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What ever possessed Aunty ABC to screen a couple of historic rally films in late evening timeslots over the past couple of weeks? If you’re a bit of a night owl, you might have been lucky enough to have sat up and watched the 1978 and 1979 Castrol International rallies on consecutive nights. If you missed out, then you missed some real classic rallying.

We don’t know what prompted the ABC to dig these two beauties out of their “old movie” cupboard and to screen them on their Late Night Legends program, but they sure made for some great viewing, particularly for those of us who were there in the flesh all those years ago. As we watched the battles in the Canberra forests between a host of yesterday’s heroes, the memories came flooding back.

Think of classic stages that included Condor Creek, Coppins Crossing, Two Sticks, Pierces Humps, the Mineshaft, Paddys River, Stromlo, Mt Poppet, Seven Mile Hill, Greenhills and all the rest, then think of the thousands of spectators who lined the forest roads and tracks in the ACT plantations, the dominating win by Greg Carr and Fred Gocentas when they brought their BDA Escort home four and a half minutes ahead of teammates Colin Bond and John Dawson-Damer in 1979, and the unforgettable rally atmosphere that prevailed, and you’ll see why some of us oldtimers go on a bit over the “good old days.”

After the Southern Cross Rally, the Castrol International Rally of Canberra was the leading international event on the Australian rally calendar, and even though it attracted few international stars over the years, it gained a reputation of being the showcase event that allowed the average Aussie competitor to enter. It was also an event that used Greg Carr’s favourite stomping ground, the Canberra forests, and provided a platform for his manyconsecutive wins.

But the thing that really brought us back to reality was the sheer number of spectators who were out on the stages in those golden years of the 1970s and ‘80s. Figures such as 10, 15 and 20,000 spectators were accepted as gospel at that time, and nobody doubted them, particularly those who walked miles from their parked car to the spectator points.

Maybe it just seemed that there were that many avid watchers out and about, but even if that number was overstated, it still showed that rallying can attract huge numbers of enthusiasts if there’s some serious thought put into it. Works teams from Ford (BDA Escorts), Holden (Geminis) and Datsun (Stanzas) made sure that there was always a battle royal going on at the front of the field, not to mention the tail end as well where the privateers made up the numbers.

Like it or not, those years were one of the best periods in rallying, not only for the competitors and the spectators, but for the image of the sport as well. Rallying really was alive and well, accepted as a legitimate sport, backed by a leading international company, and covered by a media giant, the ABC, the likes of which we had never seen before.

With the Rally of Canberra (the Castrol International’s replacement) now supposedly in financial trouble and with a dark cloud of doubt hanging over its future, we couldn’t help but think while watching the TV the other night, how we all took rallying for granted at that time, never doubting that the good times would last forever.

Yes, there have been many successful Canberra rallies since and maybe there will be more in the future, but it seems certain that the good times, the really good times, are now long gone, thanks to things beyond our control but more particularly those that were under our control that we failed to monopolise on.

So this writer came away from the Castrol memories with a nice warm feeling that lasted only as long as the realization that we may never be able to repeat those years again. A shame, really.

Photos: Chevron Publishing

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