By Michelle KARAMAN-JONES
It’s all about having fun, escaping the office and helping children in need. It’s not often I get to experience all three at once but Variety’s 4WD Adventure gave me just that.
I’ll admit to feeling a little trepidation in being invited on this four-wheel-driving adventure. It’s not the type of break I would usually go on. I’ve never been ‘off-roading’, owned a SUV, or had the opportunity to visit so many remote Australian towns in one week before. This is a unique chance to experience what off-roading is all about. You have loads of fun every day with a group of over 40 people, and most of all help special needs children.
Variety – the Children’s Charity, started on an icy Christmas eve in 1928. A group of 11 actors in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania found a baby girl abandoned in the Sheridan Theatre. They decided to foster her, and she was named Catherine Variety Sheridan.
Her story became inspiration to help children everywhere. Since then, Variety has become an international organisation stretching across 14 countries and raising over US$1 billion to help special needs children throughout the world. The charity looks after over 130 different conditions of special needs children. They range in age from new born to eighteen years old. The Australian arm began in 1975 and is represented in each state. And 4WD Variety started in Australia in 2005.
We are a far cry from the icy streets of Pittsburgh, but Variety still offers innovative ways to raise money through a four-wheel-drive experience. Participants must have their own vehicle and raise sponsorship money for the charity, with prizes for the highest donating car.
Day 1; Canberra to Tumbarumba – New South Wales
After spending the night in Canberra with a magnificent meal under a World War One Bi-plane at the National War Memorial, a convoy of 20 four-wheel-drives leave the next morning at 8.30am. As we wind through unique mountainous terrain covered with Red Stringybarks. Scribbly Gums and across ridge-lines with scenic views of the entire Brindabella Range I sense that there will be many intimate moments with Australia’s outback to come.
Brindabella National Park is just a short drive from Canberra and offers a remote alpine bush experience with an extensive network of challenging four-wheel-drive trails. The park is a playground for registered touring and trail bikes and even has some mountain bike riding opportunities.
The weather is perfect – warm and sunny with not a cloud in the sky. In the distance, I’m able to see Canberra and across the Australian Alps to the south.
On this first day, I’m travelling with Chris of Somersby and his co-pilot Jessie. A four-wheel-drive enthusiast with over 20 years experience, he decided to rejoin the 2015 4WD Adventure after loving the event in 2014. When he isn’t changing tyres or raising money for Variety at auctions each night, we find him filming the whole event with his GoPro.
After an exciting four-wheel-drive stint, we make it to our morning tea stop at the picturesque Flea Creek,. It is very peaceful here. No interruptions. Just the sound of water rushing by in the river. It really is a perfect spot to devour our homemade scones and baked cakes.
There’s no shortage of birdlife to see here. You might find the Yellow-Tailed Black cockatoo or Peregrine falcon flying high above, or perhaps be lucky enough to spot a more threatened species like the Pink robin or Olive Whistler. I’d recommend a pair of binoculars and a keen eye to find them!
Next stop – Tumut for lunch, a town in the Riverina region of New South Wales, situated on the banks of the Tumut River. It is located at the foothills of the Snowy Mountains and considered the gateway to the region. The town is home to a number of historic buildings, including an Anglican church designed by Edmund Blacket and a courthouse designed by James Barnet. Many of the pubs have been in use from the mid- to late-1800s. Early settlers established a large number of European deciduous trees throughout the area. The stand of Poplars, Elm and Willow, amongst others, create a well renowned display of colour over autumn. Tumut celebrates this with the yearly Festival of the Falling Leaf.
After a day driving 300km along mountainous dirt roads, we arrive at our accommodation in Tumbarumba – known to locals as ‘Tumba’. The unusual name of the township may be derived from the Aboriginal ‘wiradjuri dhamba dhamba’, meaning ‘very soft’.
‘Tumba’ is located on the periphery of the Riverina and SouthWest Slopes regions at the western edge of the Snowy Mountains. The once-popular gold mining industry diminished here in the 1930s, and the region’s economy now depends on agriculture and snow relateed-tourism.. Tumbarumba is also the centre for a developing cool climate wine growing region. Several local wineries have ‘cellar doors’ with wines for sale.
In the evening my new met friends made me dress up as a hippie for the night’s fun which included being coached to the Boggy Creek Horse Show before moving to the beautiful Courabyra Winery for our dinner.
Day 2 and 3: Tumbarumba to Corryong to Bright
From Tumbarumba we head to Corryong – home to the Man from Snowy River. The town is just across the border into Victoria nestled in a peaceful valley. It’s a very rugged track but I’m fast learning that is what off roading is all about. We travel along 15km of dusty winding road through the Alpine National Park. Chugging along the sandy creeks and up the dusty trails on the mountains proves challenging. Thankfully, the warming sun offers some comfort as we traverse through the trails.
On this segment of the trip I am travelling with Sue and Brian, who have been long-time Variety supporters, particularly of the Charity’s motoring events. Brian has participated in no less than 25 of the famed Variety Bashes and keeps coming back for more.
Today we are all wearing our brightest shirts in honour of the town where we will be spending our third night – Bright. This attractive holiday township is situated on the scenic Great Alpine Road between Porepunkah and Harrietville in the beautiful Ovens Valley, north-eastern Victoria.
Bright is a popular tourist centre due to its proximity to the mountain and ski resorts of Mount Buffalo, Mount Hotham and Falls Creek. The surrounding area offers other natural attractions, particularly in the summer months, such as the Alpine National Park and Mount Buffalo National Park.
Bright has a rich cultural heritage and many locations within the town, along with street names, can be traced to present day residents. The Bright Historical Society has extensive records of the region’s past. The area played host to a unique but important event in early-Australian history and you get a sense of its past driving through the area.
During the Victorian gold rush, the nearby Buckland River became very popular. As gold deposits gradually diminished, Chinese miners arrived in the area to sift the abandoned claims. Tensions over Chinese success from Anglo-Irish miners caused the violent Buckland Riot in 1857, resulting in deaths of Chinese miners and the fleeing of 2000 Chinese workers. The riot was eventually quelled by the Beechworth police under the command of Robert O’Hara Burke..
Dinner in Bright was another theme night and we were coached out to the magnificent Feathertop Winery. We dressed up in our best “Cocktail Evening Clobber” which had to have been purchased from an Op Shop. Extra points if you still had the price tag attached!
Day 4: Bright to Dinner Plain
Hooray! Today’s adventure drive sees me ride with the only all-female team – evident from the pink shoes on top of their. Sue (70-years-old) and Sharon (53) have been long-time friends.
Sue, like me, never expected to see her self on a trip like this.
“When Sharon’s original partner couldn’t make it and the opportunity presented itself, I was a bit apprehensive because of my age. However, the more I thought about it and when I considered that it would help a great cause like Variety, I just couldn’t say no,” she explains.
This is Sharon’s third year and she won 2014’s ‘Highest Fundraising Vehicle’ award for raising the most donations on the trip.
We stayed, relaxed anddined in at Peppers Rundells Alpine Lodge (near Mt Hotham). Relaxing around an open fire and learning a little bit more about the local history was a lovely way to unwind for the day.. Dinner Plain, we found out, derived its name from the area’s cattle drovers who would come down from the mountain slopes to the flat area and have their dinner and camp for the night!
Day 5: Dinner Plain to Bairnsdale
I find that one of the greatest parts of the trip are the fascinating people I am meeting. Day five finds me riding with husband and wife, David and Merrilyn of Frenchs Forest and their good friend, Deb. David believes the best part of the journey is the companionship of his team and other drivers, as well as the people and children they meet en route.
“We’re a great little team – we rotate the driving so that we all get our fair share of the fun. Of course the themed nights are very enjoyable and we always make sure we get fully involved with our costuming. The best thing about the adventure, however, is visiting the schools along the route and seeing the sheer joy on the kids’ faces,” said David.
David was another who dressed up for a “Kid’s Party Theme” night that led into our Adventure Trivia night following dinner. Be warned though, a room full of “naughty” kids can be a handful!
Day 6; Bairnsdale to Lake Entrance
On my last day, I travel with Scottish husband and wife, Bill and Cheryl. The adventurous duo have been involved in all except one of Variety’s 4WD Adventures since the event’s inception. As passionate off-roaders, the pair are no strangers to Australia’s terrain. They regularly take their Toyota Landcruiser across the continent, though they admit that the 4WD Adventure is the highlight of their year.
“We absolutely love it! We plan all our other social commitments around it. Visiting the schools and seeing the look on the kids’ faces is amazing and incredibly humbling,” explains Cheryl.
Bill and Cheryl are favourites when they arrive at the schools, with their Landcruiser decked out in all things Scottish, complete with a train on the top as an homage to their background. “Bill plays the bagpipes to herald our arrival at each town – the townsfolk are quite amused,” says Cheryl.
On our last day we’d made our way to Lakes Entrance, a tourist and fishing hotspot on Victoria’s Bass Strait. Bill led us from happy hour to our black tie dinner where a sumptuous meal was devoured and participation certificates were handed out to all the entrants and the awards for the Highest Fundraising car and the Outright Winning Car are presented. The Outright Winner is the vehicle/team voted by the other entrants as the team that “epitomises the spirit of the Adventure.” And the winner was….Bill and Cheryl! The bagpipes were put away and the live band cranked up the music for everyone to dance and celebrate the 2015 Variety 4WD Adventure away!
Each year Variety receives appeals from hospitals, schools and individual associations for children in need. In the past 12 months, Variety has approved 234 appeals donating over $3 million and putting a big smile on the faces of over 20,000 children.
Donations can be raised by sponsorship or fundraising and those participants who raise the most are honoured with a trophy. Donations start from $500 to secure a position on the adventure. There is a provision fee of $3,432 and this covers all meals, accommodation, entertainment and happy hour gatherings for two people. All you needs is a suitable 4WD vehicle with a compulsory UHF radio, and a partner to navigate – everything else is organised for you.
Photos By Michelle KARAMAN-JONES