These past few days I had the very dubious pleasure of sharing a 600 kilometre or-so stretch of the Stuart Highway – from the Hi-way Inn near Daly Waters through to Darwin – with some of those participating in the second annual Shitbox Rally.

The Shitbox Rally is most likely a good idea – a sort of Variety Bash for the kids. Last year they drove from Sydney to Alice Springs and got a lot of support from the ABC’s JJJ radio. This year the route was from Brisbane to Darwin.

It is pretty simple really – you buy an old banger for a grand and drive across the country raising money for the Cancer Council as you go. Last year they raised a fairly modest $104,000. So far this year they’ve topped that big-time and raised at least $644,000.

All well and good so far – a bunch of yoof – the participants are overwhelmingly Gen-Y – get in a bunch of old bangers, drive across the country and have more than a few drinks and some serious fun on the way and raise some valued dosh for much-needed cancer research, prevention and support.

The terms and conditions for participation are pretty complex and include this formula for fundraising:

Entry to the Shitbox Rally is at least $4,250 (can increase depending on the number of participants in each team due to the $250 registration fee per person). Each participant agrees that this will be distributed as follows,

• Up to 58.5% of the initial $4,000 is used to cover event organising costs (including $1,000 for the car and $500 for fuel) with the remaining going to Cancer Council.

• For all funds raised over $4,000 the Cancer Council receives at least 66.5% of funds raised.

• The percentages going to Cancer Council may increase if the full $1,000 for the car is not needed and/or the car sells in the auction which adds to the total funds raised for the team and other budgeted costs can be reduced or avoided. The percentage that is donated to Cancer Council is based on the minimum fundraising goals and maximum budgeted costs.

I’m a little curious about how much of the money raised will actually get to the Cancer Council – almost 60% of the entry fee goes to the organisers and an uncertain amount of all money raised above $4,000 – the Cancer Council receives “at least 66.5%” above that amount – goes to “budgeted costs“.

I note that a search for “Shitbox Rally” at the Cancer Council website comes up with “You searched on “shitbox rally“. 0 results found.

Who the organisers are is less than clear from the Shitbox Rally website. Icon International Communications, a public relations company with “wholly owned” (whatever that means) offices in Sydney and Singapore is apparently heavily involved.

Icon says that it:

…has been on board with the Shitbox Rally since the beginning after one of its British employees, Clare Waller, decided to brave the Australian outback and register for the inaugural 2010 Shitbox Rally. Clare was incredibly passionate about the great cause, and decided to bring ICON on board on a pro bono basis to help with media relations for the Rally. ICON secured almost 150 articles, broadcasts and online mentions which reached over 17 million people. Most importantly, the increased interest further drove Shitbox’s fundraising efforts to surpass their original target by 500%, rising over $100,000!

There also appears to be a body (I’m unsure if it is a charity, a proprietary-limited company or what) called The Shitbox Rally, to whom, along with Icon and the Cancer Council, entrants will:

“…assign…the right to the videotape and sound recordings made of me during, before and after the Shitbox Rally.You hereby authorise the reproduction, sale, copyright, exhibition, broadcast and/or distribution of said photography, videotape, DVD or electronic files without limitation. You agree that you may use any or all of my name, voice, likeness, acts and statements for the video footage of said rally; as well as my name and likeness for advertising and promotion purposes in connection with said event; and the sponsors there of these rights include the duplication and/or broadcast for public relations, editorial, news and all other purposes.”

That – and the sweeping indemnities given to the Shitbox Rally organisers by all entrants – are fairly standard fare in this sort of lark these days.

I don’t really care too much about these matters – they just caught my attention – but I’d welcome any further insights you may have into these arrangements.

I’m also curious about how many of the entrants actually read the fine print…

Enough of all that – what I really want to look at here is the conduct of a few – certainly not all – of the participants that I saw over the past few days, particularly along the stretch of the Stuart Highway between Darwin and the Hi-way Inn at Daly Waters 300 or so km’s south of Katherine.

I’d been out at Borroloola in the Gulf Country for a few days for work and drove the 380 km’s of the Carpentaria Highway back to the Stuart Highway on Thursday. I stopped at the Hi-Way Inn near Daly Waters for fuel, a pie, a coffee, a slash and a look around and then turned my wheels north to Katherine.

Soon after I left the Hi-Way Inn I was overtaken by a small, dusty sedan rocking along at speed on skinny tires trailing a cloud of blue smoke. This was a car designed for the city streets, not the open road. I cruise at or about the maximum speed on the Stuart Highway of 130 km/hr and this wreck on four wheels overtook me doing at least 150 km/hr.

About 40 or so km’s up the road I saw a dusty old sedan parked in the turnoff to Maryfield Station. Funny, I thought, doesn’t look like a station car. And it wasn’t. I was following two of the Shitbox Rally cars and as we approached the turnoff the sedan suddenly turned onto the highway right in a cloud of wheel-spinning bulldust right in front of the two cars I was tailing – causing them – and me to brake suddenly.

Maybe they all thought it was funny – I certainly didn’t.

By now my bullshit detector was on full alert.

I pulled out and passed these clowns and put as much distance between me and them as I could. According to the Shitbox Rally organisers “it isn’t a race“, but from what I saw over two days last week some of the contestants thought that the Stuart Highway was their own personal dragstrip.

By the time I got to Mataranka there were quite a few Shitboxes on the road. For those that haven’t driven the 100 or so km’s from Mataranka to Katherine – a run I’ve done hundreds of times – it can be a very deceptive piece of highway. A few long straights, a narrow, rough and patchy road surface and several long sweeping bends make it a stretch of road to be taken cautiously at the best of times.

Throw in – as on this past Thursday – a setting sun drilling straight through your bug-encrusted windscreen, more than a few triple-trailer road-trains and the plague-locust army of caravans – travelling at 80 km/h and less – that infest the Stuart Highway at this time of year and it can be a positively dangerous stretch. Particularly for those – most of the Shitboxers – that have never driven the road before.

Seeing several Shitboxers drag-racing up the road at speeds well in excess of the maximum speed limit was less than exciting. Perhaps more by luck than good driving they all seem to have made it to Katherine.

After over-nighting in Katherine I drove the last 300 km leg home from Katherine to Darwin the next day.

Again this is a stretch of road I know well and have travelled hundreds of times over the years and which I accord every respect. It can be a challenging piece of road at the best of times – and last Friday was far from the best of times. Record rains during this past wet season caused a lot of damage to the pavement in many places and the road crews are out in force fixing it. And by mid-morning the traffic on the highway is chockers…passenger cars, road-trains, caravans and…Shitboxers.

The Shitboxers kept up the same antics I’d seen the day before all the way to Darwin.

And it seems that the race – because that is what it seems to be by now – to get to Darwin had more than a few participants confused about simple matters like navigation. They were supposed to turn north-east off the Stuart Highway at Pine Creek up the Kakadu Highway to the small mining/tourist town of Jabiru and then loop back to Darwin- but as far as 60 or so km’s further up the Stuart Highway I saw Shitboxers back-tracking south.

Shitboxers – can’t drive, can’t navigate…don’t come back here…