Rachel Saunders

Graphic: Rachel Saunders

The Fun of the Outback Car Trek

Date published

08 Aug 2018

The RFDS Outback Car Trek is one of the most successful charity motoring events in Australia. This year was the 29th event and full of as much colour and fun as ever!

Rachel Saunders on the Outback Car Trek

There are hundreds of things to like about the Outback Car Trek, third time Trekker Rachel Saunders said about the fundraising drive.

This year, after two years of “getting the hang of things,” Rachel entered her own car, a 1972 Holden Statesman HQ.

The Outback Car Trek is a vehicle-based fundraising event that generously donates to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and in a week Rachel drove 3500kms from Tamworth in northern NSW to Airlie Beach on Queensland’s Whitsunday coast.

“Holiday time is scarce, but you sacrifice it to raise money for the RFDS - to meet different people; to work with a team; to make new friends; and to learn skills, which take you out of your comfort zone,” Rachel said.

The organiser, Bill Patrick, said that in 29 years the Outback Car Trek has clocked up over 110,000 kms, visited more than 900 towns and villages, and raised over $28 million for the RFDS.

“Many years trekking through the more remote parts of Australia has taught us just how vital a lifeline the Flying Doctor is for those on the land, and how much it is still needed,” Bill said.

This year the Trek attracted more than 200 drivers and navigators, veterans and first-timers, from as far away as Hong Kong and New York. Together they piloted 82 vehicles, all dating from before 1978, all specially reinforced, and all packed with supplies and spares.

For Rachel, a Sydney lawyer, the highlight was Taroom, 460 kms from Brisbane. She stayed with the local vet, and president of the Taroom Show Society, and where, in the surrounding national forests, her driving skills were challenged by constantly changing terrain.

In what is now some of the driest country in Australia, the Trekkers were welcomed into rarely visited communities, like the school at Yetman, a hamlet on the Macintyre River just south of the Queensland border; and Mt Coolon, 300kms west of Mackay, where a country band emerged for the evening.

“Everyone loves supporting the Flying Doctor,” Rachel said. “Everyone has a story about how someone’s life was saved.”

“With the Trek, you go to places you would never go by yourself. People are much more friendly and it’s nice to be able to go into communities and give back.”

This year the Trek raised almost $1.4 million for the RFDS and the Trekkers also chipped in thousands of dollars to worthy causes along the way, as well as spending over $700,000 with local businesses for food, accommodation, and petrol.

Greg Sam, chief executive of the RFDS South Eastern Section, said the Trek had been a prolific fundraiser for the RFDS for more than quarter of a century.

“We rely heavily on fundraising and donations from the community to help deliver and expand our services, purchase and medically equip aircraft, and upgrade our facilities and infrastructure,” he said.

Next year the Trek will celebrate its 30th anniversary and plans are underway for a special event from Renmark, South Australia, to Kakadu, in the Northern Territory.

Rachel aims to be there. “Yes, absolutely,” she said. “It’s going to be huge.”

Rachel Saunders on the Outback Car Trek
Rachel Saunders on the Outback Car Trek
Rachel Saunders on the Outback Car Trek