I FIRST wrote for the mag sometime in late 1986 when I had been conscripted to head to Alice Springs and join an AAT Kings trip to the Kimberley.
Little did I know that would begin a lifelong friendship with one of the Outback’s great characters, the late ‘Taffy’ Abbotts, and a continuing love affair with the northwest of WA, which we had first visited eight years earlier. We ended up getting bogged for three days in the AAT King’s UniMog as we headed into the then almost unknown Bungle Bungles. Here we met Malcolm Douglas, who had also just heard of the place and was making a movie for his TV show.
By Issue 42 (July, 1987) we were regulars in the mag, with destination pieces, tech stories and Viv’s first ‘how to’ cooking article. I started at the mag as Editor (Issue 46) after delaying the first day in the office because of a three month trek to the Kimberley – the boss was broken-in quickly to my peregrinate lifestyle. The day after I got back from up north I walked into the office to what turned out to be a momentous occasion in four-wheel drive history, the launch of the mighty GQ Patrol onto the Australian market.
My first road test for the mag wasn’t too illustrious and only remains in the memory because of all the stupid things I did. I took a test car for a run down in the Otway Ranges. It happened to be the Managing Director’s car – a Daihatsu Rocky – and I drowned it big time, filling it with sloppy mud and water. To say the boss of Daihatsu was unimpressed was quite an understatement! Still, I even owned up to it in the report (well, most of it).
The biggest-selling mag (April 92, Issue 99) I had under my tenure also caused the most raucous. We had been over to Robe in the southeast of SA for an advertisers’ weekend when the staff of the mag got together with some of the industry’s leading players. After a bit of goading by some of the others, one of the guys in an impeccable Range Rover hit a dune a little too hard. Launching off the crest the Rangie arced over in a graceful curve and landed on its nose, where it stood teetering on the brink. The resultant pics ended up on the cover of the mag, which were then used by forces wanting to close the beaches of Robe to 4WDers.
I was summoned to Robe by NP&WS of SA to explain the situation, and luckily we had been in the Millicent Dune Buggy Club area and not on the beaches or nearby dunes, so the situation was quickly diffused and we threw our efforts behind those helping the fight for the tracks to remain open. Luckily for 4WDers the business people of Robe rallied to the cause and today the beaches remain one of the great 4WD destinations in Australia.
In 1998 I conceived the idea of the Outback Challenge after having been to the Rainforest Challenge in Malaysia, the Warn Ukraine Challenge and to Moab rock-crawling events in the US. With the substantial help of Sharyn Vanderhorst (my long-suffering deputy editor) and her husband Paul, we had the first event up and running in mid-1999. It proved to be the forerunner for all the winch challenges that followed, and the OC still continues under the capable guidance of Steve Tjepkema, the winner of the 2001 event.
After completing Issue 211 in August 2001 as editor, the mag was about to move to Sydney and I’d been given a better offer of editor-at-large, which would see me and Viv doing a bit more travelling. We’re still trying to crank the travelling up a notch, but 7-9 months a year on the road each and every year is still pretty good, I reckon. Still, it’s the friends I’ve made in the industry and on our travels that remain the best thing about those early years and it’s something we cherish. There’s nothing better than to meet friends and old acquaintances and have a beer with them in the scrub. Hopefully we’ll be doing more of that in 2017!