Here’s a story of days gone by, of the Motorcycle Touring Club and the Rainforest Rally.
Back in the late 1970s and through the 1980s touring and rally-going was a much bigger thing in the motorcycle community than it seems to be now. Having joined the Motorcycle Touring Club of Queensland (MTCQ) I began to go on some of the long trips and attending rallies. On this occasion, the story is about the Rainforest rally run by the MTCQ at Charlie Moreland’s campgrounds at Little Yabba Creek, Kenilworth, QLD.
The rallies included events like motorcycle slow races, and roll the barrel, plus teams of bikers competing in tug of war and throw-the-boot events, amongst others. The creek was welcome for a dip, although a bit cold depending on the season. Bikers came from all over the country with awards for longest distance travelled, male and female. Oldest rider, oldest bike etc.
Much cheer, goodwill and tall stories were swapped around campfires late into the night. Daytimes were filled with laughter, games and trips to the nearby Kenilworth pub for ‘supplies’. On one such visit the pub was full of bikers of all shapes sizes and cultures, from outfitted BMW riders to leather-clad bikers and everything in between. At one point a young biker with long blonde hair started playing “When the saints go marching home” on the pub piano. The whole crowd joined in, what a visual and auditory extravaganza that was!
The rainforest rally continued for many years, the early rallies being at the main campground until eventually, it outgrew the capacity of that place to hold both a couple of hundred bikers and the usual campers. The 1983 rally was held at a rough campground, quite a way upstream from Charlie’s, where events took a turn for the, let’s say, difficult and controversial.
Leading up to the rally, the weather was wet, not torrential wet, but wet enough to turn parts of the dirt road access to the rally into tricky conditions, especially for roadgoing bikes like Suzuki Katanas and GPZ Kawasakis. The BMW R100CS that was my ride at that time reveled in those conditions lol.
As the weekend progressed some interesting characters arrived, club types, wearing patches and as is the case with such groups, while the majority were normal friendly folks, a few were stirrers, and some were troublemakers. As the refreshments flowed and sobriety became limited, the latter category caused quite a ruckus when they set up a ‘checkpoint’ at the rally entrance and harassed all the female arrivals. That caused the organisers to contact the local constabulary.
Two of their finest duly attended the rally and laid a bit of bullshit and bluff on the troublemakers and their cohorts asserting there was an entire task force waiting just up the road if they did not pack up and leave. Anyone familiar with country policing would be aware that the availability of even a couple of cops is severely limited, but their bluff worked, and the troublemakers left.
That night there were periods of heavy rain, interspersed with clear patches, sufficient for the party to go on. Emptied rum bottles full of petrol were dropped into burning hollow logs, causing some spectacular fireworks. The tug of wars between bikes resulted in some interesting events like the Yammie XS650 twin with its exhaust header pipes glowing red and its exhaust howling, but not moving an inch due to the burnt-out clutch. Wonder how he got home.
Much good cheer was shared around campfires to allay the wet and cold. As I wandered from camp-to-camp meeting people, I was offered many a drink and a smoke. Being somewhat younger and not yet wise lol, I partook of whatever was offered, not wanting to offend by refusing anyone’s hospitality. The fault in that policy became clear much later when I came to, sitting under a tree some way from the campground, after imbibing in a smoke from a rather peculiar-looking glass pipe.
Aaah, the follies of youth.
Now, to give some background to the events that follow requires admitting to some hijinks during the weekend. There was an alternative track from the campground back to the main campground. It crossed several creeks which is no doubt why the organisers chose the steeper, more mountainous route to the rally site.
During the weekend, on the aforementioned trips to Kenilworth for supplies, a couple of brothers and I used the alternative track out as our private racetrack. Interesting rides, following a Katana and a GPZ 1100 on a dirt road at some fairly high speeds. Much dodging of projectile rocks spat out from madly spinning rear tyres was necessary.
That bit of background will go some way to giving a reason for the condition of the track when the time came to exit the rally. The night before it wound up, a torrential downpour turned the steeper, more mountainous route used to access the rally site into a clay mud slippery surfaced hell ride that could only be attempted with the right bike and tyres. Meaning hardly anyone.
The next day it was clear the track we had been ripping up all weekend was the only viable route out of the rally site. Well, it did not take much more traffic to turn that into a muddy, slippery mess. One of my bros had helped himself to the spare room in one of the BM’s panniers to transport a nearly full flagon of rum. That put the bike way out of balance, anyway, that’s my excuse lol.
So, when it came time to leave, I made it maybe a hundred metres out when the combination of the slippery track, which was mounded with the high point in the centre, and the unbalanced load led to an inexorable slide down the slope into the gutter. I tried to ride it out of there, but the cylinder head of the BM dug into the side of the drainage ditch and that was it for me, stuck. I could barely stand up on the muddy surface, let alone drag a loaded 1000cc’s of bike with luggage out of the ditch.
Enter a hero on a CX 500 no less! He stopped, gingerly made his way down the slope and together, we managed to skull drag the BM back to high ground. From that point, the trip became an exercise in butt-clenching slipping, sliding, praying and foot-paddling the bike along in a long queue of bikers doing similar things.
Up in front, a loaded GT750 Kwaka with a pillion did a rather neat pirouette on the downslope to a creek crossing causing much consternation as all those behind attempted to halt their weighty steeds without repeating the feat.
At one point I was catching a Harley that looked to be doing it easily, but slow. I was loath to use brakes on the slippery surface, so passing was the only option. It was a slow and tentative pass, and as I went by, we exchanged looks, and I said, “that looks like you are doing it easy mate.” (Being as the Harley seat height made it possible to use both feet as outriggers.) He gave me a wry smile and replied, “no way this is easy, bloody hell!”
Part of the problem here was because some louts had ripped the track up, and the subsequent rain had turned it into slosh, but not all of it. Some of it was good, but with all the bikes paddling along, it was nearly impossible to get enough momentum up to do anything but the same. Then another BM came past, feet up, and he looked to be doing it easy. By that time, I was overheating something fierce and thought, well, if he can…
You could be excused for thinking that the last line was a segue into a tale of woe, surprisingly, it was not. What followed was a thrilling, no holds barred adventure, passing dozens of bikes with the BM’s slipping and sliding but powering on until we reached the bitumen and profound relief.
I had heard from the naysayers that BMW meant Bloody Money Waster, but after that ride, Bloody Mud Wizard seemed more like it.
That event and the issues with the patch wearers, seemed to discourage the organisers from further Rainforest Rallies, and it seemed that was it for the Rainforest; however, in 1996, one final rally was held at Charlie Moreland’s overflow area, but that’s a story for another time.
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