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Where are they now? Bob Carpenter | Columns | Gassit Garage

“Bob became known as Mr Safari – a walking, talking GPS, long before the advent of electronic tracking systems”

Clerk of Course for any motorsport event is a demanding position, be it a quarter-mile drag race or Mount Panorama. And when the responsibility extends to as much as 9000km of seldom-used, remote outback tracks it becomes a gargantuan task. It also brings the title of Event Director, and Bob Carpenter inherited this title when, in partnership with Tom Snooks, he took on the Wynn’s Sydney-to-Darwin Safari in 1986.

A former stock and station agent, Bob demonstrated a talent for ‘reading’ often featureless outback terrain and an extraordinary ability, developed over almost 1.5 million kilometres behind the wheel of a 4WD on survey, to remember the relativity of windmills, bores, fences and dry creek beds. This often proved invaluable in directing the Medivac chopper to the scene of an accident – and an invariably distressed rider.

Over two decades, Carpenter – along with his old mates Graeme Taylor and Dan White – compiled highly detailed course notes highlighting the potential dangers competitors could face. During that time, it’s estimated the riders clocked up more than 100000km and 170 days in the saddle.

Bob became known as Mr Safari – a walking, talking GPS, long before the advent of electronic tracking systems. And if a competitor had mechanical issues and described their position by what they saw, they’d likely hear Bob on the radio with an instruction such as: “I know where you are. Keep going north along the fence for one and a half kays and you’ll come to a wooden gate, tied with a blue and yellow rope. Turn right and follow the track for nine kays until you get to a set of double gates with six-inch bore casings for posts. Go through the gates and turn right. Stay on the fence for about six kays and you will see the homestead off to your left. The manager’s name is Lindsay. He’s a good bloke with a good workshop and I’m sure he’ll help you out. Tell him Bob sent you. Good luck.”

Such was Carpenter’s outback knowledge he could pick the most challenging routes for competitors as well as easier escapes for those in difficulty.

His last Safari was in 2004, and when he left his loyal team of controllies, timekeepers and officials disbanded.

Carpenter stayed in the outback and took up managing cattle properties in south-west Queensland.

The Safari found a new home in Western Australia, but after initial success – despite the tyranny of distance for many eastern state competitors – that too folded.

When Carpenter’s former understudy, Troy Bennett, began developing the Sunraysia Safari in 2015, it was no surprise that he sought his old Event Director’s counsel.

“The amazing success of the inaugural event can be very much attributed to Bob for what he taught me all those years ago, together with the advice and encouragement he has provided ever since,” Troy says. “Staying in control of a high-speed moving circus for days on end, being on top of every single detail of the event and, above all, treating everybody with respect is critical. I have absolutely no idea how Bob did it for so long; the first one nearly killed me!”

The Sunraysia Safari Cross-Country Rally is a welcome addition to the Australian motorsport calendar. And while it’s Troy Bennett’s baby, it’s great to know the event is steeped in the camaraderie of the past. Cross-country addicts can be certain that Troy and his crew will put on a rally that honours Bob’s legacy.          

By Peter Whitaker