Churchie Billy Cart Grand Prix

The race that stops a school and brings families together.

Since 1986, Anglican Church Grammar School, known as Churchie, has held the annual Prep School Billy Cart Grand Prix. 

It is a not-to-be-missed annual tradition for Churchie’s primary school students that involves boys working with each other, and their parents, to design and build a billy cart that is safe, fast and looks fantastic.

Once built, teams of three students compete in races on Oaklands Parade, a public road that runs through the school, competing for a variety of prizes: the fastest cart, the most creative cart or the best-themed race team. It is a colourful highlight of the school calendar.

This year’s grand prix involved 300 students competing across 51 races, with support teams and extended families cheering on from the sidelines. There is also a community service element to the event, with fundraising activities for a variety of charities.

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When Churchie’s first billy cart race started in 1986, carts were typically made from second-hand materials, often salvaged from old prams, trolleys and fruit cases. Brakes were primitive and steering was controlled with a rope to the front wheels.

Today, the carts range from the traditional home-made style to more high-tech machines inspired by the US Soap Box Derby races. 

They race on a straight and gentle-sloping track, where success depends significantly on efficient cart design and an explosive start, provided by two boys pushing to achieve maximum speed in just a few metres.

Churchie’s Deputy Head of Preparatory School Gavin Darwin has seen many billy cart race days, initially as the start line announcer from 2005 before taking on the event organiser role from 2010. 

Mr Darwin said one of the highlights is the community aspect of the grand prix.

“This is a wonderful event that is always fondly remembered by past students,” Mr Darwin said.

“It is an event that brings the Prep School community together, with every staff member, student and family involved as either an organiser, participant or spectator.”

Beyond the racing, community service is an important dimension of the event. The grand prix is a fundraiser for broader community service efforts with nomination fees, stalls, and proceeds from a billy cart silent auction contributing to the school’s ongoing community service initiatives which raise funds for Aussie Helpers, Act for Kids, The Smith Family, Hummingbird House, CanTeen, Mater Little Miracles and World Vision.

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Another important part of the Churchie Billy Cart Grand Prix is the educational and social benefits gained in the planning and building of carts. Boys need to work as a team to design and build a cart.

“The key challenge is to encourage boys and families to collaboratively build a cart, working together on a concept and the build,” Mr Darwin said.

 “While billy carts have changed so much over the years, becoming faster and utilising high-tech materials, we place a great emphasis on keeping true to a home-made style of cart, with families working together.”

One family who has wholeheartedly embraced the opportunity to make a home-made cart is the Johnston family. 

Year 6 student Jack Johnston has built and raced billy carts in three Billy Cart Grand Prix events. 

“The Billy Cart Grand Prix has been a great experience,” Jack said.

 “We made a new billy cart with a different design each year, all in our garage. 

“Dad made an instruction booklet that our team had to follow and I learned about different tools and how to use them correctly.”

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Jack’s dad Mike Johnston saw an opportunity to create a practical challenge for the boys.

 ” We wanted it to be a hands-on experience that stayed true to the intent of the grand prix, Mr Johnston said.

“It was a good opportunity for the boys to try woodwork and mechanical tools and techniques that are not as common for students to learn these days.”

After the boys came up with a theme, Mike found a design online and sourced the raw materials such as cables, nuts and bolts, and wood. 

After creating instructions for the boys, he handed it over to Jack and his two teammates to put together.

“All the families came over and the boys followed the instructions to build the cart- we only stepped in if they really needed assistance,” Mr Johnston said.

 “Once built and tested, serious practice commenced. 

“It was great to see the boys taking on something new—out of their comfort zone—and seeing the end result.” 

By Matthew Hade