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August 28, 2001 – it was a watershed day in the life of rallying in Victoria, a day when the future of rallying in the state changed, perhaps forever. It was the day when Hancocks Victorian Plantations (HVP) put the nail in the coffin of rallying in the many softwood pine forests throughout the state, devastating the sport. HVP, a large Canadian superannuation investment company, had been given free rein over the management of the enormous stands of Pinus Radiata timber in Victoria, thanks to the Victorian government’s relentless privatization of many of the state’s assets. In other words, under Premier Jeff Kennett, it gave the State Government of the time full control over everything that had been managed by the Victorian Forest Commission in the past. And, of course, that meant that the thousands of kilometers of forest roads and tracks that car clubs had been using for years were now out of bounds.
The first club to be affected was the North Eastern Car Club (NECC), who had their rallysprint in the Stanley forest, near Beechworth, cancelled because of the new rules.
Over the years, the NECC had enjoyed almost unlimited use of the pine forests in the North East – Merriang, Ovens, Stanley, Bright, Warrenbayne, Koetong and others – running everything from club events, up to state and national championship rounds. Generally, it was just a matter of fronting up to the desk of the appropriate regional Forest Commission office with a map of the proposed route of the next rally to run, and permission would be given, albeit with the usual provisos. This amicable agreement was to continue for many years, however, without any forewarning, the NECC found itself in a situation where it appeared rallying “in the pines” was no longer possible. Mark Richards was the first director to be affected by these new bans, and after applying for permission to conduct an event, he received a reply from Hancocks that spelt out loud and clear that rallying in the forests under their (recently gifted) control would no longer be permitted under the existing criteria. In addition, there were many conditions imposed (including that a surety bond of $5360 be levied, plus an additional $350 road inspection fee), that any thought of complying with their fee schedule or requirements was totally out of the question. As well as that, there was a long list of other conditions (restoration of roads after an event, cancelling the event if more than 75mm of rain, or running or standing water occurred on the road surface). And so on, and so on. Despite representation to HVP by the NECC, the Victorian Rally Panel, the local Member of Parliament and indeed CAMS itself over a protracted amount of time, rallying in the pines hasn’t returned, and we are restricted to using hardwood forests (of which there are a diminishing number available).

Jeff Whitten in action in a North Eastern Rally in the Merriang plantation in the 1990s.

Nineteen years on we are no further advanced – we have still been unable to instigate a meaningful discussion with HVP. And while there remains a water-tight contract between the government and sporting and interest groups like ours, things are unlikely to change. Yes, we can still make use of hardwood areas, but these are not always easy to access, or indeed suitable for club events or higher status rallies. In addition, the amount of new houses erected on roads that we once used extensively have also been to our detriment.
The longer the ban is in place the less likely that things will change for the good.
It seems every avenue has been exhausted and the likelihood of the situation changing for the better is highly unlikely. If any blame can be levied, it’s against the Kennett government and their staff advisers, who drew up this highly restrictive arrangement without consultation with those groups who had had almost unrestricted use for almost 20 years. Much more could be said against the ban, but suffice it to say that had there been a ban like that which affected Supercars or other forms of circuit racing, CAMS (now Motorsport Australia) would likely have been in there like a shot, fighting for our needs and endeavouring to have the situation remedied. That didn’t happen, has never happened, and we are paying the price for it. Now, perhaps those $5360 usage fees and other restrictions don’t seem that onerous. Sure, it adds to event costs and entry fees, but given the choice of rallying in the pines once again, it’s perhaps a cost that competitors would be more than happy to contribute to. Having spent the best part of those 20 years rallying in the pines, we know we certainly would be.
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Author

Peter Whitten

Peter has been the editor of RallySport Magazine since its inception in 1989, in both printed and online form. He is a long-time competitor, event organiser and official, as well as working in the media. In 2020 he received a Motorsport Australia 'Media Service Award'.
Peter has been the editor of RallySport Magazine since its inception in 1989, in both printed and online form. He is a long-time competitor, event organiser and official, as well as working in the media. In 2020 he received a Motorsport Australia 'Media Service Award'.

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