DIARY: On the Road with The Shitbox Rally
Meet Amelia and Sam. They’ve been best friends since the age of 12 and have lived together in the inner-west of Sydney for the past three years. Perfect training to spend 50+ hours driving a rust bucket over some of Australia’s roughest roads, all in the name of raising money to help beat cancer.
“There's no point going into the doom and gloom of why this rally means so much to [us] and what it means to have helped to raise over 1.6 million for the Cancer Council for this rally alone - because let's face it - we ALL have a cancer story and that's what makes events like this and the work the Cancer Council does so profound,” Sam tells us.
The Shitbox Rally is an annual fundraising drive started by James Freeman in 2011 after losing both his parents to cancer. (Hear more about James's story and the rally here). To compete in the rally you need a minimum of $4000 to even get to the start line. Sam and Amelia (aka The Ex-Pensive Winos) held garage sales and bake sales and even threw a house party and charged entry but were still falling short of their goal so hit up Young Henrys to come on board as a sponsor, which we happily did to see these legends get on the road.
Between May 27th and June 2nd they drove over 3,800kms from Adelaide to Cairns via the Oodnadatta Track and Plenty Highway. The rally may be over but you can still donate! Read Sam's road diary below and then throw some well-served coin their way to support the cause.
Day 1: Adelaide to Roxby Downs - 567km
We met our buddy team who would be spending the next seven days with - six cars all travelling together in a group and looking out for one another.
About two minutes from leaving the starting point, we'd already managed to take a wrong turn and had our first car trouble 20 minutes in when one of Buddy cars almost lost their mighty chariot.
Day 2: Roxby Downs to Oodnadatta - 464km (all unsealed)
Day 2 was 'Yellow' day on the rally - I went as Hulk Hogan and Amelia as Pikachu. It was a stunning drive on the Oodnadatta Track which took us past Lake Eyre South where we did some impromptu off-roading along the lake. We also stopped off for a cheeky YH at our half way point, William Creek Station - one of the coolest country pubs I've ever seen.
The oldest car in our buddy group - a '75 Datsun Wagon was having some issues with their throttle release, but we managed to make a manual release that fed through the passenger window from a bit of old fencing cable.
The town of Oodnadatta is situated within Anna Creek Station - the largest cattle station in the world and some of the locals had driven four hours just to come and help cater for all of us.
At triage that night (where all the busted cars go for repair) we saw a literal kitchen sink be used to repair a sump, a giant yellow fairy replace tires using a sledge-hammer and someone's suspension being repaired with a tennis ball. The support crews drive all day helping teams broken down on the side of the road during the rally, loading what they can't fix on to their trailers to be taken to triage that night. They are entirely volunteer, even covering their own petrol for the journey. They are the true un-sung heroes of the rally and we were stoked to be able to sling them some YH cases by way of thanks.
Day 3: Oodnadatta to Alice Springs (450km unsealed, 210km sealed)
The track was starting to wear down our ol' Nissan Pulsar (whose name we carried on from its previous owner, affectionately called 'Junior') - the dust and sand meant our brakes were near useless and the front wheel drive meant we truly were doing rally driving. There was one hairy moment where the car spun out on the sand and we managed to stop about five metres before hitting oncoming traffic, but we dusted ourselves off (literally) and took off again.
It was a very long day only reaching camp after nightfall, but we had the added bonus of catching the sun setting over Alice Springs as we drove in. The Datsun has also fried their alternator during the day, so we were having to swap hourly to play musical batteries.
Day 4: Alice Springs to Tobermorey Station (180km sealed, 391km unsealed)
Day 4 on the rally was themed 'Trump does Shitbox' and I have never seen so many orange faces or red ties in my life. Taking our own spin on the theme, Amelia and I went as gun-toting, Nugent loving Trump supporters.
We were a little late leaving Alice as we had to source a new alternator for the Datsun. We may have been one of the slowest groups in the rally (top speed of 80km) but we held our own on the dirt and managed to keep pace.
From Alice to our destination, there was only one tiny petrol station, with one tiny bowser in which you could fill up - so you can imagine how long that took with 250+ cars. Waiting in the hour-long queue wasn’t so bad, we had impromptu picnics and even had Shitbox Tinder being broadcast across UHF14.
Another long day on the rally meant we were driving down some arduous roads at night - when your headlights hit bulldust, it's like driving through a dust cloud that you can't see out of - you just have keep on the gas and pray no one ahead of you has slammed on their breaks.
Day 5: Tobermorey Station to Burke & Wills Roadhouse (213km sealed, 317km unsealed)
The scenery on this day was some of the most incredible and remote we had seen. After driving for about four hours, we were still in Tobermory Station if that gives you an idea of the size of it. We were lucky enough to be able to stop via Mt Isa and have the first phone reception we'd had in four days and get an actual coffee from an actual coffee shop!
But things were not looking good for the Datsun. She had two close calls with support, almost being hauled onto the trailer, but as a group, we persisted, adopting the phrase 'Death before Trailer'. We thought she had busted a head gasket, but one of the teams in group, the hilariously named 'Wrecked'Em' were sheep farmers who had a fix that worked on their tractors that they suggested and it worked a treated on the Datsun and she made it to the roadhouse with no issues - except for getting very lost after and having to back track through a farm we weren't supposed to be in. We also managed to crack our front grill plate after one quite deep dip. Another day of not making it to camp before nightfall.
Day 6: Burke & Wills Roadhouse to Einasleigh (487km sealed, 108km unsealed)
We got less than 1km up the road from the road house when we had to around - The Datsun had oil leaking into their coil and it was looking grim.
Luckily for us, five of the rally cars had been written off the day before, so we were able to salvage the coil from a Volvo who had managed to snap their axle in half. Support helped us fit (giving thanks with another case of beer!) and off we went.
Day 6 was a really fun drive, lots of hills and sharp turns and we even managed to get some drifting (we'll claim it even if it was accidental). This was our last night on the rally and thing got messy as everyone attempted to empty their esky's and drunkenly enter 'Shitbox Idol'
Day 7: Einsleigh to Cairns (380km)
The last day of rally was pretty sombre as we all realised it was coming to an end. It was a shorter drive into Cairns, and it would have been a stunning drive down Mount Garnet had it not been for the freezing rain and fog so thick we needed our hazards on! But still, we made it to Cairns safe and sound and were extremely happy to be bale to wash the dust off of our... well everything.
The rally was an absolutely amazing experience and one which when we embarked on with through was a once in a lifetime bucket list thing. But we had so much fun we've already signed up for next year. The friendships we made in our buddy-group are life lasting - buddy Group 16 on our own raised over $50,000 (and counting!! You can still donate here!
We are in shock our car made it all the with no major issues over rivers and dips and cattle grids - even if by the end of it she could no longer idle and her front windscreen was being held together with duct tape - we've vowed next year to get an even shittier shitbox.
We'd like to say a massive thanks to YH for jumping on board so eagerly and helping us raise an absolute stellar amount of money! We'd also like to thank our team mascot, Sir Rod 'the Mod' Stewart for seeing us home safely.