Alpine Memories

This article by Ian Wilson, was first published on the 2009 Alpine website.  Ian was Alpine Assistant Director with from 1971 to 1973 and again in 1976. He also spectated in 1968 and 69 and competed in the 1970 Alpine. Some great Alpine memories from that era… 

My first contact with the Alpine was in 1968 when my brother Neil and I watched the first competitive section that started in Pakenham township and went up the main road through Gembrook village and into the forest! We were amazed at the speed of the cars and were immediately hooked. The event was won by Tony Roberts and Mike Osborne in a Brabham Torana.

Neil and I were members of the Junior L.C.C.A. and the following year we manned our first Alpine control just north of Myrtleford on the edge of the Ovens Plantation. The control was on the edge of the Ovens pine plantation, an area that I would become very familiar with in the next few years. The next day we watched as the cars hurtled down from Mt. Hotham to Harrietville in broad daylight and vowed that we were going to compete the following year. The 1969 event was won by Frank Kilfoyle and Doug Rutherford in a works Ford Cortina that had competed in the London to Sydney Marathon in 1968.

Neil and I tackled the 1970 Alpine in a bog standard 998cc Ford Anglia. The event that year started at the L.C.C.A. in South Melbourne with a transport stage to Walhalla. Competitive sections then took us via Briagalong to the  Dargo High Plains, Hotham, Omeo, the infamous Knocker Track, Mitta Mitta, Trappers Gap, Mt. Beauty, Bogong High Plains, Omeo, Hotham, Mt. Porepunkah, Bright Pine Plantations, Merriang Plantations and Winton Raceway to the finish at Carribean Gardens at Scoresby. A total of 820 miles, 1320km, whew! We amazed everyone by finishing 21st outright and were over the moon when Bruce Ford presented us with the Director’s Award.

Neil and Ian Wilson, Ford Anglia, 1970 Alpine
Neil and Ian Wilson, Ford Anglia, 1970 Alpine


At the presentation night Bruce asked us to assist him with the planning of the 1971 Alpine, an opportunity that we accepted immediately. Sadly, Neil died in a road smash three months later but I decided to stay in rallying so in September, Bruce Ford, Richard Creed and myself started the surveys for the 1971 Alpine.

Door sticker 1970 Alpine
Door sticker 1970 Alpine

Alpine cigarettes had been sponsors of the Alpine Rally for some years but unfortunately they cut all support for 1971 because a pig-headed staff member at W.D. & H.O. Wills took exception to the shade of green used in the car stickers the previous year. 

1971 was the first year that the Koetong/Shelley pine plantations were used for rallying. Bruce, Richard and myself met the friendly local Forestry Commission officer who personally showed us the best roads to use. Naturally we thanked him with a few beers too many at the Koetong Hotel, my first introduction of how to spend a Saturday night when away surveying!

A very rare late November snowfall on the Wednesday before the event brought many trees and branches down across the Trappers Gap road forcing us to take a Thursday sickie from work to help the Forestry Commission clear the road. A diversion we could have done without at that late stage.

Fallen tree across road
Tree problems on 1971 Alpine

The 1971 route started at the Stanley Plantations and went via Mt. Big Ben and SEC roads to the Koetong Plantations then north to Walwa to end Div 1 at Corryong. Div 2 went via Gibb Sawmill, Cravensville, Mitta Mitta, Trappers Gap, Falls Creek, Bogong High Plains and Omeo. Div 3 was traditional Alpine – Mt. Hotham, Bright, Mt. Porepunkah, Bright Plantations, Ovens Plantations, Merriang to the finish at Winton Raceway. The winners were Graeme Elliott and Fred Gocentas in a Datsun 1600 – the first win of many for Canberra’s Gerry Ball Rally Team.

Richard Creed dropped out of the organising committee for 1972 and was replaced by Tim Shirley. With the experience I gained the previous year I stepped up to take more responsibilities. Just before the event re-routing was necessary at Koetong when some deer were released to mate. The event started south of Myrtleford at Lake Buffalo with daylight sections in the nearby Merriang, Hurdle Creek and Running Creek plantations. Heavy rain on Friday meant the cancellation of some sections in the Ovens Plantation. The Bright Plantations were followed by the run over Trappers Gap to the break at Mitta Mitta. Div 2 was made very difficult by more rain, especially on the slippery clay roads of Koetong and some re-routing was again necessary. A loop took the cars back to the break at Mitta Mitta via Cravensville. Div 3 took the cars to Omeo via the lovely Omeo Highway. Mt Hotham to Bright was followed by traditional sections in the Bright and Merriang Plantations to the finish back at Lake Buffalo. Only half the field finished a very tough Alpine. Frank Kilfoyle and George Shepheard won in a Torana XU1. There were some legitimate complaints of the 1972 event, especially the amount of daylight running, so Bruce and I were determined to make amends the following year.

1973 was the 50th running of the Alpine and, after many discussions, Bruce and I with the wonderful assistance of our regular Course Checker Robin Sharpley, set about making positive changes to the Alpine.

We decided to base the event in Bright for the first time. Surveying started in March and we camped over Easter at Bright for four days of road checking and planning with hilarious nights fueled by rough red around the campfire. The Shire of Bright was very supportive as the Alpine filled the tourist town for a weekend in the off season. The event commenced with a hay bale motorkhana section in the main street to start the event on Saturday.

Car in motorkhana in Bright
1973 Alpine started with a motorkhana in main street of Bright.

The service park was at the football ground where a local CFA committee supplied food all weekend. The old dirt race track at the football ground was used for the first time in an Alpine with positive feedback from crews and spectators.

We gained permission to close the forestry roads for Division 1 in the pine plantations of Bright, Ovens, Merriang, Running Creek and Hurdle Creek. Officials and signs kept the public off the forestry roads that were very smooth due to a mild winter.

Division 2 commenced in darkness at Harrietville and traveled over the very fast Dargo High Plains then via Mt. Bullhead to Ensay. After a service crews traveled west close to Buchan then north to Bindi via Mt. Deception. Omeo followed by the traditional run over Hotham in darkness back to Bright.

After a break for breakfast and the blast around the racetrack crews returned for Div 3 to a new route around the pine plantations used in Div 1. The event finished mid-afternoon back at the Bright football ground where exhausted but happy crews congratulated Bruce and myself about the detailed planning that had gone into the 50th running of the Alpine. We were pleased to have set a high standard for following organisers. Frank Kilfoyle won with Mike Osborne in a Datsun 180SSS while the Australian Championships were won by Peter Lang and Warwick Smith in a Torana XU1.

Bruce Ford and I needed a break from directing and for the next two years I competed in the Alpine with Lindsay Siebler in a Colt Fastback. We finished well down due to mechanical problems in both events. In 1976 I was again back organising with Ian Richards as Director and up until the late eighties I assisted by setting up and manning control points.

Helping to organise an Alpine is hard work with many nights of little or no sleep fitted in between regular workdays. I reveled in the weekends away surveying the roads and meeting the people all over the north east of our beautiful state. I regret that we cannot use the pine plantations these days as many forestry officers said that their roads were better after the rally had been through and cleared the surface. We lost track of the number of trees that we cleared from roads so we could continue surveying.

Assisting Bruce Ford was a wonderful experience for me and one I will never forget, although it would have been easier with the help of laptop computers, a GPS and 4WD! Without being bigheaded I can say that our planning of the 1973 Alpine helped change rallying in Australia for the better. 

Health problems stop me from attending events these days and I wish the organisers every success with the 2009 Alpine.

Ian Wilson

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