The 60th Irishman Creek Rally
Now held on Queens Birthday Weekend, the Irishman Creek rally is quite likely the best known VCC event in the country and this year was its 60th running of the rally.
The first “Irishman” was Easter 1955 when VCC founder Rob Shand had somehow wrangled an invitation for the club to have the weekend event at Irishman Creek Station.
The McKenzie Basin is home of one of New Zealand’s earliest racing motorists, C.W.F. (Bill) Hamilton who at this time was in the midst of developing the jet boat so he would be able to navigate the shallow upper reaches of the local rivers and lakes.
Fourteen cars set off from Christchurch and made their convoluted way to Irishman with not all the cars successfully making the journey in one piece. The highlight was an evening around the fire with Bill Hamilton telling tales of his Muriwai Beach racing exploits (even getting to Muriwai from the McKenzie would be an adventure in itself in the 1920s) and his Brooklands success when the colonial boy, dismissed by the “right crowd and no crowding” Brooklands set proceeded to astonish them all by winning three races in the one day in his newly purchased 4½ litre Bentley, a feat which had never been achieved before and would never be repeated.
2014 and while some things have changed, some have stayed constant. The Easter date has been replaced with Queens Birthday and instead of 14 cars, this year there were 140. The rally is still run for vintage and veteran cars only (pre 1932) and despite the supposition that vintage cars are now only driven by old codgers, Irishman would have the youngest average age of any VCC event and probably most car clubs of any kind, just as it was when a bunch of young hooligans in old bangers sallied forth to Irishman 59 years previously.
For reasons which are lost in the mists of time, the rally has not visited Irishman for many years and has not been based there for even longer (I believe the reason may have something to do with the consumption of alcohol and a fire mysteriously breaking out in a farm building) and now we take over Fairlie for the weekend.
One of the peculiarities of the event is the previous year’s winner has the dubious honour of organising the following year’s event but the basic formula is the same. The start point on Saturday morning may be anywhere in the South Island but some time in that evening after a full day of back roads, farm tracks, goat tracks and river beds a bunch of dirty cars and weary drivers will descend on Fairlie for a short sleep before another early start and a long and tough drive to some desolate outpost for lunch and a series of driving tests in a paddock.
My plan was, while I was in the North Island working on a couple of stories for Classic Driver I would collect my Durant from my father’s shed in Bulls and get back to Christchurch just in time to collect my navigator James Palmer, brother of last year’s unfortunate winner Tim (this is not a competitive event, the winner is generally chosen a month before the rally based on their perceived