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Marree, population 60, at the junction of the Oodnadatta and Birdsville tracks, became famous last week. Made it Marree Made it to Marree, barely. Mounted on the wall of the Marree Hotel, next to a sign pointing to the Tom Kruse Room (not a spelling error: the local mailman was in movies — well, a documentary — way before Tom Cruise was born), is a large plaque. In a moving eulogy the memorial pays tribute to the death of The Weekend Australian‘s ute and its subsequent 685km trip on the back of a road train to Adelaide. Here’s what happened.

We were 300km out of Silverton on our way to Marree, on a leg of the 2015 Shitbox Rally, when our ute was attacked by what the locals call the devil’s culvert, putting a hole in the sump a small child and his labrador could crawl through. Oil dumped on to the ground, the oil pressure warning light telegraphed disaster and the engine smelled like it was on fire — which it was.

My quick thinking saved the day. Believing the ute was about to explode, I turned off the engine and ran screaming into the bush, leaving my co-driver to handle the fire and impending explosion. This terrible event occurred only because the other nine cars in our team went the wrong way and got lost. Thinking they were ahead, my co-driver, Seven reporter Paul Marshall, and I gunned the mighty Ford to catch up. Of course the devil’s culvert did its job and the pride of the News Corp empire expired with a bang, not a whimper.

From then on until the finish in Townsville we joined the 28-year-old Mercedes of Jo Millar and Deb More, owners of the Bangalow version of Paris’s Bonton. Under my expert driving and coaching we managed to shred three tyres, destroy a rim and shock absorber, and found a way to fit a Mazda wheel on the Merc.

In a similar episode, regular reader and Adelaide’s best BMW technician, Michael McMichael, made the mistake of taking his youngest daughter Libby on the rally. After smelling petrol and seeing his fuel gauge dropping faster than the Australian dollar, Michael stopped his $700 Beemer and found a large hole in the petrol tank. Naturally, being an Adelaide man and a skilled mechanic, he wanted to keep driving, although he was leaking more fuel than when the Exxon Valdez hit that reef.

Told he was driving a ticking time bomb, he agreed that the Beemer should be repaired with chewing gum. This was after one of the more intelligent persons on our team suggested we needed to get a good look at the hole even though it was pitch black.

We just managed to pull that lad out from under the car as he got the cigarette lighter out of his shirt pocket.

The next morning the Merc was off to the Ritz Carlton tyre shop in Birdsville. Being the only tyre person in town, Mick is able to ensure his margins are robust. After we paid for our tyres, Mick mentioned he was now going to build the first skyscraper in town and give us the penthouse.

There are a few important insights that came out of the 3700km jaunt through the middle of Australia. The first is that $1000 combined with some serious mechanical skills can get you through some of the roughest, toughest places in the world. Second, unless you have some serious mechanical skills, follow all the safety instructions and hire a satellite phone; don’t even think about attempting a grey-nomad trip around here.

One of the three times we got to change a tyre
One of the multiple times we got to change a tyre on the SBR

Finally, for a nation that reckons it generously supports anyone, anywhere in the world who’s in trouble, we are doing a crook job for our fellow Australians in drought-affected Queensland.


Read the thrilling conclusion at The Australian



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