Rejuvenated ‘Cross mooted
- 20th December 2006, 2:46pm
The energetic husband and wife team from the north coast of NSW have a deep affection for the event that dates back to the period when Dan was a competitor, assistant director (to Allan Lawson) and a multiple director in his own right. Once Australia’s biggest event, and one which became an International event that from the first event in 1966 until the last event in 1980, the ‘Cross attracted the cream of the world’s top rally drivers to Australia.
It was a ‘must do’ event, particularly for the new wave of Japanese manufacturers such as Mitsubishi, Datsun-Nissan, Subaru and Toyota, who regarded a win or a top placing as the pinnacle of their sporting activities. But the emphasis on demanding events like the ‘Cross began to change as Australia entered the eighties, and the event failed to achieve the level of sponsorship and support that would enable it to continue.
So the Southern Cross Rally of old fell into hibernation, becoming just a pleasant memory for many of the competitors who had competed in it over its 15-year history.
In 2000 the late Glenn Cuthbert, the director of the Australian Rally Championship round, the Rally of Melbourne, tried to revive the event, planning a six-day, 2500 kilometre event that would take crews from the start in Melbourne to Bowral in the NSW southern highlands, then back to the finish in Melbourne via the Snowy Mountains. The event was to have been a re-creation of the early Sydney-Melbourne ‘Crosses, but lacked the long, hard nights and the tough competitive divisions that were a feature of traditional Southern Cross rallies.
The new ‘Cross failed to get off the ground that year and although Cuthbert had plans to run it the following year, it failed to eventuate. Despite Cuthbert’s affection for the event, his plans were thwarted when he drowned on Victoria’s Lake Eildon in 2002.
But the Southern Cross name came to prominence yet again, this time at the hands of the Port Macquarie Whites in 2002. They announced an ambitious plan to revive the event yet again, but this time it was to be a less-competitive rally that attracted both the serious rally crews as well as the ‘pretenders’ who wanted to experience the Southern Cross atmosphere, but at a much easier pace.
Despite several attempts at running the event, including one year when the re-run washed out, it never attracted the level of support that the Whites anticipated.
Not to be deterred, Dan and Rosie White are keen to see the original city-to-city format resurrected, and have begun planning a ‘tradtional’ Southern Cross rally for 2008. The Whites envisage a rejuvenated Southern Cross Rally running as a Touring Road Event in 2008, starting and finishing in Sydney.
“I believe there is still a lot of interest in long-distance events like the ‘Cross and we’d like to be able to run it every other year, perhaps alternating it with the Alpine Rally. We’re keen to see the Southern Cross name continue in this way and we’ve already started looking at ways of making it happen,” Dan White said.
THE FIRST YEARS OF THE SOUTHERN CROSS
The inaugural Southern Cross Rally, directed by Bob Selby-Wood in 1966, brought classic international rallying to Australia. Attracting 69 starters, including European stars Paddy Hopkirk and Rauno Altonen, the 4000 kilometre event ran from Sydney to Melbourne and back . After taking the lead on the second night and setting a cracking pace, the Volkswagen of Barry Ferguson and Tony Denham hit a tree only 360 kilometres from the finish, with victory going to Harry Firth and Graham Hoinville in a Cortina GT. Greg Garard and Frank Goulburn brought their HR Holden home in second place, while Ian and Roger Vaughan (Cortina) were third.
This year Ferguson and Johnson made up for the disappointment of their 1966 accident with a runaway win in their Volkswagen. Again run from Sydney to Melbourne and return, the rally provided much drama. Ferguson overhauled early leader Frank Kilfoyle at Bairnsdale, while a navigational error removed a threat from John Keran. The run home was a Ferguson benefit and he led the 26 remaining crews into Sydney, with Frank Kilfoyle/Doug Rutherford second in their Cortina and Bob Holden/George Shepheard next in a Mini Cooper ‘S’.
Allan Lawson took over the directing of the 1968 Southern Cross but retained the familiar Sydney – Melbourne – Sydney format. John Keran and Peter Meyer (Volvo 142S) set an unbeatable pace, chased by a determined Paddy Hopkirk, back in Australia for his third attempt at the event. Unfortunately water in the clutch, caused while trying to ford a deep river crossing on the first night, put paid to his chances. There were a total of 76 competitors in an event that saw plenty of action and excitement at Sydney’s Amaroo Park and Albury’s Hume Weir circuits. On-road action included loops in forestry country in the Alps around Tumbarumba and Tumut. With victory going to Keran and Meyer, the minor placings were filled by Frank Kilfoyle/Doug Rutherford (Cortina GT) and Colin Bond/Brian Hope in a Mitsubishi Colt Fastback.
In 1969 the ‘Cross moved north and was centered around Surfers Paradise, with the first half running down into the northern NSW areas around Grafton, Kyogle and Tenterfield. Twelve months later the event moved to Port Macquarie where it remained until its demise.
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