With the 2012 Shitbox Rally well underway, rally director and founder James Freeman took the time out to talk to me about how it all comes together.
If you frequent the myriad dirt roads on the outback route to Cairns from Melbourne, chances are you’ve spotted a series of interesting cars this past week.
Over 100 old cars are coughing and spluttering their way up to Cairns as part of the 2012 Shitbox Rally, a trans-Australia non-racing rally which is raising money for the Cancer Council.
From Melbourne, the rally traverses sand dunes, dry and wet river crossings, harsh outback terrain and plenty of dirt roads, stopping off for food, fuel and forty winks along the way.
Now in its third year, the rally was the brainchild of James Freeman, who lost both his parents to cancer within 12 months. Over 2007 and 08, his father passed away from prostate cancer, and his mother from a sarcoma that started in the bowel.
Freeman is 37 now, and says the Shitbox Rally was his way of raising money to fight diseases that affect so many.
“I wanted to do something different,” he says. “I wanted to raise awareness and support for people of a younger generation who are dealing with cancer for the first time.
“Because I was massively affected. I nursed mum and dad through until they died and it was awful. It was dreadful. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
“And I saw how it affected my brother, and my family, and even friends and people I cared about that loved my parents.”
Freeman says the first rally was mostly made up of his friends but it has exploded in the years since.
“I dedicate a lot of time to it,” he says. “We’re talking about 350 people driving 140 or 150 vehicles of dubious quality through outback Australia.”
To enter the rally – and you can register online now for the 2013 event – there are a number of rules to be adhered to. Firstly you and a partner must raise at least $4,000 to participate. Once you’ve done that, you are given $1,000 back to buy your “shitbox” – and that includes registration and roadworthy. You’re also given a $500 fuel allowance. Then decorate it to your heart’s content (one former participant took ideas from Mad Max and Back to the Future for his car). At the end of the rally, the cars are auctioned.
Freeman says it was a few years in the making. “It took a long time to come up with a formula that I thought would work properly,” he says.
“I thought it through for a long time before I was happy with it but in the end everyone thoroughly enjoyed it in the first year, and we raised $104,000.
“So then we thought about expanding it and the second year was a challenge because it was so much bigger than the first year [Triple J joined them for parts of the rally].”
Last year they raised around $700,000 and so far this year, at day five and time of writing, have raised $715,348, all of which goes to the Cancer Council.
Charged with organising pretty much everything as the rally director, Freeman says he loves when it finally begins, “so I can finally start to relax”.
And he says it’s not just about raising money and awareness, but also experiencing Australia and meeting new, like-minded people.
“I had been living overseas for a long time and moving back I wanted to rediscover Australia,” he says.
“The best way to tour around any country is by road, to see it in all its glory. And I knew if I was going to organise something it had to link in with that because in Australia so many of us are city-bound.
“It’s a shame and I wanted to do something that takes people out of their comfort zones and into the outback.
“Everyone becomes mates and when you add humour to it and make people laugh, it grabs you straight away.
“And people also develop a relationship with their cars, many buy them back at the auction and I’m a little worried I’m going to end up with a collection of shitboxes at home.”
Freeman is driving a 1985 Honda City Pro this year.
Visit shitboxrally.com.au to learn all about it, or to register for 2013 event. You can also follow along on social media – facebook.com/shitboxrally or search #shitboxrally on twitter.
This year’s route. Melbourne > Wentworth > Tibooburra > Innamincka > Windorah > Winton > Undara > Cairns