and Ben, were reading and laughing at the book Great Australian Slang, they had bought at The Dog On The Tucker Box café, five miles from Gundagi.

The Dog on the Tuckerbox (Tupperware food container for our Greek and other foreign readers) is a beautiful life sized statue of a dog sitting on a tupperware food container that brings to almost life the canine hero of a 1880s poem. In fact so iconic is this metal and plastic art form, created in the manner of Michelangelo Buonarroti’s Pieta, that Prime Minister of Australia, Joe Lyons, unveiled the statue in 1932 to mark his election campaign.

Readers, this is a place you have to put on your bucket list. To give it it’s full name, The Dog on the Tucker Box Pioneer Monument, welcomes visitors with a newly redesigned garden precinct featuring Australian and Tasmanian animal figurines, the native Australian giraffe is a particular highlight. The aforementioned cafe serving hot, cold and luke warm refreshments, souvenirs, Australiana, antiques, old wares like your correspondent and his co-driver, now Michael McMichael, and a peaceful picnic area away with the graves of many deceased previous dogs on the tucker box. The place goes off in November for the Dog’s Birthday.

There are six cars now because as you remember Michael (so good they…..) and Libby McMichael’s mighty German BMW had gone to Valhalla or Cobar which ever was closer and one of our former group members couldn’t stand the heat of the publicity in this daily letter (ie she was too embarrassed by our ineptitude) and joined another team. In the charity rally business caper leaving one group for another is akin to a child leaving his or her family for another, better family. Of course I know this is a not an uncommon experience for many of us.

Anyway once we realised that Albury was not on our map we turned around and took the back way to Adelong. Our leaders took the back way not because it was quicker but because it was likely no one would see us and thus less embarrassing.

But friends, this mistake was the start of a descent into the ninth circle of hell. To come on our journey to the quaint village of Dargo was snow, blinding fog, fallen trees, cyclonic winds, dust and narrow winding rock infested mountain roads where one error at the wheel could turn the car into a deadly missile as it hurtled off the track down a huge ravine where the occupants would be crushed with the car into a surreal metal Ford Ute sculpture or, all of these fierce elements together.

Luckily we had taken sustenance in the form of a meat pie (German spy, dog’s eye) and sausage roll (basically a snaga in pastry) from the wonderful hamlet of Omeo (population 487). Naturally on your behalf we tested the drinks list at both pubs. Can I personally recommend the Golden Age Hotel replete with two luxury spa units, 13 motel style units and six pub style rooms. The neo art deco hotel provides for all tastes. From there we climbed more than 1,000 metres to the skiing capital of the Hotham shire and environs – Mount Hotham. And didn’t our group have fun in the high winds, snow and freezing cold until an older citizen complained about the ice balls being thrown at his windscreen.

There is something to be said for driving on a mountain top along an icy road when you can’t see because of the fog. As it turned out not many of our group died. Finally after 23 hours or nearly a day of driving we reached Dargo (population 144) where Tom and Teen Howson have just taken over the wonderfully rustic former timber mill the 1898 Dargo River Inn which offers Bundaberg rum on tap. Today we head for the great city of Melbourne on the near final leg of this enormous event.

Shit Box Rally Where the Falcon Hell are weShit Box Rally Team 16 dirt road


Shit Box Rally – OMG they made it to Cobar

Hullo again sports fans around the globe – Hüllő kai páli na fílathloi se ólo ton kósmo – Bonjour le fans sportif

It’s probably been a while since the fair citizens of Cobar (population 3,817, birth place of Manly Sea Eagles player Nik Kosef) have seen a shark. But at dinner, at the Cobar Bowling and Golf Club (‘The Golfie’) they saw two!

Yes two denizens of the deep north, Byron Bay’s Ben Wallace and Todd Knaus, donned their shark costumes to eat with fellow Shitboxers in the dining room of the newly renovated Golfie.

Despite the bistro being managed by Freddie and Vinnie, who specialise in traditional Australian Chinese food, our excellent meal was prepared by the wonderful folk from Tilpa (population of town and surrounding 159) who had travelled all the way to The Golfie when they learnt our rally route through Tilpa had been flooded out.

And what a night it was readers!

Two grown men dressed up as sharks, some very large lads dressed up in short tennis dresses, some other larger lads wearing normal frocks from French designer Targee and some women even wearing women’s clothes. No wonder most of the members immediately made for the door once they saw 400 of the rally’s finest turn up to sign in.

Ben and Todd also appear in this story for their role in selflessly looking after Michael McMichael (so good, well you know the rest) and his very attractive daughter Libby. As you remember Michael’s BMW 7 series died on the side of the road in a truly wonderful display of noxious white smoke. Driving an antique two door Honda Prelude with the team name ‘Most Easterly Pointers’, Ben and Todd put their own comfort to the wind and invited Libby to share their car.

This left a dilemma. How would Michael continue the trip? Of course Ben and Todd had the answer – their Byron Bay friend and my co-driver Jay, would go with them and Michael would go with me in the ute. This lead to some participants naming the Honda the ‘Kid’s Car’ and our ute the ‘Falcon Home of Peace’.

Yesterday was the short 550 mile drive from Cobar to the lovely thriving town of Cootamundra (population 5,750) where, as the council say, ‘come and experience life the way it is meant to be lived. Come to Coota’. But before we could take Mayor Jim Slattery and his eight councillors including Rosalind Wright, who does a fine job as Chairman of the Noxious Weeds Committee, up on their invitation we had to drive the roads less travelled including those through Lake Cargelligo, an unexpected oasis in central NSW where its beauty and tranquillity has remained unspoilt and relatively undiscovered by the travelling public.

But the two hundred rally cars costing less than $1,000 (each) and our support vehicles certainly discovered it. It would be fair to say it was more in the manner of the rats that caused the black-death discovering London. Both pubs – the Royal Mail and the Commercial, did ten year’s business in a day, the local servos ran out of fuel and Julie Blacker at Cargelligo Collectables was struggling to find enough antiques, collectable furniture, glassware, china, pottery, wood ware and Bric-a-Brac to satisfy the demand from the sophisticates on tour.

Today it’s a shortish run of 500 miles through the snowy mountains to Dargo (population 144) home of the annual walnut festival.


Shit Box Rally – the poor people of Thargomindah

Excitement has a new name – It’s Thargomindah.

Well really Thargomindah to Cobar via Bourke or 650 miles of tarmac terror.

Remember, the old Chinese word crisis also means opportunity.  And once the crisis hit, the opportunities for your very own Weekend Australian motoring team drivers popped up to show their heroic sides. This is despite the golden rules of heroes that say:

  • If the hero is a white male and has a sidekick who comes from Byron Bay the sidekick will die, usually in an act of heroic sacrifice; and
  • Heroes can go without food or sleep with no measurable drop in physical or mental facilities for at least 72 hours.

And, it does prove that heroes become invulnerable by stripping to the waist.

Yes friends and others, the mighty Michael McMichael (so good they named him twice) and co- driver Libby McMichael’s BMW 7 Series died yesterday by a remote billabong (small water hole not an ice cream) outside the back of Bourke. There was no sign of the disaster to come when 200 what may be called cars in the world’s cheapest wrecking yards in northern China, left flood torn Thargomindah for a new flood free destination.

Despite flood waters up to the roof (lucky Jay and I had our masks and snorkels so we could see the man and woman eating crocodiles in the flood waters) …… yes despite the flood waters and the really bad food we made it to the town of Cunnamulla, ironically an Aboriginal name meaning ‘long stretch of water with one reasonable coffee shop’. US and Greek readers move on to the next paragraph. Cunnamulla hosted the very first interstate rugby league game which was between Cunnamulla and Bourke.

OK after a few soy cappuccinos, no chocolate on top, and a dozen of the very finest Cunnamulla meat pies, our group of eight headed off into the wide Australian bush. Somewhere along the way our leader in the front car decided to stop for what we call a Code Yellow (use your imagination). Seeing the driveway to a farm (farms out here are measured in the thousands of square miles) he pulled in, naturally assuming the driveway would be of a similar standard to those at any similar farm in Hampstead Heath, Mykonos, or Connecticut. But no. Following the rain that threatened to re-float the ark and bring the desert back to life, it was deep thick mud. Lemming like, all the cars headed to the farm gate where they promptly sunk like stones in black muck. Of course your drivers resisted the temptation, mainly because we were busy discussing the virtues of organic farming as pertaining to the cans of Four X Gold in one hand and the Cunnamulla pie in the other. Steering the mighty Falcon ute was by way of the knees.

When we came upon the group there was only one thing we knew you expected us to do. After we finished laughing and taking photos we pulled each of the muddied messes out of the driveway and we resumed our heroic journey. This time, Mactavish surfboard proprieties Ben Wallace replaced Michael at the wheel of the Beemer suggesting that he could show Libby how to really drive German’s finest (in 1997). Looking up from reading our copies of the Australian we saw, to our horror, that the Beemer seemed to be sinking into a huge wave of water. But no, it was a huge white wave of smoke. Ben pulled the once great beast into more mud and we approached with fire extinguishers at the ready gently suggesting to Ben and Libby that they should abandon the German Titanic before:

  1. a) it exploded and since Jay and I were the heroes they would likely perish; or
  2. b) we would cover them with deadly extinguishing foam.

Ben and Libby chose to rapidly exit the vehicle. After the fire died down we put the BMW on the back of a trailer where it was driven to the Cobar Car Hospital and declared dead on arrival.

But Ben wasn’t finished.

We were camping at the Cobar Showground and Ben decided we should stay away from the crowds and sleep overnight in a horse yard with the stables serving as our motel room. Many of us city folk didn’t realise horses are prone to do number twos (or as we call them Code Browns) and leave them to mark their territory. I don’t think we will ever forget the aroma of three week old horse code yellow mixed with similarly aged Code brown.

We will prevail


Shit Box Rally – and some of them are still going

Hullo again sports fans around the globe – Hüllő kai páli na fílathloi se ólo ton kósmo – Bonjour le fans sportif

Well motorsport fans, aspiring grey nomads, kiddies wishing to learn more about this great country and Tasmania and others who just like filling their time reading meaningless ramblings from the mind of someone flooded in Thargomindah.

No that’s not a typing error it’s really the name of this village which on arrival reminds one of those quaint towns in Chernobyl and Fukushima. Dinner was in the Thargomindah community hall and school (an all in one concept our political leaders should take notice of since it also features a bar. And you and I know there is no better way to get primary school kiddies ready for a tough day on the pens and pencils than a few sharpeners at morning tea).

Now it’s good to see Australia and Tasmania’s fine tradition of crook food hasn’t completely disappeared from all parts of the nation and territory. And of course this is real man and woman country. None of the wussie vegan caper here. No, just three meaningless blobs which one of our scientists later confirmed were steak and sausages. And didn’t we wash them down with many plastic glasses of Coolabahs best red in a cardboard box. There’s a reason they call Thargomindah the culinary capital of Thargomindah Country. There’s also a reason Thargomindah is an Aboriginal word meaning “Cloud of Dust”. Given we had enough rain last night to re-float the ark it could also mean “Rains from the Sky that wash away camping areas and all signs of human contact with the earth”.

Now of course we had to drink the red, mixed with a few of Thargomindah’s best ales, because the water here comes straight from artesian bores (if you’re going to be bored, why not by an artesian?). The ground around here is rich with sulphur and oil and gas that gives the water that delightful aroma of perfume de sulphur. Drunk straight it mixes with your natural fluids to form hydrochloric acid and taken by way of shower it leaves your body with the rich smell of ancient lava and manure.

In 1860, Burke & Wills epic expedition through far South West Queensland paved the way for settlement in the area. Let me just remind you that they had very similar luck to us and both died on the way. The town has a population of 229 which had swollen to 729 last night with the arrival of the SBR teams.

We drove there from Blackall on what some smart marketing person advised the local tourist authorities to call the ‘Adventure Way’. If you are ever up this way a real highlight besides watching the effect of sulphuric acid on your naughty bits is the Hydro Power Plant Display on the outskirts of town. There is a Hydro Power Plant demonstration at 4.30pm every day during April to October.

Back to the rally. The second day is traditionally costume day and the theme this year was Wimbledon 1960. Naturally Michael McMichael and I just wore our everyday tennis gear but the younger persons did go to a lot of trouble to find tight white shorts and dresses. Don’t Australian men love dressing up in women’s clothes! Although it would have helped if their legs were not so stubby and had been shaved.

In our team is an old Volvo. Like most things Swedish it breaks down every 90 kms. This time it’s electrical issues. To save putting too much stress on the system the driver has taken to sticking his hand out the window instead of using the turn indicators. This works well when the car is turning right but does pose a problem going left. Once we get somewhere near a place that has newfangled devices like mobile phones and the internet I will send you photos of some of our cars under repair which does look very much like a day on centre court at the all England Club.

This morning we are off for a six hundred mile drive to Tilpa along some of Australia’s best flooded roads. The ute is already taking so much water inside that Jay and I have taken to wearing diving masks and snorkels in the car. Photo on the way.


Shit Box Rally and they are on their way

Yes the greatest motoring event of the year, the annual Shit Box Rally where 200 cars costing no more than $1,000 drive 3,500 very long kms, sometimes in circles despite relatively modern technology (more of that later), around outback Australia and Tasmania has begun.

We started this great event on the esplanade at Mackay with a least 5 curious locals, a dog and a yet unidentified life forms looking on.

Mackay used to have a population of 120,000 but after the run down in mining 30,000 people have left. Houses that were selling for $850,000 can’t get buyers at $250,000. But the people are great and the influx of 500 rally drivers and their hangers on certainly lifted the spirits of those 5 locals, dog and yet unidentified life form – which come to think of it, may be the remains of my co-driver and Australian Olympic drinking champion Jay Schliech and his companion for Friday night, young master builder of the year (1939) and Byron Bay resident, Todd Knauss. Todd and Jay went on a mission to singlehandedly rebuild the Mackay economy by personally visiting every place that sells liquor in this great regional city. It didn’t end well. But in a tribute to the Queensland health service and Mackay District Hospital both Todd and Jay were able to start the rally on Saturday morning. How good are the new life support systems!

Anyway, after a rousing team photo the Rally got underway at exactly 0930hrs. Exactly may be too strong a word here but it did get underway with Jay vomiting when we passed the last pub he and Todd (now dressed in a shark costume for some unknown reason) supported the local economy in. Morale was high and excitement was at fever pitch with both your representatives on the Weekend Australian team ready to give 110 percent, staying focused, ready to step up to the next level and ready to drive with intensity. We are the team with tremendous mental toughness, but we are the dark horse team showing flashes of brilliance and we are really starting to gel so we could be the sleeper team to be reckoned with.

At WAM, just like the mighty Australian newspaper, everybody’s on the same page.

Enough original thoughts we were off. The motor in the mighty Ford Falcon BA Ute throbbing in anticipation of the 680 miles (or in our groups case 840 miles) ahead to the lovely but remote town of Blackall. After an hour and a few wrong turns we finally got out of Mackay and were on more or less the right road. No one had told us about:

dirt roads that have hidden holes that could hide a herd of wandering elephants if they fell in;

farms that have no fences so the huge Brahmin bulls believe the road is their territory and cars another form of competing bulls; and

kangaroos running in front of the car to either be culled or become breakfast.

More alarming were the forks on the road. No one had mentioned that this was a rally with choices. Our group of nine cars have a track record, when faced with a choice, of making the wrong one. Personally I see nothing wrong with exploring this great country but not everyone including the rally officials feel the same way as me. Arriving in Blackall at 11pm last night to me was a highlight…to others, particularly the good souls form the Country Women’s Association, it was a black mark.

Yours in bad map reading


Shit Box Rally News – Update 1

My old mate John Connolly has taken leave of his senses and is roughing it on his trip from far North all the way to Tassie. No, I am not insane enough to participate. My idea of roughing it is drinking non vintage Moet.

However, enjoy the progress or lack of there off as they make their way to their destination and pray to Virgin Mary, Satan, Krishna and anything else they can think off to even make it half way.

Shit Box Rally – Boîte de Merde Ralley

Rally Preview – Ráli Preview

Hullo sports fans around the globe

Hüllő opadoús tou athlitismoú se ólo ton kósmo

(As you can see, we are going multicultural because of the large number of Greek fans we have this year.)

Greetings from Mackay the Monte Carlo of Australia minus the wine, millionaires, fashion, super yachts, super cars, food, style and sophistication.

For those of you who have never been to this great country or who have never ventured past the eastern suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne, Mackay is 1200 miles from Sydney and 3,000 miles from Hobart. It is in North Queensland which many Australians regard as the deep south of Australia. This year we will be driving what passes for a car, our historic Ford ute/pick up/roofless estate the 3,000 miles from Mackay to Hobart. Hobart is actually in Tasmania, that funny looking island that hangs off the bottom of the real Australia. Because we have so many Tasmanian followers (Paul and Joe you know who you are) I won’t make any of those sort of jokes. But let me just quote the Tasmanian Police handbook. “How do you know how many people are taking part in a riot in Hobart? Count the heads and divide by two”.

But don’t worry co-driver, navigator, builder and tinder professional – Jay, has used the North Queensland Michelin guide to book our restaurant tonight. It’s called Wilkie’s and it has a catchy slogan in the manner of Per Se and the Savoy Grill, ‘Cold Beer, Hot Girls’.

Our mechanical mentor, Michael McMichael (so good they named him twice) who is once again taking a BMW (this time a seven series he bought for $500) on the rally sent us a telex with a photo showing he and his daughter Libby having their first beer at 9am this morning. If that doesn’t capture the spirit of the SBR I don’t know what does. You remember Michael from last year’s reports – he’s the one who, when his fuel tank started leaking at night, tried to slip under the car to have a look. Luckily we pulled him out before the gas cigarette lighter he was using as a torch made contact with the petrol.

Well things are off to a great start thanks to the efforts of our car carrier who said they would deliver the car on Wednesday but due to scheduling errors still haven’t found it. But we don’t little things like no car worry us. No siree Bob and Bobette. (political correctness is our top priority). Last year we didn’t have a car after the third day and we still got to the finish.

Once again subtly and sophistication are the hallmark of the participants. Entries include: Chariot of Thunder (see photo), Piston Broke and Where the Falcon Hell Are You (for Greek and other international readers this is a play on the word Falcon and a common Australian expression regarding horizontal folk dancing). Then there is the fully equipped Ford hearse (see photo) which comes complete with coffin that slides out to become a truly awesome sound system.

Tomorrow we start on the misleadingly named Brisbane Street which is near the equally misleadingly named waterfront given it’s one of the largest cargo ports anywhere near Mackay and environs. We are expecting a huge crowd (which is also a comment on the size of many on the fair citizens of this great city) or should that be a huge tattooed crowd, given the locals seem to put tatts on their kiddies from birth. Anyway it’s only a short 640m cruise to the picturesque town of Blackall, the Positano of Queensland’s North West. Attractions include Town Bore No.4 (and haven’t we all met a few of them) and a fossilised tree stump (ditto).

Anyway Antío to you till tomorrow.