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While Australia battled for recognition in its efforts to obtain international rally status in the late 80s with Rally Australia, another international event was on its doorstep, and it wasn’t New Zealand. Papua New Guinea, to the north of Australia, enjoys a large expatriate Australian contingent of residents and workers, and with a largely undeveloped country it’s no surprise that rallying found a home as one of the few motorsport options. The South Pacific Motor Sports Club, whilst providing a social hub for rally nuts in Port Moresby, has a rich history, founded in 1965. While the club may have initially been formed more for social gatherings than motorsport competition, members combined resources to develop events based out of Port Moresby. The club has been famous for staging the origin Papuan Safari, renamed to the ‘Independence Safari’ after PNG gained independence in 1975. The first major competition on the calendar was a 300 mile rally that became the annual Papua Safari of 500 miles. The Safari took place over mainly wartime roads and at its peak it attracted works teams from Australia, including Australian rally champions, and Brian Culcheth, who was flown in from the U.K. to drive a works Leyland for PNG Motors. Australian drivers were attracted north in the early years, including Colin Bond, Evan Green, Bob Riley and Ross Dunkerton. During the late 80s and early 90s the event continued to attract quite a lot of interest from leading Australian drivers, including Murray Coote, Doug Briscoe and Richard Anderson, who was a two-time Safari winner in 1993 and ’94. In the latter years of the Safari, the event was held over four days and somewhere in the region of 40 special stages.

Ross Dunkerton (second from right) was one of many Aussies to contest the PNG Safari Rally.

What was equally challenging for the crews were the ‘rally’ stages – liaison or transport to those elsewhere – which were so testing, crews were just as likely to incur time penalties on ‘open’ roads as they were on closed stages. Perhaps not surprisingly, a number of ex-works cars found their way into the hands of PNG ex-pats who could afford such machinery. Japanese manufacturers also had a strong presence in the country, with local Boroko Motors prominent in the PNG market. One advertisement offered a free pig with the purchase of a Datsun 1200 ute, such was the value of the livestock in the country. Long-time supporter of the event and Clerk-of-Course many times over, Mike Ryan, was a favourite of the Australian contingent with whom he forged very strong friendships. When Mike unfortunately passed away in the late 90s, a close-knit group of his closest Queensland rally mates instituted the Michael Ryan Memorial Trophy, a medal which was awarded to a competitor judged to have shown the spirit of rallying that Mike aspired to in his life. Most often awarded to the Championship-winning co-drivers each year, the 2016 winner, Neill Woolley (Qld Champion Co-Driver), was awarded the 20th and final ‘Mike Ryan Trophy’. Sadly, the PNG Safari is no longer a feature on the international rally calendar, but the South Pacific Motor Sports Club is alive and well. The club’s website and Facebook pages reveal some of the history of this important rallying community.
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