Renovated old car breaks down barriers, lifts spirits, raises money for worthy cause
A person who uses a wheelchair has completed the Shitbox Rally for the first time in the event’s 12-year history.
Mel Harrison drove her hand-controlled wheelchair-adapted vehicle into Darwin after a week of bush-bashing thousands of kilometres from Mackay.
“It was the first time ever I’ve actually gone to the toilet on the side of the road in a bucket,” she said.
“That was a huge challenge for me.”
Ms Harrison, from Alexandria in New South Wales, said she fully prepared herself for possible accessibility issues in the outback.
“It was very much about trying to break down some of those barriers to hope that other people out there who have disabilities can do things like this and be able to achieve things like this with support,” she said.
“Being able to get to camps, your tent, the bathrooms, the food areas, to where people are drinking.
“Nobody made me feel like I was any different to anybody else.
“It might have taken me a couple of minutes longer than other people. But it wasn’t an issue.
“Everybody had their own things to contend with. It’s no different. It just means that my issues might be more obvious because they’re physical, but it doesn’t mean that they’re more significant than somebody else’s problem.”
The other half of the Breaking Down Barriers team was friend Jacob Graham from North Narrabeen, NSW.
“I’m not willing to stop until she’s had the experience she wants,” Mr Graham said.
“If that means lifting her up four flights of stairs or carrying her as far as I need to get her into a bathroom, or just having a moment where we both need to reflect and give each other a hug and say, ‘This is fine to struggle, and we will get over that’.
“Mel has helped me just as much as I’ve helped her.”
Rally organiser James Freeman OAM was thrilled when Ms Harrison first got in touch.
Mr Freeman has raised about $33 million for the Cancer Council with his projects.
“I required a certain amount of finesse from my team. But not a huge amount,” he said.
“What it really required was the right attitude from Mel, which she certainly had in spades.
“She’s a really remarkable woman, and she has lots of experience when it comes down to challenging herself through different circumstances and scenarios.
“We don’t want to ever be in a situation where we say no to anybody.”