Will Carter returns with his latest ramblings .....

It wasn’t that long ago that we (I say we – people of my generation) used homing pigeons to deliver our urgent messages or to correspond with others some distance away. Eventually, when all the pigeons died, we had to resort to a pair of jam tins on a string – not very convenient because you needed an awful lot of string to talk to somebody in a far off land.

Later still there was that marvelous invention, the au-de-cologne, that allowed the girls at the telephone exchange to listen in to everything you were saying to your loved one (or somebody else’s loved on!) over the phone. That’s how Mrs C and I met – sort of like a blind date (I must have been blind to marry her in the first place – you should see her now!).

Anyway, I digress. Next came the phone as we know it today and the ‘must have’ fashion accessory, the mobile phone. All have served a useful purpose over the years, but the great communicator, the internet, has usurped them all.

Isn’t it amazing what you can do over the internet? You can learn all about how you’ve won millions of dollars from a Nigerian lottery, you can be embarrassed in the knowledge that you need a bigger – er, appendage, or a tablet to make you stay around longer. Wonderful stuff.

All of which is a long way around to say that Will’s been off-line (that’s internet talk) since moving house a few months before Christmas, simply because the land line was down. If it had been “up” instead of down I could have got my column to the editor sooner.

So, here it is in all it’s glory. Enjoy. 

There are, despite the huge technological advances over the past 50 years, still some unanswered questions. Like, when is Kevin Rudd going to insist that all Asians living in Australia are made to say “sorry”? Do you know, not one of them said sorry the other day. Not one. “Solly” maybe, but certainly not “sorry” to the Stolen Generation.

And another thing that’s been bothering me for a long while is why certain cars have rev counters (oh, allright, tachometers if you want to be pedantic) as standard equipment. You know, Mrs Carter and I have a very close family friend who drives a Camry. Not just any old Camry but a beige Camry. Ah, beige. Can there be a more boring colour than Camry beige? I suggested to you that there’s not. Like so many other beige Camry drivers, our friend’s Camry is your archetypical Camry with mandatory bowls hat and white bowls cardigan on the rear parcel shelf. Which is all very well if that’s the way they choose to travel, because the Camry is a very, very good car,

But here’s the funny bit – the Camry’s got a rev counter as standard equipment, (like so many other bread and butter cars these days) for no good reason other than it fills up a dirty big hole in the dash that would be there if it wasn’t there, if you get my drift. How many times does our beige Camry driver look at the rev counter on his daily trip to the bowling green? Ten times? Five? Never? Yes, you’d be right – never. So why include a rev counter in the first place? Oh, so it’s because the sports version, the Altise or Malteser or whatever, needs to have a rev counter for the sporty driver who drives the Malteser! But hey, is it cheaper to fit a rev counter to 300,000 plain, beige Camrys at the factory or fit one to 5,000 Maltesers for buyers who really know what they’re for?

Not that Toyota are the only ones who fall into the trap of expecting their buyers to know what to do with a tachometer (there, I’ve said it!) – there are dozens of other manufacturers. Why, even the humble Sigma, that great icon of South Australian mediocrity had a rev counter, and look where that got Mitsubishi! If they’d made the rev counter in Sigmas a ‘delete option’ at purchase time, Mitsubishi might still have been manufacturing cars in Australia and we might had had a worthwhile Mitsubishi rally program at the same time. Just a thought. Oh, and Mrs C just reminded me that the previous big Australian motoring flop, the Leyland P76 somehow has a numerical link to the recently departed Mitsubishi 380. Three eighty – half of seventy six? Certainly not one of her most succinct observations.

Mrs Carter and I trundled up the highway a few weeks ago, stopping off at that long-lost haven of rallying, Port Macquarie, for a few nostalgic days in the sun. Now, if you’re anywhere near my age you’ll have fond memories of the best days of rallying – ever – when Port was host to the Southern Cross rally in the 70s and 80s. Just like the Melbourne MCG which is the spiritual home of AFL football, so Port is the spiritual home of the ‘Cross. So we drove north on the Pacific Highway, amazed at how different the road is now and in complete contrast to the 2-lane goat track that posed as a national highway in the seventies. The days of being stuck behind Stuckey’s Dunlop tyre truck and hundreds of service trucks all vying for that straight stretch of road where you could pass if you had a death wish or a St Christopher medal, from Amaroo Park to Wauchope, are but a long-gone memory. Does it make the drive any better? Safer, maybe, but not better.

As we drove north the old familiar names came flooding back, of spectator points long gone – North Brother, Middle Brother, Ellenborough Falls, Gloucester, Nabiac, Comboyne, Rollands Plains, Wauchope – and where I swear, on a dark night, you could still hear the bark of a BDA deep in the forest, loud enough to make the hackles on the back of your neck stand up. All of a sudden it felt like we were coming home again, but somehow it was all different. Port Macquarie in Southern Cross days was little more than a pleasant tourist town that was small enough to recognize the international interest when the ‘Cross came to town. When the local paper ran regular reports on this big, upcoming international event, when cars were feverishly being built in garages and servos all around town, and where everyone migrated to the Whalebone Wharf for a seafood dinner after a hard day’s work. Or drove past the Sandcastle to see what rally team had just arrived in town, with rally cars in tow and parked outside while the big overseas stars with unpronounceable names checked in.

Well, it pains me to say that The Sandcastle hotel is no longer there, replaced by some architect-designed new age apartment painted with two or three shades of leftover paint like a half-finished rainbow. No rally cars parked out the front, no service trucks parked next to the town beach, not even any remaining atmosphere. Port Macquarie is now a huge metropolis that doesn’t need international car rallies to keep its cash registers ticking over. Now it hosts bowls carnivals for people who drive beige Camrys. With rev counters.

Amazingly, the Whalebone Wharf is still there but most of the premises that once had a link with the ‘Cross have long been closed or taken over by health food shops and wool shops where you can still buy a couple of skeins of wool to while the time away while you’re waiting for the bowls tournament to start. There’s no late night cacophony of a 260Z or a Violet 710 or an RS1800 being given its final tune-up around Port’s streets. All there was to remind us of the ‘good old days’ was a lone WRX buzzing its way around town night after night, with a sound that only un-muffled Rex’s or Legacy’s make. We dined on that in the absence of Vatanen, Waldegard, Clarke, Mehta, Makinen and Cowan. It was like the ‘Cross had never been there and a whole new generation had replaced the natives. Shame, really.

So was rallying really that good then? Yes, truly it was, and it remained that way for years with exciting rallying and huge spectator following, until it slowly faded away while we convinced ourselves that we had the best domestic rally championship in the world. And we asked manufacturers to chip in with over a quarter of a million dollars just so we could all feel warm and fuzzy when we saw rallying on TV. And people got bigger egos, got more demanding until the average Joe who made up the bulk of the field decided that a mortgage on his house and the need to hold down three jobs was too big an ask just so he could go rallying. And even though we protested loud and long, nobody listened, because there wasn’t much kudos in promoting grass roots rallying even though that’s where tomorrow’s champions come from. Yes, Matilda, rallying will come back but the gravy train has been well and truly derailed.

Speaking of food, did you see where the North West Stages Rally in England looked like it would have to be shortened recently due to the road being covered in biscuits? True! Now, we’ve all heard some pretty lame excuses as to why a stage should be shortened, but biscuits?

It was all because the cargo ship Riverdance ran aground in the English Channel on a voyage from Northern Ireland to Lancashire after a freak wave made the ship list to one side. Its cargo of  McVities Digestive biscuits were washed overboard and ended up on the beach at Blackpool, right near a road which was to be used in the North West Stages. Salvage teams were on hand to recover the soggy cargo but caused some disruption to the rally which passed nearby. I’m sure you could appreciate the pacenotes “ Long left into right 3 into 4 right maybe, slippy until 6 left over crest into long flat 5, don’t cut, caution soggy biscuits!

Back later – I’m off to take my medication.

- Will


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