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James and Ben Freeman watched cancer murder their Mum and Dad.

They had stopped their lives to nurse their parents who got cancer at about the same time as each other. “It was horrific. They were in a lot of pain, there was no way they were going to survive, we were just waiting for them to die. They were stripped of their dignity and humanity,” James says.

The impact of the death of a parent on a family is devastating. The impact of both parents dying within a short time of each other usually means the children, including grown-up children, change forever. For many, for many years after, they are not the same people as they were before.

James Freeman had a successful career in business as an entrepreneur and as an executive. Talking to him even now, it’s clear that the shock and grief is still very raw. To deal with the grief then he channelled everything into doing something to honour them and, as it turns out, to making a giant contribution to killing the disease that killed them. Eventually, he came up with the idea for a rally across Australia.

Of course, there were already rallies for professional drivers. And charity rallies for semi-serious punters like the Outback Car Trek for the Royal Flying Doctor Service; the Variety Bash and the Great Endeavour Rally. Freeman’s idea was to get men, women and others (but no animals) into cars costing less than $1000 — encouraging mainly dyed in the wool city folk, who had probably never driven on a dirt road before, to spend seven days on 3000 kms of Australia’s most remote roads trying to get back to what passes for civilisation in places like Townsville, Cairns and Darwin. And while not mandatory, he suggested the drivers should be dressed as, say, bumble bees and the cars like moose.

Compared to the printing press, electricity, penicillin, the internet, the motoring column in the business section of The Weekend Australian, or the wheelbarrow, it didn’t seem like the best of ideas. But in October 2019, a rag tag group of 46 with no idea of what they were doing and probably where they were going, took off on a spin from Melbourne to Townsville via hot spots like Noccundra and Birdsville. I’m not saying the route James chose was a bit tougher than taking the still unfinished (after 90 years) Pacific and Bruce Highways but remember what happened to Andy Hume, Australian adventurer, bushman, conman and used horse and carriage dealer around those parts.

In April 1866, Derek Barry tells me via his super blog, Woolly Days, Hume was arrested in Baradine, New South Wales and charged with robbery under arms. In a classic example of patriarchal police power as the most troubling yet least scrutinised of governmental powers,

Local coppers testified Dezzer had been on a multi-day bender and held up an inn at gunpoint while drunk. There Hume declared he was the Black Prince, an associate of local bushranger Captain Thunderbolt. He was found a few days later nearby, hungover and in possession of few provisions, clothing and grog from the robbery. The court at Wellington sentenced him to 10 years’ hard labour.

Of course, Dezzer (aka the Black Prince) found a way out of the slammer by claiming he knew where the Ludwig Leichhardt, the Pat White character in his 500 page thriller, Voss, was hanging out. Luddy, as we used to call him between schooners in the front bar (well the only bar) at the Noccundra Hotel, was a strange Prussian scientist (tautology) who disappeared in 1848 while leading an early version of the rally with seven men, a one-wheeled cart, 20 mules, 50 bullocks, seven horses and masses of gear. Luddy’s idea, much like James’s, was to take four or five years to drive from Brisbane to Perth. Unlike today’s SBRs, Luddy and the team vanished into thin, dusty air. Anyway, the government set BP free and off he went to chase Luddy. But as luck would have it, he and his mates perished as they used to say, because they ran out of Coopers.

So, on March 28 in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth but not Darwin or Noccundra, whole families will be able to hop in their family cars (or that special car you keep hidden away from the prying eyes of the paparazzi and partners) and cruise to morning tea, then lunch, then home. It’s $95 for two caps (baseball) and unlimited persons in your car. All teams have to raise a minimum of $500 to take part. All funds go directly to the Cancer Council, with a maximum of 20 per cent going to cover organising costs. As James says: “Tackle the fundraising with your family and friends, then enjoy the cruise together on the big day”. Entry and details at www.cancercruise.com.au.

Finally, while the Australian F1 may have gone the way of Luddy and the Black Prince there’s plenty of racing action with your WART (Weekend Australian Racing /Rally Team) on fire in the Mazda MX-5 Cup, the Sydney 300, the Mt Baw Baw Rally on February 13 and the Adelaide Rally, with readers night at the Kensi, on March 24. Of course, we are still negotiating with Foxtel/Binge/Kayo boss Patrick Delany to bring these events live and ad free to your device but there’s as much chance of that happening as the team being invited to the Opening Bell Ceremonies for Sellantis’s introduction on the financial markets of Paris, Milan and New York.

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