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CAMS HISTORY: RALLY & OFF ROAD

SR_Apr 171

To the purist, the true challenge of rally driving is to be as fast as possible over an unknown road. This is traditional ‘blind’ or ‘navigational’ rallying and Australian rallies followed this format in the early years. Most rally events took place at night on secondary roads while the local residents were (hopefully) safely tucked up in bed.

Once the economy improved after the austere years of World War II, those inclined to go racing found money more plentiful. Australia’s earlier major rallies, the Sun Rally (1953-55) and its successor, the BP Rally of south eastern Australia (1958-73) continued navigational challenges and covered very poor roads. The director of both events, Donald Thomson, believed that “a road was anything between two fences”, and he applied this philosophy mercilessly and with great relish in his events. 

Thomson would often find a road easement that had not been used by a vehicle for years – if ever – and would include it in the rally route, to the annoyance of the neighbouring farmer who had gated it off in the expectation that if the ‘road’ was not used by the public for a specified period by time, by law the land would become his. Thomson influenced some unique roads upon his hapless entrants, including the Knocker Track near Omeo in Gippsland, a disused bullock track that was as rough and steep and rocky as it was old, and Wathe in the Victorian Mallee, a network of bottomless sandy tracks that supposedly led to a place that very few competitors actually found and most believed did not exist.

The style of event that really captured the public’s imagination and attention was round-Australia trials. The first, the REDeX Trial of 1953, attracted 19 starters and covered 10,000 kilometres, even though it was not a true round-Australia event. The course went from Sydney, north as far as Townsville, west through Mt Isa and north to Darwin, then through the red centre via Tennant Creek and Alice Springs, Port Augusta, Adelaide and Melbourne to the finish in Sydney. The 1954 REDeX Trial did the ‘full circle’, travelling through Western Australia and covering over 15,000 kilometres in 18 days.

The frequency of round-Australia events declined in the 1960s because the concept was no longer fresh, and two major events each year split the available pool of entrants, meaning fewer entries for each. With declining frequency the next round-Australia events to be held were the Ampol Trial in 1964, followed by another in 1970 and the 20,000 kilometre 19 day Repco Reliability Trial in 1979, which was acknowledged as the toughest of them all.

Taken from pages 198–199 of the CAMS Official History Book.

8 January, 2018