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.