January 02, 2021

Done and Dusted in the Aussie Outback

Corolla Caperites celebrate another event in SA's Flinders Ranges
Two thousand kilometres in the desert in a 40-year-old Corolla is not everyone’s idea of fun, but these chaps love it. Roderick Eime tags along for this far-flung frolic.

I’m sure it was the last thing they expected to see. 

Drinkers were catching the last rays of warming sun on the verandah of the North Blinman Hotel at the northernmost tip of South Australia’s Flinders Ranges when a squad of a dozen battered and dusty 1970s-era Toyota Corollas pulled up in the main street of the century-old former mining village.

Was this an episode of TV’s Time Tunnel or an aberration not unlike Bermuda’s famous triangle? No. These were the participants in the 2020 Corolla Caper, a week-long event run every year since 2002 by the Rotary Club of Regency Park (SA).

After the last couple of squeaky, rattly stragglers delivered their dusty crews, the drivers and passengers (referred to euphemistically as ‘Caperites’) began to congregate in the street, swapping tales of their exploits of the last few hours.

These included such adventures as being towed out of a sandy creek bed after an audacious dash across a dry watercourse or tearing hell-for-leather up a rocky escarpment only to find a gear missing just when most needed. One over-optimistic driver thought a mud wallow might make a challenging diversion, only to find he was quickly bogged to the axles in sodden red clay.

But it’s all in good fun. And no one loses an eye.

The Corolla Caper has grown from a casual ‘bash’ for old cars and even older men, to a smoothly organised event with the admirable objectives of raising funds for worthy causes such as ‘Cows for Cambodia’, ‘Isolated Children’s Parents Association’, Polio+, disaster aid for Bhutan as well as other community interests and charities.

“It’s always been a great way to enjoy the fabulous Aussie outback,” says organising committee head and retired school principal, Ron Rogers, “while injecting funds into rural communities and raising money for worthwhile charities.”

In 18 years, the Corolla Capers have raised about $60,000 for Rotary Club Charities as well as other recognised community projects and causes while having fun and testing their driving and mechanical limits on roads and tracks as far afield as Oodnadatta, Ceduna and Broken Hill.

The 2020 event, delayed due to COVID restrictions, was a 2000km route north from Gepps Cross to Maree via Hawker, the Flinders Ranges and Parachilna. Refreshingly green after recent rain, the new foliage and ground cover was sure to put a smile on the faces of the hard-working graziers who have toiled this unforgiving land for more than a century. 


The route also takes in many lonely miles of seldom-used station tracks and disused stock routes that still form the thoroughfares within Wilpoorina, Murnpeowie, Mt Freeling and Mundowndna stations, most of which were established by the pioneering South Australian pastoralist and stockman, Sir Sidney Kidman, some 100 years ago. 

These lands are some of the driest in the world, with rainfall averaging less than 200mm a year - when there is rain. The crews and the supporting entourage spent time with the Litchfield family at their property near Marree and witnessed firsthand the tribulations of life on the land.

Ad hoc campsites are created en route, either in the grounds of a remote station or in the few rooms or cabins offered by a country pub, like the car park at Cradock. Tents and Corollas spread out under trees, in the open or around a central fire pit. A big LandCruiser tows a fully-outfitted trailer with fridge, folding benches, storage and its own power. Another trailer with trestle tables, gas barbecues, a spare gearbox and sundry kit follows, so the caravan of classics is well supported.

The oldest driver is 87yo ‘Uncle’ Ken Adams whose 1300cc 1978 Corolla Coupe, dubbed ‘Matilda’, has finished almost every one of the 18 events.

“She sits around all year in the back yard,” says Ken with a wry smile, “and every year we tighten the bolts, pump up the tyres and change the oil - and every year she brings us home. They are tough old cars these Corollas.”

Tough old blokes too.

The popularity of the caper has surpassed the founders’ wildest expectations and has run the last few events at capacity, but enquiries are always welcome, especially from sponsors. 

The 2021 event will take place in July. Details and destinations forthcoming.
Interested? Email Ron Rogers at rogsr@bigpond.net.au 

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