The Cannonball Run Mark II NT style

Once again the Northern Territory (NT) is promoting its unrestricted open speed limits, just as it did in the early 1990’s as a way of attracting tourist, especially motoring enthusiasts and rev-heads who could be let loose on the Stuart Highway. In 1993 the then Country-Liberal Party (CLP) was in a bit of a pickle and looked as it might lose the next NT election scheduled for later in 1994. So to help with its election it was suggested it support the idea of a race called the ‘Cannonball Run’, which the CLP embraced whole-heartily allocating money and resources to the event.

The race was promoted as the NT version of the unofficial American version in which drivers would race from Darwin to Alice Springs then back to Darwin in the quickest time. In the American version drivers participated in the event from the Atlantic East Coast, New York City, to the Pacific West Coast, Los Angeles. The race was intended as a protest against strict traffic speed laws that were about to come into effect due to the 1970’s Oil Shock. Hollywood got into the act producing The Cannonball Run, starring Burt Reynolds and Dom Deluise. Remember them?

The Northern Territory Government of, Mr Adam Giles Country-Liberal Party (CLP) is in a spot of trouble at the moment and on the nose with NT voters, just like his CLP colleagues were in 1994. This is due in part to a bloody leadership coup led by Mr Giles, against the then Chief Minister, Mr Terry Mills, in what could only be deemed the biggest piece of political bastardy ever see in this country. The coup against Mr Mills occurred whilst he was overseas on a trade mission to Indonesia and despite him winning a decisive victory over the ALP seven months earlier.

Then 12 months later three Indigenous CLP parliamentary members resigned and moved to the cross-benches becoming Independents. The CLP’s numbers went from 16 seats to 12 seats with the ALP holding 8 seats. The Speaker of the NT Legislative Assembly resigned from the CLP in July increasing the number of independents to five.

So Chief Minister Giles is and has been a spot of bother since the coup with the party’s polling figures plummeting soon after the coup and have not recovered. The most recent ReachTEL telephone polling, conducted in September, shows the CLP trailing Labor 28 per cent to 37 per cent on first preferences. After distribution of the two-party vote predicts a 16 percent swing against the CLP, putting its vote at 39 per cent to the ALP’s 61 per cent. Which could reduce the CLP to a rump of perhaps 3 to 4 seats in the NT Legislative Assembly, or nothing at all.

So the CLP is desperate to lift its polling figures from the so-called ‘death-zone’, which on current trends would see a first term government losing power, just like the LNP Government of Campbell Newman in Queensland. So the Giles Government is clutching at any novice idea to help lift its dismal, including promoting the open speed limit on the Stuart Highway to car manufacturers, enthusiasts and just pure rev-heads who want to test the speed and endurance of their cars.

The Stuart Highway has an unrestricted speed limit between Alice Springs and Barrow Creek, with drivers able to travel well over 200 kilometres per hour or more. The Northern Territory used to have restricted speed limits of 130 KPH, brought in by the former ALP government. However, one of the first things the CLP did was remove the limits and returned the highway to unrestricted, but only within certain areas.

The Stuart Highway is not a dual carriage-way such as the Hume Highway, but a single shared highway, with bush scrub on either side. This makes it perfect territory for cattle, and feral animals and Australian natives to suddenly appear from the bush in front of a car travelling at extremely high speed. Forget about cleaning the mess from the grill; it will be from the back window on the inside, if you’re lucky. Your $200,000 plus Ferrari would suddenly be transformed into a convertible, but without a front-end!

In the 1980’s I was traveling in a bus from Darwin one night, when an unwise cow wondered out onto the road in front of us. Instead of slowing down the driver accelerated and went straight through the cow. All we felt was a slight bump as the cow ended up on the Bullbar and everywhere else. The driver didn’t have much choice, it was either the passengers, or the cow.

So on the 22nd May 1994, the then Chief Minister of the NT, Marshall Perron waved the chequered flag and 118 drivers took off in the first ever legal Cannonball Race. The NT Police were called upon to clear the Stuart Highway of traffic whilst the race was on.

The race was going swimmingly until it got to Alice Springs, that’s when things went off script. On the 24th of May, during one of the timed sections a $500,000 Ferrari F40 driven by its owner, a millionaire Japanese dentist and his co-driver. He hit some gravel, spun out of control and slammed into two race officials and their cars. Oops, that wasn’t in the script! The same driver had earlier been clocked at 141 miles per hour, not kilometres!

Although the organisers said the race would continue, speed limits were reduced to 180 KPH with a no overtaking rule imposed on the racing participants. The NT Coroner later found that excessive speed was responsible for the men’s deaths. The race was never run again and the CLP went on to win the next election. The question is, will Adam Giles win the next Territory election? Who knows? But despite the tragic car accident in the 1994 Cannonball Race, the CLP under Marshall Perron went on to win the election held later that year in 1994. So who knows it might just work for the current Chief Minister, Mr Giles, but I somehow doubt it!

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