30 June 2022

Snowy boys quench their thirst for adventure at Cancer Council's Shitbox Rally

| Katrina Condie
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Men in cheerleader outfits leaning on a car

The Thirst Aiders and Thirst Response crews had a blast at this year’s Cancer Council Shitbox Rally. Photo: Shitbox Rally.

Thirty break-downs in one day would be enough to make most people throw in the towel, but there was no turning back for a bunch of shrewd Snowys lads who completed the week-long Shitbox Rally from Wollongong to Mackay in May.

It was wet – very wet – it was muddy and it was gruelling, but the Cancer Council fundraiser was a barrel of laughs and an experience the crews will never forget.

Snowy Hydro electrician Sam ‘Mule’ Rowbotham and his dad Bo, from Ulladulla, made up the ‘Thirst Response’ duo and hit the road in a clapped-out old Datsun.

Joining them on the rally were Snowy Hydro boys Lance ‘Billy’ Adams from Tumbarumba and Tim ‘Hammo’ Hammond from Rosewood in their ‘Thirst Aiders’ Subaru ute.

Sam said with six days of re-routes and two new overnight destinations due to severe wet weather, the adventure was completely different to what he was expecting.

“But it is what it is, and a rally is only as good as you make it – and by jingo we made it a good one,” he said.

He said much of the driving was re-directed to tar roads to prevent 200 cars being bogged and roads being destroyed.

“And, with two of our planned stopovers flooded in and not accessible, the organisers had a hell of a time finding somewhere at short notice to roll out 500 swags, provide meals and somewhere to hold each evening’s festivities,” Sam added.

“The towns of Charleville and Emerald pulled together a miracle to get us all a patch of dry ground and a belly full of food with only 24 hours’ notice each.

“Even the Emerald mayor came to thank us for spending our money there and told us we always had a place to stay in time of need there.”

This was Sam’s second rally and he said he was “hooked” after taking part in the Gold Coast to Alice Springs via Hells Gate event where he and teammate Lance won the award for highest fundraisers and also took out the coveted Spirit of the Rally award.

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The Shitbox Rally is the Cancer Council’s largest fundraiser and this year raised more than $2.2 million, with the Thirst Aiders and Thirst Response team raising nearly $90,000 over their two rallies.

“The Shitbox is a quirky and fun way to raise money, and on top of that the challenge of buying a truly shitty car and taking it where most ordinary people would be loathed to take a four-wheel drive is something that just sparks my interest,” Sam said.

The team’s 1977 Datsun 180B was pulled from a paddock in Uranquinty along with another 180B donor car and, between the vehicles, they were able to build one running and registerable car.

“The car was rough, to say the least,” Sam said.

“During the wet weather in Queensland the windscreen, doors and boot leaked like a sieve and in the red dust of central NSW we were coughing and choking from the dust coming up through the floor.

“The car was rusty and rattley, but it was unique and truly was a shitbox in every sense of the word.”

The crew faced endless break-downs, including 30 on day two due to a blocked fuel pump and a large mud puddle which caused mayhem with the alternator, but Sam said it was all part of the fun.

“The real skill is the bush mechanics that helps you along,” he said.

“Knowing how to fix something using duct tape, tie wire and cable ties or retrofitting parts from a Holden to a Nissan. My father was a mechanic by trade and myself a sparky which meant we had a fair handle on most dramas we encountered.

“We put a jerry can on the passenger floor with a marine-style hand-priming pump to supply the clean fuel we needed.

“That night in triage at Tibooburra we were able to remove and flush the fuel tank, install an electric fuel pump in the boot which runs off the tail lights for power and remove the alternator for a clean up, which solved all our major problems.

“It is almost like a badge of honour to have the most breakdowns in a day but still limp over the line.”

Each evening the teams rolled into camp for festivities such as games, music, dancing and feasting to prep for the next leg.

Sam said a highlight of this year’s rally was seeing a bunch of new teams who “just clicked and got how the rally and the experience works”.

“The camaraderie is what makes the Shitbox special,” he said.

“You are assigned a buddy group at the beginning comprising seven teams who you stick with no matter what for the next week. One breaks down and all stop. One car needs fuel, all fill up.

“Other groups will pull over to help push a stranded car out of 12 inches of mud and when a spare part is needed the word is put out and within no time the much-needed part is being carried into triage, no payment required.

“The atmosphere is a feeling of great fun and laughter and that we can achieve whatever is thrown at us as long as we are willing to help each other.”

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The rally is not a race – it’s a fun, colourful, unpredictable adventure and an incredible opportunity to see Australia’s vast, beautiful countryside and make lifelong friends.

Sam said he enjoyed visiting Glengarry, a small working opal mining town with a very colourful pub and even more colourful locals.

“We camped between trees to avoid being run over by a miner on the way to work,” he said.

“We had a great communal fire in front of the pub with many local attendees coming to see what had brought 500 strangers to their door.”

Sam is looking forward to participating in next year’s rally from Newcastle to Townsville via Betoota as a member of the support crew and he encourages others to “spend a week with a travelling party of 500 mates who would do anything for each other”.

“It is an experience you will never forget,” he promised.

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