T HE ARB Eldee Easter Festival has been a popular event with four-wheel drivers for a number of years and, while there are some tough competition stages and some very keen competitors, there’s a heavy emphasis on this being a fun weekend escape for the whole family.
Thanks to this event, Eldee Station has been teeming with kids over the past eight Easter weekends, with plenty of activities on offer to keep the little’uns entertained while the not-so little’uns get down to the serious business of off-road competition. But rather than forging lifelong rivalries, this event has a habit of cultivating lifelong friendships. No wonder so many 4x4 enthusiasts and their families come back year after year.
“The whole focus this year was the fact it’s a kids and family event … it’s all about the kids,” was the first comment made by Ian Berry after it had been announced he and his son were the winners of the ARB Eldee Easter Festival 2018.
Booting his wife out of his 100 Series Land Cruiser this year, Ian was competing with his (admittedly full-size) son Ash, the duo taking out four of the 11 stages in the ARB Eldee Easter Festival 2018.
Ian has actually won the event a couple of times in the past, having a 100 per cent attendance record at Eldee Station since the event’s inception, but competing with his son Ash was a novelty.
Ash was ecstatic. “This year’s event was heaps better than last,” he exclaimed, “because we won!
“I can’t believe we won the Blind Man’s Run ... I can’t believe he listened to me,” Ash said of his old man.
Ian and Ash were up against 23 other teams, all of whom successfully made it to the finish line after two days of fun, adventure and excitement on one of outback NSW’s most iconic properties, nestled in the spectacular Barrier Ranges.
There were plenty of challenging driving stages in 2018, with events including the Club 4x4 Back and Forth, the Rhino Rack Paddy Melon Challenge, the ARB Mini Dakar, the Cooper Tires Motokhana, the ARB Thornleigh Stump Up, the ARB Penrith Sheepyard Shenanigans, the Oricom All Terrain Challenge and the Blind Man’s Run.
The Club 4x4 Back and Forth is a timed stage in which competitors must reverse into a marked box, drive forwards into another box, reverse again and then exit the course. Conducted in soft riverbed sand, it’s a dusty and demanding affair that’s a true test of the driver’s skill ... and the co-driver’s patience.
As its name suggests, the ARB Mini Dakar is a timed run through a bunted course over soft sand, around bushes and in and out of steep creek banks. Many teams found a steady-asyou-go approach worked best, but not Jason Pink, a farmer from Boort in Victoria. Jason punted his Ford Ranger through the course with his wife Jess urging him on. “Jason’s driving was a bit slow for my liking,” she laughed, despite their three-year-old daughter Millie looking a bit terrified in the back seat.
Broken Hill locals Danielle Marsh and Brad Hill said their kids Luke (10) and Lucy (2) loved the Mini Dakar … and their fourmonth-old twins Alexander and Georgia slept through the whole thing in the back seat!
The Blind Man’s Run is always an event favourite, with the blindfolded drivers relying entirely on their co-drivers to direct them through the course. In the past this event has almost ended in divorce for some teams. Steve Wolski admitted he was “a bit nervous” before tackling the Blind Man’s Run due to hitting a stump last year. “It’s still got a battle scar on it,” he said of his otherwise unmarked Toyota FJ Cruiser. His co-driver Shelby Cooper was also nervous, but the pair made it through unscathed this year.
The Paddy Melon Challenge is a test of precision driving and teamwork, as the co-drivers have to reach out of the window to place paddy melons on top of poles, then collect them on a second run before throwing them into a bucket. Brad Wilson said the tight course was tough due to the size of his 79 Series Land Cruiser Double Cab. “It was interesting,” he said, “because the Cruiser is such a big rig.” But his co-driver Qona described the course as “the funnest yet”!
One of the fastest stages of the Festival is the Cooper Tires Motokhana, with teams driving up a steep bank to exit the creek bed, steering around a series of poles and then finishing back in the creek bed.
Neale and Judy Postlethwaite hit the course hard in their Volkswagen Amarok, peeling a tyre off a rim. While it didn’t affect their time on the course, they did miss their next timed stage while changing the tyre, missing out on some valuable points. Regardless, a positive Neale described the course as dusty but fun; although, Judy said that being a passenger was a little “scary”.
Rob Baumann from the Barossa Valley ran the course in his Nissan D40 Navara with his six-year-old navigator, Alana. “It was awesome,” he said. “I’m still trembling from it.” Rob’s other daughter, eight-year-old Holly, shared the co-driving duties with her sister on some of the other event stages.
Rob competed in last year’s Eldee Easter Event with his wife Amanda, but she sadly passed away in October last year after a battle with cancer.
“The kids have taken mum’s spot, so to speak,” explained Rob. “Eldee was a big thing for mum, so they wanted to make sure they came back and did it right for her.”
The pace of the event was dropped down a gear or two on Saturday afternoon as competitors lined up for the ARB Thornleigh Stump Up, in which they had to idle up on to a small post with their front right tyre, stop, reverse off, then repeat the process with their front left tyre. “The trick is to look where you’re going,” advised Martin Cattanach dryly. His wife Vicky was a little more forthcoming, suggesting it wasn’t too hard to see the posts ... at least when she hung out the window.
The next event was the HEMA Outback Map Navigation Challenge, which involved teams navigating their way around Eldee Station and looking for clues to complete a puzzle. This was followed by the ARB Broken Hill Swag Roll and Set Up, in which two members of each team set up a swag, jumped into it, got out of it and packed it away again, all while being heckled by fellow competitors.
At the end of the day, event host Stephen Schmidt led competitors across the Mundi Mundi Plains and high into the Barrier Ranges for a mouth-watering barbecue meal atop the aptly named Sunset Hill.
Easter Sunday kicked off at 8am with the Eldee Station Easter Egg Hunt. Once the kids had filled their baskets with chocolate, competitors headed out past the shearing shed to line up for the demanding ARB Penrith Sheepyard Shenanigans. This stage is another thrilling test of teamwork, with two vehicles competing side by side on parallel courses. The co-driver has to climb in and out of the vehicle to open and close sheepyard gates, while the driver simply has to make it through the course without hitting anything.
EVENT ARB ELDEE EASTER FESTIVAL 2018
First up were farmers Jason and Jess Pink with daughter Millie, in their Ford Ranger, who were up against Matthew and Michelle Appleby with kids Lauren and Jack, in a Toyota Prado. Jess was co-driver for the course and she felt they went well, but said the gates weren’t easy. “The chains were stiff and they wound up on themselves,” she said. In the other vehicle, Michelle also had a few issues with the gates. Once the dust had settled it was the Prado that had come home first ... by a whisker.
The Sheepyard Shenanigans was certainly not an easy challenge, especially for the co-drivers. Ash Berry looked shattered after his run, saying, “I’m stuffed! My chest is still hurting. It’s the most running I’ve done since this challenge last year.” It was a lot easier from the driver’s seat, with Ash’s old man Ian Berry laughing, “I went bloody great! We did a very good time ... it’s a fun day.”
The final driving stage of the Festival was the Oricom All Terrain Challenge. Many were keen to recce the course but were called back for a driver’s briefing. Event MC, David Brickhill, warned them to take it easy as the course was full of rocks, soft sand and deep water. He also reminded competitors that many of them had more than 1000km to cover to get home. But with just 1000 points separating the top 10, and with 300 points up for grabs in this final driving stage, there was sure to be plenty of action.
David and Chris Skinner, last year’s runners-up, were the first to start. After the hitting the initial water section in Eldee Creek, their Toyota 4Runner looked as though it was about to stall. They kept it running, but lost valuable time. “We were going well until today, but that water really slowed us down,” Chris said.
Kurt Johnston reckoned the All Terrain Challenge was one of the toughest events of the festival. “Man, that is rough out the back, but it was a lot of fun,” he beamed.
Many competitors threw caution to the wind and powered through the tough course, spraying water high into the air and lifting wheels as they exited the final rise. Despite two days of hard-fought action there had been no serious mechanical issues or damage to report, and 24 teams out of 24 completed the event.
Teams headed back to the Eldee Station homestead for the afternoon’s kid-focused activities, which included a jumping castle, the challenging Hobby HQ Remote Control Car Mini Rally and the Shimano Sharp Shooter casting event.
Later that afternoon it was time to announce the winners, and the Eldee Station verandah groaned under the weight of the prizes which included ARB fridges, swags, Intensity LED lights and air compressors, Oricom radios, Rhino-Rack gear, Hema packs, Hobby HQ remote-control rock crawlers and much more.
The top three place-getters at the end of the of the ARB Eldee Easter Event 2018 were Matt and Renee Burns – and kids Harry (10) and Chase (5) – tied in third place with Kirk and Dior Johnston – and kids Temperance (7) and Seeley (5). David and Chris Skinner (Toyota 4Runner) were once again in second and, of course, Ian and Ash Berry in first in their 100 Series Land Cruiser.
David and Chris Skinner were a little disappointed to come home in second once again, but they still thoroughly enjoyed this year’s event and are keen for another crack in 2019.
The equal-third-placed Burns family was surprised to land on the podium in only their second year at the ARB Eldee Easter Festival. “We made it more about the kids this year,” Renee said, with Matt adding, “The kids did the Paddy Melon Challenge and the Swag Roll and Set Up ... we would have been happy with a top 10 finish because we just wanted a family break with the kids.”
Surprisingly, Ian and Ash Berry never looked all that fast out on the driving stages, proving that a heavy right foot isn’t the only way to make a fast time. The pair remained relaxed and unflustered throughout the two-day festival and this laidback style certainly paid dividends.
While many had to pack up and hit the road on Monday morning, others signed up for the Wild Dog Fence Drive, and some even stuck around for an extra day to partake in the Mundi Mundi Head Station Tag Along Tour.
Rob Baumann and his kids Holly and Alana, along with their now very close friends, headed up to Sunset Hill again on Monday evening to spread Amanda Baumann’s ashes at the place she fell in love with 12 months prior.
Once the dust had settled, event hosts Naomi and Stephen Schmidt of Eldee Station could now look forward to next year’s Easter Festival, with naming-rights sponsor ARB confirming it’s continued support into the future.
ROB BAUMANN competed in the ARB Eldee Easter Festival 2018 with his daughters Holly (8) and Alana (6). This was Rob’s second time at Eldee, but the first without his wife Amanda, who sadly lost her battle with cancer in October 2017.
“Last year we came up to Eldee as a last-minute thing,” explained Rob. “When we went up to Sunset Hill, Amanda fell in love with it, and that was the start of our outback touring… from last Easter until she passed away in October , we spent the whole time doing as much outback touring as we could.
“When we were talking about the end, so to speak, she wanted to have her ashes spread up here [on Sunset Hill]. She didn’t want us to make a special trip up, she wanted it to be this weekend with the friends we met from last year. They’ve become lifelong friends… it’s like we’d known them forever. You just sort of have that bond with people up here at Eldee.”
Rob is now working on several projects to support breast cancer research, including putting on some country music shows in South Australia and running a women’s navigationstyle event, potentially out of Arkaroola.
Amanda’s kids Holly and Alana were both enthusiastic competitors in this year’s ARB Eldee Easter Festival. “The kids have taken mum’s spot, so to speak, they’ve been passionate about trying,” said Rob.
“Amanda’s bucket list when she first found out she had terminal cancer was all about the kids, and making memories for the kids… One thing I’m very thankful for is Amanda never missed out on doing anything as far as family. The way it all happened in the end, it was very quick and she never missed out on anything.”