Cycling – Perth (1933-1935)
A highlight of the first half of the year was the running of the “Malvern Star Australian Schoolboys Cycling Championship” heats on the Welshpool Road on 10 June. Two PBS heats over ten miles with winners to the final. There were ten starters in each heat. I rode in the second heat and struck disaster right at the start. When we jumped away my “pusher off” was slow in letting the bike go and down I crashed gathering a few wounds as I fell.
Willing hands got me back on the bike and away I went after the field. In the movies I would have caught the field and then passed the leaders to go on and win. Nothing like that happened here. It took me most of the race to catch them and sit in for a breather. Over the final stages they were too good and I had to settle for fifth place. The winner of the heat was Keith Andrews who went on to greater things in his senior career. I feel sure that the race was always going to turn out that way. I have the Sunday Times (11 June 1933) photo of the pre-start lineup and from that I can recall some heat placings. The first heat was won by Harvey Opie from Tom Patterson, Ean McDonald and H. McLaren. In my heat the minor placings behind Keith Andrews were A. Freeman, R. Cole and my friend Sid Belicke, who finished just in front of me. The times for the ten miles were just over 30 minutes in each heat. I think that was my first or second ride in a race. I was only riding a standard road bike with heavy tyres as did many other juniors. The next year I was to change that and have a more successful season. The Sunday Times picture showed Perth Boys School Headmaster, Tommy Chandler, and our Sportsmaster, Bill Skipworth, with Hubert “Oppy” Opperman and the contestants for the PBS heats.
One piece of luck that I did have earlier in the season was the getting of Hubert Opperman’s autograph. Oppy and several other Eastern States riders came to Perth for the cycling championships and thrilled the crowds with some great riding at the WACA. The West Australian riders were top class in those days, notably the Smith brothers. Horrie Marshall, in later years a good friend, was another great rider. On the main night Eddie Smith just beat Oppy in the fifty kilometres track race. Oppy won 20 out of the 28 sprints including the final sprint but Eddie won the race on an overall points tally scoring 88 to Hubert Opperman’s 87.
When Oppy put his autograph in my book it was like I had won the lottery. A hero is a hero. Who was to know that twenty-six years later we would sit together in the Federal Parliament, and go on to become good friends in politics and in our retirement.
The 1930s were good years for both cycle racing and organised bike-hikes. 1933 was the year of the three-speed gear row, when referees ruled that variable gears were mechanical devices not approved by the rules. The official approval eventually given for their use only lasted six months, and they were then banned right across Australia by professional and amateur cycling associations. Late in 1933 the WA Amateur Cycling Union broke the ban, and let riders use free-wheel and variable gears in races over 30 miles. In later years common-sense prevailed and their use became common.
The start of the 1934 cycling season saw me join the Metropolitan Junior Cycling Club. The races were held along the Welshpool Road and organised by Greg Chipper, a well-known cyclist who worked for the Malvern Star cycle firm. In 1931, at the Perth trotting track, he raced against a pacer named Desert Bells over one mile. Greg came home strongly to get up and win on the line. Later he specialised in motor-paced cycling. In these record attempts he used a stock model Malvern Star with a 24-inch front wheel fitted. The front forks were reversed to enable the cyclist to keep as near to the pacing motorcycle as possible. The motorbike seat and a 36” windshield were set at the back of the machine to help break the wind. Long handlebars were fitted. Record attempts were over a flying quarter mile, and Greg reached speeds around 70 mph, the fastest the motorbike could go.
I am sure that in the late 1930s I saw him clock 98 mph along Wanneroo Road, Tuart Hill, when using a 120 gear ratio, and a faster pacemaker motorbike. That was remarkable at the time but I am sure that Greg could not have thought that fifty years later someone would set a record of over 150 mph. In 1985 on the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah, USA, John Howard pedalled his specially built bicycle to a 243 kph rate to break the world land speed record for human-powered vehicles. He was towed to 100 kph by a car then rode in the slipstream. Looking back at the two rides one would have to say that, overall, Greg Chipper gave the best performance. He used a stock model bike with minor adjustments, a smaller pacemaker, and rode along Wanneroo Road which at the time was nothing to write home about for record attempts on a bicycle.
When I first started racing it was Greg Chipper who set me on the right track in this competitive sport. Tips on how to train, how to ride and how to race, were passed on by Greg to many cyclists. Most junior riders rode fairly standard machines which were road bikes rather than racers. We would use these bikes during the day to ride into work and run messages around the city. On race day we would take off the lamp brackets and other non-racing fittings and reset the handlebars to our favoured position for racing. The road tyres were left on as most of us could not afford the racing “specials” used by the senior riders. The pedals on most bicycles were the steel double-sided “rat trap” type, for which we needed steel toe clips with a quick-release strap. Most of us used the broader club racer saddle which was designed for both touring and racing, till we could afford the more streamlined saddles which were becoming available in cycle shops.
The many cycle shops did a good trade in new machines, repairs and spare parts. They were run by men who did a lot for cycling. Several shops were run by ex-cyclists or men who had cyclists in their family. It was the cycle shop men who put the club notices and programmes in their windows and donated the race prizes. A new saddle, a tyre or a pair of gloves, was always worth winning.
I rode a Gordonson bike so Tommy and Neil Gordon are first on my list. Tommy won the first Northam-Perth and later held several WA motor-cycling records. The Gordons did a great service to cycling at the 340-342 Wellington Street shop where they made their bicycles. They went out of their way to be helpful and friendly to us all. Later they moved from the north side of the street to across the road when their premises were resumed by the Government. However, fifty-plus years later, you can still buy a Gordonson bicycle in Wellington Street but you must go to the modern premises at No. 587.
The 1934 price for a Gordonson club tourer cycle was about nine pounds ($18) with a free raincape and a free accident and theft insurance policy thrown in. The usual deposit was 20/- ($2) and repayments were 4/- (40c) a week. I do remember licensing my bike for 1/-(10c) and the policeman stamping a number under the frame. A number plate was issued. We never had the cycle theft problem that we have today and I believe that all bicycles should come under a stamping system that will give clear proof of ownership.
Other cycle shops that I remember are Arrow Cycles run by the McDonalds who also made trotting spiders. The Swansea Cycles shop was owned and run by the Baldwin brothers, Howard and Les, at Fremantle. Congress Cycles was run by Syd Congdon at his shop on the east side of Barrack Street, probably at number 122 or 124. Bruce Small and Malvern Star were in a big way in Forrest Place, having been helped along by the fame and popularity of the legendary Hubert Opperman and other great riders of the Malvern Star team like Hefty Stuart, Fatty Lamb, and the Smith brothers.
My cycling career was not spectacular in any way but I was happy to achieve moderate success. In the 1930s many of us mixed cycle racing with football. This was not seen as an ideal combination of sports if we were hoping to achieve success at top level in either field. However we enjoyed both sports so much that it was hard to make the decision to concentrate on one only. Two riders who did make a good job of the two sports at the one time were Colin Campbell and Athol Barker. Another good rider of my time was Jack Cassidy who in later years switched to yachting and achieved fame as the skipper of twenty-two yachts named “Evelyn”.
In the early part of the 1934 junior cycling season I made little progress. However, once I started work, I benefited from the extra training received while riding to and from the job, and pedalling about the city each day. By the time I left McAlinden’s I had shown some form and racked up a few points in the Arrow Cycles Consistency Competition. By the middle of September I had scored 46 points which put me 10 points behind the leader, Harold Smith, on equal terms with Tim Hutchinson and Andy Ford, one point ahead of Brian O’Keefe, and 2 points ahead of Len Sutton. Lennie had shown consistent form by gaining the fastest time in 13 races. He went on to greater things in the sport and his boys followed him.
The last race of the season was held at Welshpool on Sunday 28 October and it was won by a front-marker named Fletcher from Ean McDonald (now a city architect and long-term councillor) and then came Jim Skett. Fastest time went to Vin Wallis (a member of our Yokine Bowling Club) from Ray Moore, who was also a friend down through the years. In this race the leaders in the Arrow Cycles award for consistency finished in a bunch and after the points for the season were tallied and checked, my score was 72 points.
It gave me the Cup from Brian O’Keefe with 66 points and Harold Smith with 65 points. Most of our prizes through the season were orders on cycle shops so I was pleased to win another cup, having won an eight-mile Cup race earlier in the season. Somewhere I have that little cup with its race details, including the time 20 mins 45 secs. One reminder of the Arrow Consistency Cup win is the Mirror photo captioned “HE WON IT ON A GORDONSON”. (CORRECTION: The Mirror read “He May Be An Opperman One Day”, it was the New Call and Bailey’s Weekly that read “THE WINNER ROAD A GORDONSON”.)
Some fellow riders I remember are Charlie Capstick, Bill Innes, Sid Belicke, Bill McWhirter, Jack Concannen, Bill McDonald, Ken Vidler, Merv Fimmell, and the Schoolboys’ Championship riders of 1933. The Metropolitan Ladies Cycling Club raced fortnightly and the girls I remember racing include Gladys O’Connor, Gwen (?) Barrow, Jean McWhirter, and Shirley Hillman. We were all good friends and had lots of fun on the regular sponsored bike hikes.
On the sporting side I was preparing for the opening in April of the 1935 road cycling season in which I was planning to ride with the Western Districts Club which raced at Wembley or the City of Perth Club which held their races on the Wanneroo Road course. The corner of Green and Charles Streets was the marshalling area and they rode north down the hill past Dog Swamp and then through the Tuart Hill area towards Wanneroo and the day’s half-way turn. I had a couple of rides there, and with Metropolitan Juniors at Welshpool. Early in the season Gordonsons had offered me a new racing bike worth 13 pounds ($26) to continue riding their brand-name cycles but I decided to opt for football as my main sport.
Over the next few years I would become more involved with cycling on the official side while still having a ride or two. Later I would be organiser, secretary, and commentator at different times in an association with cycling that would last for forty years or more. I was not to know that my continuing interest in the sport would culminate in my being Patron of the League of WA Wheelmen from 1959-1976, that is until we moved to Darwin early in early 1976.
I rode in a few races in 1935 usually on a handicap of 90 seconds ahead of the scratch markers. I could finish with the bunch but my football seemed to have taken the edge off my sprinting and points were hard to get. One thing I do remember is that we paid 1/- (or 10c) to ride in a race for a 10/- ($1.00) voucher. My friends still cycling on with the Metropolitan Juniors included Clarrie Glossop, Eddie Hurst, Jack Crannage, Andy Ford, Bill Pegrum, Tim Hutchinson, Tom Griffin, and Frank Bartlett, later a hairdresser.
Friendships made at the bike races and bike hikes continued down through the years. Everybody went their different ways as they got jobs and moved from place to place and this even more so during and after World War II. I still meet fellows who remember our young days but now and then it is not so. Only recently I ran across someone who I had known fairly well as a fellow bike rider but his memory of those days was fading. Though my expectations in these things are probably too high I was still puzzled till I found out that he had been a prisoner of war under the Japanese. In cycling there was always something happening. The 1934 ride of Hubert Opperman from Land’s End to John of Groats at the top of Scotland was still fresh in our minds when the Australian cycling team toured Europe in 1935. “Oppy” was the team captain and the team included the two brothers from WA, Eddie and Harold Smith. Two others were Hefty Stuart and Ern Milliken. They did well.
Locally the Baldwin brothers, Howard and Les, were getting along fine at their Swansea Cycles shop in Fremantle where Les had some great cycling photos. Syd Congdon ran Congress Cycles just across Barrack Street from our shop and was also Secretary of the League of WA Wheelmen. Derek (Bluey) Hiscox was one of the really good cyclists who rode a Congress bicycle. Greg Chipper who got the Metropolitan Juniors underway in 1933/34 headed over to someone else in 1935 because of his work commitments. Greg was with Malvern Star Cycles in Forrest Place opposite the GPO. The Manager at the time was Jim Nabbs.
Bill Humphreys was one member of the Malvern Star/BSA team who rode with success. He put up a great ride in 1935 to win 1st and Fastest Time honours in the Bunbury to Donnybrook race. He was at his best in long-distance cycling and had a few records to his credit. A barber by trade he later teamed up with W.J. Lucas. I saw Bill in action in the shop windows of Lucas Cycles in 1936 pedalling away on a Lucas on his way setting a record of 3 hours 40 minutes for 100 miles (160km) on rollers. Roller competitions were popular in Perth. The public enjoyed the one-to-one contests and record-chasing rides held in Boans’ Murray Street windows. They attracted big lunchtime crowds. Boans-named bike was the Bluebird and I remember that good cyclist “Blue” Pender riding a Bluebird in those window demonstrations of cycles, rollers, and records.
In amateur circles, big and solid Don Hill was President of the WA Amateur Cycling Union and Herb Elliott (father of Australia’s later Olympic champion athlete) was the Honorary Secretary. One of the best junior amateurs was Colin Campbell (now well-known in the fishing tackle business). Colin represented Western Australia in the Australian Junior Championship in 1934 and rode with some success after his return. Like Athol Barker, one of his fellow amateurs, Colin successfully combined football with cycling and he later played league football for West Perth. Some of the many professional and amateur riders at the time included Ray Felton, Ossie Prowse, Geoff Pianta, Toti Bonser, Les Jacks, Dave Roberts, Harold Stock, Jack Norris, Tommy Norris, George Hebbard, Ray Brickhill, and O.K. Roberts who was killed in a road accident later in the year.
My friend, Ray Moore, trained hard for the Malvern Star Junior Cycling Championship in which points were scored in three sprints. He ran second with 18 points to Vin Woollett of Albany, a tall rider, who secured 22 points. Money being scarce in those days a fund had to be opened up to enable Ray to go East to ride in the Australian Final. Another fund was opened up in Northam to help the third placegetter, local boy Charlie Dunnell, join the WA team. All three sailed for Melbourne on the S.S. Karola in September, 1935. The favourite for the final was Victorian Billy Guyatt, still a well-known name in Melbourne, but he had bad luck and crashed out of the race. Our team was unplaced in the final points tally. The race was won by a Queenslander, Phil? Crow.
In 1932, three years after coming to the West, Bruce Small’s Malvern Star firm had taken over one of the Padbury Buildings in Forest Place to sell their Star bikes which were made in the Melbourne factory. When their General Accessories branch opened up in Perth in 1933, Malvern Star were able to build their cycles here and secure a share of the strong market for locally made cycles. Ray Moore rode a Malvern Star and went to work with General Accessories where he became top cycle mechanic. He later specialised as a wheel builder and did well out on his own. Thirty years later he was to appear from nowhere when my Holden got a puncture. He had the wheel off and on in a flash. Good man.
Herb Elliott was Manager of General Accessories around that time. Then no one could have foreseen that nearly fifty years on (1982) General Accessories in Melbourne would decide that no more Malvern Star bicycles would be built in Australia because the easing of tariffs on imported machines made local manufacture unviable. All future stocks would be made to order in Japan and Taiwan. Hubert Opperman was not amused and he was moved to comment “This is something you could never have believed could happen to an Australian institution like the Malvern Star”.
The Malvern Star people ran good advertising campaigns in which they stressed that “British B.S.A. Parts” were used throughout the assembling of their product. The words British and B.S.A. (Birmingham Small Arms Company Limited) had strong pulling power in those days and sales jumped accordingly. Local cycle makers met the challenge and kept on turning out good bikes with the latest accessories included at competitive prices. Going were the days of smoky kerosene lamps, and the need to add a little water before lighting your carbide lamp. The standard dry cell battery lamps front and back were in, and coming fast after them were the electric sets. Your new bike could now come fitted with an electric generator that ran on the front wheel and lit up both headlight and tail-light. A ten-year guarantee and a free insurance policy and you were on the road for eight pounds ($16) cash. A ride to the police station with a shilling (10c) in your pocket earned you a licence plate and a number stamped on the frame of your bike to discourage theft. You could leave your bike most places with little risk of today’s wholesale stealing.
How did we fill in our time after the cycling and footy seasons were over? Bike hikes were the answer, sometimes to the beach and sometimes to the countryside which was not really far from the city in those days. Armadale was only 18 miles (29km) out then but the countryside along the way has now disappeared. Development along every mile has gradually swallowed up every little farmlet, roadside fruit and produce stall, and every shady spot alongside the highway. No more do those bright little Willie Wagtails flit from the back of one animal to another for the sheep and the cows and other grazing stock are missing, and our cheeky little birds are no longer there. The bush creatures have migrated and only the crows and the magpies and an occasional kookaburra are left to mock us for our lack of a greenbelt philosophy in past years.
Regular Sunday bike hikes were organised for the better weather by the Malvern Star Touring Club. Under the eyes of “Stars” man, J J Baker, we would assemble at Forrest Place in front of the GPO and outside Padbury Buildings (demolished in 1987), then the home of Malvern Star (and also the WA Football League and Billy Orr). With men like Greg Chipper (and once the great Hubert Opperman) leading the way a hundred or more riders would pedal off to some mystery destination, or to Scarborough or Armadale. We would all be in a happy mood and looking forward to a fun day which usually included all kinds of sporting contests for all ages with prizes, and a good time picnic lunch. Many hikers came from the several clubs and just as many from the cycling public and supporters.
Shirley Hillman, a regular hiker, was also a keen competitor. She had reddish hair and freckles and a friendly personality. She would have been about five feet tall and about eight stone (50kg). She trained hard for an attempt on the Women’s Cycling record for the 61-mile (98km) course from Northam to Perth. When the big day arrived the winds were blowing so strong that Dean Toseland, the South Australian road champion, and his partner Billy Read had to postpone their attempt on the men’s tandem record for the same trip. Shirley decided she would go. It was a brave decision for the strong winds at gale force almost pulled her off the bicycle. After a very hard ride she reached Perth just two minutes outside the record. A few weeks before Xmas Shirley set a new record of 2 hours 59 minutes. She then went on to sit a new time of 5 hours 52 minutes for 100 miles. Shirley set a pattern for women’s records.
Cycling – Albany Trip (September 1935)
In September 1935 I used most of my three week’s annual holidays to do a cycling tour of the South-West and the Albany districts with my friend Trevor (Alf) Perry who worked in the Taxation Office. We had first met when we played junior football with the Temperance League which had many teams and sections and to whom the credit must go for fostering junior football in Perth in the 1930s. My photo albums include a snap of our departure for this 800-mile (1,290 km) journey from outside the King Edward Hotel in Pier Street, on the corner of Hay Street. This take-off point was not related to having “one for the road” before we left. We had been to the Temperance League rooms in Davilak Chambers, opposite the hotel, where the Director, Mr Rose, gave us letters of introduction to people down South who would host us overnight in the main towns. He then came out with us and took our photo with our bikes loaded up with a small case and our cape and blankets.
We ran into rain in the mid-afternoon on our way towards Pinjarra and had to take cover under a bridge somewhere near the turn-off to Jarrahdale. We set about boiling the billy in true swaggie style and had our first setback. The billy was leaking. Chewing gum came to the rescue and we had a hot cup of tea, with a spearmint flavour, and cheese and biscuits. No handy take-aways. We sat the rain out for a couple of hours and when a break came we made for a house on the side of a small hill on our left. It was deserted with nothing there but old newspapers lying about on the floor. We spent a reasonably comfortable night there.
In those days a cycling trip was usually trouble-free for we could do all our own repairs and there were no traffic problems by day. Our ride to Pinjarra and later on to Bunbury was uneventful. The Toc H (the Talbot House Christian organisation), or a similar group, looked after us when we reached Bunbury where we stayed a couple of days. We then cut across to Boyup Brook and down through Kojonup to Albany where we were put up by the Toc H for a few days. We paid some money for their help as we had a travel kitty to dig into. Trevor was happy to have me doing the budgeting till we started to get a little light on finance and I had to review our outgoings. Then like the accountants who today run all the big businesses in this country, and like the “economists” who run the country, I had to bring in one or two changes. Cigarettes were the first target so Trevor had to stop smoking for the rest of the trip. He voted against it but the Treasurer had his way. Trevor took it all pretty well.
We were down to a few shillings when we arrived at Williams on the way back to Perth so we camped at the showgrounds where we slept on a concrete floor in an empty office or shed. Cold? I have been in some cold places but in Williams that night it was freezing, and that concrete floor was no help. We tossed and turned all night and were glad when morning arrived. Our rations were down end so we asked a lady at a house where we could buy something. She gave us a cup of tea and some toast. We thanked her and said our goodbyes, and set off for Pinjarra which was 47 miles (75km) away. We stayed at Pinjarra that night and rode home the last 50 miles the next day. The trip was another experience along life’s busy highway which we both enjoyed and still well remember. When I met Trevor in Penang in 1978, after a long time no-see, he quickly told his fellow travellers about the 1935 ban on smokes. He still tells the tale to anyone who will listen when Yokine meets his club, Scarborough, in pennant bowls fixtures.
Cycling – Perth (1936)
Early in 1936 I bought a motorbike from a friend of mine at work, Harry Chapple. It was a Levis two and a half horsepower 2 stroke, known as the Isle of Man model. It cost me ten pounds ($20) and it was to be paid off at 10/- ($1) a week. It was black and carried the licence number 3038 which clearly shows up in a photo I have. When you filled up you put the oil and petrol in together and hoped for the best. It had a kick starter which you had to hook up once the engine ticked over, and at times it smoked a lot.
One day I do remember it was smoking badly while I waited to turn out of Forrest Place into Wellington Street and I kept my eye on the policeman on point duty in case he decided to come over and have a word with me. Luckily he was too busy keeping the traffic flowing to worry about me and I was able to head west leaving a cloud of fumes behind me. Too much oil in the petrol was the problem. I sometimes used to ride the bike around Mounts Bay Road towards the Crawley Baths and beyond and if it was a windy day it was not easy. A strong South-Wester would have the motorbike flat out but making little ground for it used to seem as though I was just about at walking pace. Still, it was a lot of fun.
When I was on shift work I could hop on the motorbike and run a few urgent messages for the shop particularly when the supplier was located on the fringe of the city area. One frequent trip was to Petersen’s of 698 Beaufort Street, Mount Lawley who stocked a variety of wedding and birthday cake decorations and ornaments. We made cakes for special occasions at short notice and often had to rush up to Peterson’s to get his and her dolls for wedding cakes on silver horseshoes and the like. When I arrived at the house on the corner of Queen’s Crescent (the 1921 premises behind had been burnt out in 1934 and were rebuilt in 1954) I had to remember my Mum’s instructions and pick out novelties required for particular orders. Petersen’s are still in business at that site but in more modern premises at the rear. A Petersen still runs the business.
During the summer track cycling season I had a few rides at the Fremantle trotting grounds without much success. There was a lot of interest in various road record attempts which included Dean Toseland and Billy Read having another go at the tandem record, Northam to Perth. They set a new time of 2 hours 37 minutes for the 62 miles only to see a good friend of mine down through the year, Les Cugley, with his partner Bert Evans, get the time down again.
Les and Bert took 2 hours 29 minutes on a Malvern Star machine fitted with a three-speed cyclo gear carrying gears of 74, 82 and 100. Their biggest problem was dodging the rabbits going through the Clackline area where some years later my people would have the same problem on a small farm. Les was not content with the tandem record and later in the month set a new solo record Northam-Perth of 2 hours 38 minutes. In February Bruce and Frank Small brought “Oppy”, Ern Milliken and Hefty Stuart over to attack local records for track and road and they did well.
The 1936 heats of the Malvern Star Junior Championship were raced in August and the local winner was Eddie Barron of York. He was a great rider and his win took him into the final which was to be held early in September in Sydney. The other members of our team were Garry Fitzgerald (Fremantle), Bert Mayne (schoolboy champion), and George Kluth from Wiluna, with J J Baker as manager. The 1935 team had travelled across to Melbourne on the SS Karoola and now the new challengers for the Australian title were going to set sail for Sydney on the SS Katoomba. The final was over 17 laps of the circuit course at Bondi and a distance of 15 miles (24km). It was won by the Victorian Billy Guyatt, who fell the previous year. Guyatt gained 20 points. Eddie Barron ran third with 16 points. The Vics won the teams section with 30 points beating the WA team by 10 points. In more recent times Eddie has told me that in the first lap the other three WA riders crashed out of the race and that means that Eddie scored our total of 20 points. Eddie rode well throughout his cycling career and had many successes.
Eddie went into the cycle building business after coming home from the War. The name of Barron became synonymous with the very best workmanship and service and the quality machines built under his Flash Cycles brand name were ridden all over the state. He located his workshop and major retail premises in Midland and had a number of branches. He retired in 1980/81 and continued on with his long voluntary service to cycling administration. Eddie and I got together again a few years after the war when I again became involved in the administrative side of cycling right up to 1976. Eddie, in 1988/89, is still the leading figure in WA pro cycling.
Cycling – Coolgardie (April 1937-April 1938)
At 17 I was the youngest of the boarders for their ages ranged up to the fifties. When someone heard that I played football I was invited to a Mines Rovers training session at the local oval and then was named to play on the weekend. In the meantime I had not been too wrapped up in the oval where there was not one blade of grass to be seen. It was of bare ironstone gravel which I did not fancy as the ideal playing surface. I was easily discouraged from playing by someone from the cycle club who suggested that I join that club and ride in a race the next Sunday.
I had not brought a bike up but someone offered to lend me theirs so I could add one more to the field. They may have been short of numbers but not class. Young George Lathrope rode well and then there was Jack McFarlane, Archie Francis, the Messenger brothers and several more who knew what the pedals were for. Well, I rode that Sunday and finished down the track, but finished. The spirit was strong but the body weak. Regular training was out of the question with no bike and my loan bike could not be borrowed for training as its owner, Frank Smith, rode it out to the mine and back every day. I was able to borrow his bike to ride on Sundays when the race field sometimes included Frank’s brother, Randall.
Soon after my arrival in Coolgardie I met an old friend of mine, Bill Castles, who had lived next door to us in Cannington in 1931. He worked on the mines but on Sundays rode in the bike races that started and finished in Bayley Street. It was Bill who talked me into joining the cycle club instead of one of the football clubs. It was arranged for Frank Smith to lend me his bike and I had my first local ride on 4 July. Riding without miles of roadwork is no way to success but I was glad to have a race. First time out they gave me a four-minute start over ten miles and I ran down the track in a race won by Arch Francis, my friend at the hostel.
On 11 July it was a 15-mile race and a field of ten. I ran third to Vern Purvis (ex Leonora) and Harry Price. So far so good. On 18 July we rode 15 miles and Vern Purvis just won with Eddie McInnes second and yours truly third again. No worse, no better. 25 July saw a great finish with four riders crossing the line together, with Randell Smith winning from Vern Purvis and myself. The scratch markers followed us, just behind. Our races were run on a good bitumen road and the 15 milers were designed to give us a small hill or two out and back. As we came back past Fly Flat and Bayley’s Reward, we would be hoping to finish strongly up the rise as we headed for the finish outside the Court buildings. My handicap had now brought me closer to the backmarkers and the 1 August race saw me finish out of a place in the event won by George Lathrope, with fastest time, from Arch Francis. Both were off scratch. In my next race I punctured and I then saddled up on 15 August in another race won by Lathrope from Francis, both of them off scratch again, and hung on to run third.
There was no local race on 22 August for the day was set aside for the big race from Widgiemooltha to Norseman. The event was staged by the Norseman Cycle Club and attracted a strong field of 27 riders from Coolgardie, Norseman and Kalgoorlie. The race was run over 57 miles (92km) with Vin Wallis from Kalgoorlie alone on scratch giving 50 minutes start to the three front markers whom I think were local Widgie riders. Two of them were O’Callaghans and could have been part of the O’Callaghan family that ran the local pub at Widgiemooltha. It was a tough course and the winner was the Norseman rider, Tom Fuller, from his fellow clubmate, Frank Mayberry. Jack Hunt who ran fourth set a fastest time of 2hr 33min for the 57 miles. I did not ride in that, not having my own bike, but really it was a bit far for me, although later on I had a go.
The Sunday after the race meeting, 29 August, saw me in action once more, this time over the short distance of 5 miles. My race bike was still one borrowed from Frank Smith which had the wheels fitted with lighter wooden rims. Bernie Messenger shared the mark with me and we had a one minute start. We raced together most of the way after getting to the front and headed up the rise in Bayley Street and raced towards the finish. Bernie kicked first and got away a fraction but I drew level and then gave it all I had as we made for the finish line. My front wheel hit the mark with Bernie’s, and then disaster!
Down I crashed as the wooden rim collapsed, too brittle to stand the impact after the final kick for victory. Only half a tyre in it but the race went to Bernie. For me there was no win to ease the pain. My fall to the road landed me on the very edge of the bitumen road strip and I skidded along the gravel on the roadside being scraped from foot to shoulder. Four days in the local hospital resulted but I was well looked after by the kind nurses. They had me back on the job on the Friday carrying a few bruises.
I was happy to have my own bike again (after Cec sent Doug’s bike on the train to Coolgardie) and I am sure that Frank Smith was too. He might have been lucky that it was me who crashed down rather than himself as he cycled to and from the mine. My Gordonson was not a true racing bike as it was a roadster model, rather than a lightweight racing machine. It was all I could afford in 1932 and it was still lasting well. I had ridden it in all my races despite the machine having the heavier frame and wheels with standard road tyres. There was nothing special about it except that it was a sturdy machine and had never let me down. Now I had it back and I was set to go. A training ride or two along the Kalgoorlie road and I nominated. The next race day, 11 September, saw me back in the saddle in a 25-mile handicap on a mark of 8 minutes. One good fall deserves a good start? Well it did not help much in an incident-packed race. Funny things happen in races and the best-laid plans go wrong. Several of the riders were fined for taking pace from a vehicle. I rode hard till that bunch caught me, and then just plugged on.
The longer races were an essential lead-up for the Widgiemooltha-Coolgardie race to be held in October so I rode in three 25-mile (40km) races during September without finishing in a place. Lack of training was the main reason. The shorter races suited me a bit better for you could get away with being a bit underdone. No matter as I then, not being of sound mind, entered in the “Widgie” to be run on 10 October 1937, from Widgiemooltha to Coolgardie, over a distance of 46 miles (76 km). This race was different to any other that year, except the Menzies-Kalgoorlie, for it attracted a crack field. The Goldfields champion, George Hubbard and “Toti” Bonser from Perth, were sharing the scratch mark with fourteen riders ahead of them, including myself on the limit of 16.00 minutes start. I would have needed an hour that day for it was like committing “hara-kiri” going in for this race. “Mad dogs and Englishmen, out in the noon-day sun.”
Anyway, the race started about 12.30pm and I was away, so it can be said that I led for part of the race. With a long way to go I rode steadily along hoping that someone would catch me up fairly soon so that we could ride together and share the pace while the road was good. Bernie Messenger was not that long coming up alongside me and we pushed on trying to hold our position in the lead. I stayed with Bernie till we got close to Spargoville, maybe half-way home, then slowed up and later pulled out after we hit a stretch of sand over which we had to carry our bikes. When the riders still in the race passed me by I was picked up by the official truck to join two other riders who had pulled out.
Bernie Messenger led through Spargoville and was still in the bunch past Horse Rocks, 20 miles from Coolgardie, where Randall Smith led. George Hebbard had retired with punctures, and his co-scratch marker, “Toti” Bonser, who relished this kind of tough race, finished on to win. My Cannington friend Bill Castles was second and “Cob” Senior from Norseman was third. Randall Smith was next and was the only other rider to finish. A hot day and a rough road with a sand patch or two thrown in made it hard work.
The Coolgardie Miner reported that “Apart from punctures there were no mishaps during the race. The race was in very bad condition throughout and all riders, with the exception of the winner, were showing signs of distress”. When Toti was called as just about to head up Bayley Street, I was “in distress” at the Denver City enjoying a lemon squash. The bar emptied at the news and we saw Toti coming past Moran’s Store and then the Post Office as he headed for the finish line. Bonser showed the courage and toughness that was later to help him win the 1940 Beverley-Perth and get time honours in 1940/41/47 (42?). Fifty years on in 1987 he was still winning races as a top veteran bike rider. A “Widgie” win earned Toti 12 guineas ($25) hard cash and the O’Callaghan Cup, fifty shillings ($5) and the Randall and Edwards Cup for gaining fastest time. Bill Castles got $10, Cob Seinor $6 and for 4th Randall Smith got $3. No way to make a million.
A few days after the 1937 Melbourne Cup Australia’s greatest cyclist, Hubert Opperman, dipped the back wheel of his bike in the Indian Ocean at Fremantle, and then set out to break the old cycling record from Fremantle to Sydney, a journey of 2,760 miles (4,427 km). “Oppy” left Fremantle at 10.30am on Friday 5 November heading for Perth and Forrest Place where he had a second public send-off. This time it was in Forrest Place outside the Malvern Star premises opposite the GPO. Messages to civic leaders along the way were handed to him, and he was given a rousing farewell by the big crowd of well-wishers.
“Oppy” rode through Northam around 3pm and, urged on by the cheers and applause of the locals, headed for Merredin 100 miles away. Five hours later he had a narrow escape when he rode around the left-hand bend at the dangerous Doodlakine railway crossing. He was blinded as strong car lights were shone on him and he nearly ran into a goods train. The crossing had a bad accident record over later years and was finally closed by a road change. At 8.30 that evening Oppy rode past a Hines Hill farm west of Merredin where the farming family came out with hurricane lamps and cheered him on. I met the young girl of that family during the war years. She still remembers well the night Oppy rode on by. (I was in Coolgardie waiting for Oppy to arrive the next day). We were married in 1946 when I came back from New Guinea and we are still going strong. In the 1960s and the later years we met with Hubert Opperman on many occasions in Perth, Geelong, and Canberra. The last time I spoke with him was May 1988.
Oppy reached Merredin at 9.30pm and rode another 30 miles till he stopped for a sleep break. He was up at dawn and on his way to Southern Cross which was reached at 8.30 am. By late afternoon he was riding past the famous Rock Hotel (a chap named Tome could have been the licensee) at Bullabulling where the locals had gathered to help the champion on his way. Someone reported on to Coolgardie where the people had already gathered at the pub bars, and outside the two hotels. They were not to know that Oppy would be a little longer than expected for he took a bush track alongside the road to get a break from the terrible corrugations and it finished in a dead end. He had to carry his bike back to the road. The corrugations had to be seen to be believed.
Bernie Messenger, my regular cycling opponent, picked me up and we sped down the road on his motorbike to meet Oppy and follow him into town. We found him a few miles from Coolgardie plugging along on the track beside the railway line. He waved a hand to us but his legs never missed a beat. We sat in behind him to avoid raising a dust cloud and about a mile or so out of town we went ahead to alert the locals that Oppy would ride in very shortly. Everybody came out into the street to cheer their hero as he rode on through the town. He slowed a little but did not stop as I recall. Once he hit the bitumen he would have wanted to speed up and push on to Kalgoorlie, 24 miles (39km) further on.
It was just after 8pm, and 34 hours after leaving Fremantle that Oppy reached the outskirts of Kalgoorlie to find groups of people and many cars lining the last mile or two of his ride into the town where he received a rousing welcome from a large crowd. Right down from the early 1890s the goldfields people had grown up with the bicycle as the principal means of transport, and their interest in bike racing had been born in the first staging of the world-renowned “Westral Wheel Race” in Coolgardie’s early days. Now they had their chance to see and cheer on their hero and the greatest Australian cyclist of all time, Hubert Opperman.
Oppy left Kalgoorlie that night but riding the “roads” in the pitch-black darkness proved to be too dangerous and a four-hour sleep break was taken about 8 miles out of Kalgoorlie. The next morning he was back in the saddle early heading out alongside the transcontinental railway line. He reached Karonie about 11.30am, and was now 456 miles (737 km) from Fremantle on his third day. A lunch break was taken and then it was on to Zanthus. Anyone who travelled across Australia in those days, or in an Army cattle truck during the War, or later on the Trans or the Indian Pacific will appreciate the problems that lay in store for any cyclist on his way to Port Augusta.
Oppy met the challenge of the Nullarbor head-on. He battled with unbelievable “roads” and “tracks” and there were many times when he hit long stretches of sand where he was forced to get off and carry his bike. The sun beat down on the intrepid traveller with the heat of a furnace as the temperatures went well over the 100 degrees mark (38 C). There were plagues of flies by day and swarms of insects by night. An occasional fall was par for the course. Twice during his ride Oppy woke to find himself lying on the road still strapped into his pedals after he went to sleep in the saddle. Throughout the trip he averaged four hours sleep a night.
Sunburn and rainstorms were a contrast in conditions but real. On the way from Karonie to Zanthus, Oppy was hit by a cloudburst when the heavens opened up and turned the track into a mudslide. Time and time again all traction was lost and he would slip down the side banks into the depressions that were quickly filled with water. Many of the locals would have met with similar conditions The clay-like mud would have clogged his wheels and helped to slow him right down. In fact it took him nearly ten hours to get to Zanthus which was 70 plus miles past Karonie. 7mph! Tough going!
After Zanthus he headed for Rawlinna and Nullarbor Station and I think it was on this section that he had to follow claypan tracks for over 200 miles. Oppy and his backup team were really into desolate country so forbidding that it was found necessary to arrange that if no news about them was heard of for three days a relief party would have to be sent out. However they got to the Nullarbor Station at 6.30am on Thursday 11 November, Day 6. They had completed 1,027 miles on their way to Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. The whole story has been written up many times so I will move on quickly to the end of the record-breaking feat to relate how it all turned out.
As Oppy drew near to the end of his epic ride he found people lining the road as he cycled the last 30 miles into Sydney. The 1930s were times for heroes and Australia was well supplied with them. The three most famous were Don Bradman, Walter Lindrum, and Hubert Opperman, all men of our time in 1937, and all the world’s No. 1 champions in their chosen sports of cricket, billiards, and cycling. The people of Australia idolised them for they were true sportsmen who never descended into “sledging”, or putting a fist or foot into their opponents. They were non-drinkers all three, and I think they were also non-smokers, throughout their careers.
At 11pm on 18 November Oppy rode into Martin Place in Sydney to the cheers, and the tears, of over 60,000 people. What a wonderful night it must have been. No “rent-a-crowd” gathering but sincere people, young and old, gathered to welcome one of their own in his, and their, moment of great achievement. Hubert Opperman had ridden 4,427 km (2,751 miles) in 13 days, 10 hours and 11 minutes under conditions that were at times appalling. Behind him had been a dedicated team led by Bruce Small whose organisation plan included the caravan fitted with sleeping berths, a fridge, and a stove. Pretty ordinary in these days but then the idea of caravans for road trips was a recent trend. Here in the West they were a novelty. Bruce Small changed that for all time with his efforts to give Oppy every chance for the record.
One man who had already faced the “horrors” of riding a bike across Australia was one of the first to congratulate Opperman. He was Billy Read whose record for the journey had been reduced by 5 days by Oppy. In 1933 Read and Gordon Jones had ridden on their own on a tandem without a support team, and made the trip in 22 days, 17 hours. When Billy rode solo he had two helpers with a car. When the vehicle had one of its frequent breakdowns, Read would ride on till they caught up. Once it was two days before he saw them again. A packet of biscuits had to last him two days.
The cycle club had its 1938 Annual Meeting early in March with Mr Wal MacFarlane in the chair and we had Dick Lowes as Secretary, and Arthur Dunstan as Treasurer. Apart from the minutes and the reports and speeches, the race arrangements for the season had to be planned. The last Sunday in March saw the cycling season open up with a five-mile event, which was about the right distance for the riders like me who used to train lightly in the hot weather. George Lathrope had not been slacking for he raced home to win in 13 mins 16 seconds from Bernie Messenger and Archie Francis with Randall Smith next and me finishing fifth with a time of 14m 30s. The rest of the field came in at varying intervals.
Cycling – Norseman (July 1938-August 1938)
Although the Coolgardie cycling season opened late in March the Dundas (Norseman) Club did not resume racing till Sunday 3 July and the odd reason for this was that all riders were under suspension by the League of WA Wheelmen. It would have been for a breach of the rules or perhaps a delay in the club paying its dues by a certain date. The opening race was over 15 miles with the start and finish being in Roberts Street, somewhere near the grocery store and Blizard’s drapery. The road was very wide, with the electric light poles set running down the middle.
The 3 July race resulted in a win for Bill Coppin, from “Cob” Seinor second and fastest time from scratch, with Bill Tilbrook in third place. The following Sunday the Club raced over 20 miles and this time Ken Fuller won from Terry Makings. Alf Norris of the Kalgoorlie club, who was heading for stardom, ran third and gained fastest time. Tom Fuller was fourth. The start of the new season diverted me from playing football every two or three weeks as the club members would gather together on the Sunday afternoon to go on bike hikes. Everybody had bicycles then, and the sisters and girlfriends of the riders helped to make up a balanced group.
We would ride out to places like the Princess Royal mine or the Lakes. Other mines we rode out to were the Pennyshaw, the Lady Miller, and the Iron King. Not all would have been operating. The Iron King lasted the longest. The roads out were reasonable tracks for bikes and the scenery was not too bad along the way. In season, the wattles and the gum trees flowered as did the many varieties of wildflowers. Bottle brush, donkey orchids, everlastings and Sturt’s desert pea were all seen in the spring. Some of the happiest times of my life were spent out on the bike hikes for they were a break from work, and one of the best ways for forming firm friendships with other young people of the town.
My photo album helps me to recall some of those friends who were part of those enjoyable outings that we had from time to time. The girls included Marion Leslie, Elsie Pugsley, Beverly Dally, Fay Fuller, Effie Badock, the Wojvodich sisters May and Rose, Dot Mayberry and Pat Sharpe. The men included Tom Fuller, Alf Norris, Harry Morgan, “Cob” Seinor, Fred Badock, Bill Coppin, Ken Fuller, Terry Makings, Sam Sharpe, Ron Maitland and Frank Mayberry. There were some others but they were out of camera range at the time.
We were all good friends and enjoyed many varied interests that were part of town life. Picture nights were popular as were the dances, especially the Annual Cycle Club Ball. Some of the girls were debutantes at the RC Queen Carnival Ball. Dot, Marion, Rose, May, Fay, and Marie, were all presented. After that they danced with their escorts to the music of Bob Nelthorpe’s Orchestra.
Sunday 21 August gave me another chance to commit “hari-kari” on a bicycle. As if the Widgiemooltha-Coolgardie race had not been enough to deter me forever, I gave in again to try and help make up the field for the Norseman-Higginsville and return, over a distance of 80 miles (129km). My friends said goodbye to me when I was pushed off from the front mark of eighteen minutes and headed away from town leading the field of ten or eleven riders.
A few minutes behind were Ron Maitland, Terry Makings and Bill Fuller, then George Martin and Ken Fuller. Bill Coppin and Tom Fuller rode from 6.00 minutes. Cob Seinor and Alf Norris, from 2 mins, were the scratch men in effect as the listed scratch markers failed to get to the start.
The road out of Norseman was not too bad but further along it was rough. The corrugations were deep and with nowhere else to go we had problems. One or two riders found that the front wheel nuts were apt to loosen up from the vibrations and the wheel jump out. Corrugations, pot-holes, and sand stretches were all meant to try us. Bill Coppin and Ken Fuller punctured early. I soon found out that football practice was not enough to ride 80 miles on. When I cramped at the 22 miles peg I pulled out. I was no orphan, for it was not long before young Bill Fuller and Ron Maitland retired at the 35 miles peg leaving only four riders to go around the turn.
The field was reduced to three when Terry Makings pulled out two miles after the 40-mile turn. Alf Norris rode to the 60-mile mark at Pioneer and then retired. Tom Fuller fell but got up and rode on for he was as tough as nails. Once he was wound up again he was right and he plugged on to win the race from Cob Seinor who ran second and gained fastest time. Three weeks later Tom rode in the Widgiemooltha-Norseman over a distance of 68 miles (110km).
Again, riders had the problem of wheels jumping out on the bad corrugations. Bill or Tom Fuller crashed and then finished up in the Norseman hospital with a few wounds to be attended to. Gravel rash and abrasions were easy to get in those days. In much later years Tommy was in business in Esperance and in 1988 was living in the Perth suburb of Noranda. That was my last race in Norseman and I then became more involved with the running of the club.
Cycling – Kalgoorlie (March 1939-February 1940)
In March 1939 the Norseman Cycle Club had sent a small team up to Kalgoorlie to race against the locals. I was in Perth on holiday. I was unlucky and missed out on meeting up with Bill Coppin and my other Norseman friends again. The visitors tried their hardest but the Kalgoorlie boys were too good. There were several falls due to the small track and its speed. It was one of the fastest in Australia and the local riders knew it well. My friends must have let the Kalgoorlie officials know that I had helped out in the running of the Norseman Club because I was no sooner back from Perth that I was sounded out to be secretary of the Eastern Goldfields Cycling Club. The current secretary, Fred Lafferty, was looking for a break from the job. I have met him at lawn bowls in recent years and we still talk about the changeover for I decided to take it on. The Club was the biggest in the State and one of the biggest in Australia. The job was a challenge to be taken up.
The handover took place at the Annual General Meeting and the President, Eric Watts, and the Committee then set their sights on the opening of the road-racing season on the long weekend of 30 April / 1 May. Once the track racing on the Kalgoorlie Oval track was finished, the racing transferred to the western end of Hannan Street, outside the Hannans Hotel run by Rod Beaton. Here I met Mr Beaton for the first time. He was a fairly well-built man with very fair hair and a round, friendly face and he was always well-dressed. I was able to use his office, which had a window facing the street, on the Sunday mornings for it was essential to my job as the commentator. Yes! That went with the Secretary’s duties. The outside microphone had to be plugged into the old type lamp globe socket in the office taking the cord through the window. It worked well enough and soon I would be chattering away about the day’s races and the riders and club news. More cycling later.
My job as Secretary to the Eastern Goldfields Cycling Club kept me busy in between work and going out. Earlier in the year I had hoped to play a full footie season with the Railway Rovers team but the start of the bike racing season put an end to that idea. The amount of work required from the cycle club officials is best illustrated when I explain that each Sunday we had to organise up to 100 riders. The 1930s were great years for cycling with many champion riders hitting the headlines with thrilling wins or when they made successful attempts on track and road records. Hubert Opperman was the greatest of them all and was a public hero along with the cricketer, Don Bradman, and the Kalgoorlie born, Walter Lindrum, the world champion billiards player.
One typical cycling Sunday would see 48 seniors line up for a 30 mile (48km) race over two laps out along the bitumen road towards Coolgardie. Immediately they were away the 30 junior riders were sent off for a 7 mile (11km) one-lap race which would be run and won before the seniors completed the first lap. When the seniors turned for their second lap the 16 waiting juvenile riders lined up and were away to race over 3 miles (5 km). The senior riders were getting ready for the Menzies to Kalgoorlie race later in the season and it was no surprise when the scratch marker, George Hebbard, won well in the fastest time of one hour and 16 minutes. Bill (“Toti”) Bonser was a length away, and Ab Trembarth third.
Another part of my position as Secretary was the preparation of the race-day programme for the coming Menzies-Kalgoorlie. Apart from getting the many business advertisements for the programme I had to organise the taking of photos of previous winners of the big race. The man for that professional task was Tommy Williams, a bright and breezy supporter of cycling, who had his studios at 280 Hannan Street between Norm Smith’s electrical place and C & H Locke’s furniture store. Tommy came to the cycling that Sunday morning and we had a number of past Menzies winners present for Tommy to photograph. I have a souvenir programme from the 1939 Menzies-Kalgoorlie and when I look at it for some of the former winners there for the photos, I see Reg Bennetts, who was Naomi’s older brother, George Rose, Jack Hunt, “Tim” Hudson, Bill Annear, and Dave Dellar (later Labor MLC for the N.E. Province, 1963-65).
Document – Menzies to Kalgoorlie Souvenir Program – Cash. Egan Memorial Race – with handwritten note by Doug Cash ‘2nd Last Place’. Source: Doug Cash Collection
The cycle club work was keeping me flat out. The regular duties that secretaries have to carry out and the work associated with the Menzies-Kalgoorlie race to be held on Sunday 27 August had to be worked in with my job and this proved a bit of a problem. I had to canvass business people for ads in the official program and for trophies and cash donations to build up a race prize list.
We had regular prize donors to our weekly races who were ready to support the Menzies but these people had to be contacted for the firm commitment needed when printing special race programmes. The minute my lunch hour arrived I would forget about eating and I would rush from the office with a list of contacts to be made that hour. Over the pre-race weeks there was such strong support that we were able to advise the club members and the press that the prize money for the Menzies would total 270 pounds ($540). A rough comparison with wages now would make that worth $20,000. It was not done without a trauma or two. My lunchtime appeals for donors always seemed to get me back to work a few minutes late, and my immediate boss, “Paddy” McMorrow, quite rightly reminded me that I must be back from lunch on time. Well, I did my best.
Hocking’s printing deadline for the souvenir race programme was getting closer and closer as I worked through my list of possible donors, when I made a mistake under pressure. I planned to ask the support of Arthur Dunstan, the owner of the Mt. Lyell Hotel. He had supported cycling when I was in Coolgardie and he was the treasurer for that local cycling club. Early in 1939 he had sold out his interest in the Denver City Hotel in Coolgardie to Ernie Scahill and bought the Mt. Lyell in Boulder Road Kalgoorlie.
I tried to ring him from work a couple of times but could not get him and when I decided to catch the tram out to the hotel to see him I invariably got side-tracked. The printing deadline arrived and knowing he would not want to be off the donors list I put him on the list for two guineas ($4.20) meaning to let him know what had been done. My plan to do that went astray a week or two before the Menzies and the publication of the prize list in the Miner, when I caught the mumps and was quarantined in hospital for nearly three weeks. When Arthur Dunstan saw the list and his name there without him knowing about it he was not happy. When he eventually spoke with me he told me off, and quite rightly so. He said he would have donated anyway but should not have been taken for granted. Another lesson for Doug Cash along life’s highway.
The Club had been happy to announce that the prize money had been increased beyond expectations because of the generous support of the donors. The final prize list totalled 270 pounds ($540) which in equivalent terms these days, on wage comparison basis, would be around $20,000. Goldfields people have given strong support to cycling since the early days of the famous Westral Wheelrace. When publishing the trophy list the Miner was moved to comment, “The 1939 Chas Egan Memorial Race (the “Menzies”) has proved the eastern goldfields cycling club to be one of the most energetic in the Commonwealth. This year’s event makes Kalgoorlie one of Australia’s leading cycle centres”.
We were expecting a big field of riders for the Menzies and some early possibilities had been Hubert Opperman, Keith Thurgood and Dean Toseland from South Australia, and Alby Barlow from Victoria. Alby Barlow was the only probable starter from the group when it got close to race day but he had to pull out later. Riders from all over the State had nominated for the race and the Club committee was expecting 90 or more riders to face up to the starter on the 27th.
While the arrangements for the race were being checked over by the race committee the riders were training hard and racing every Sunday. On 6 August our President, Eric Watts, and myself went up to Menzies to check over the local club’s arrangements for the start of the big race on the 27th, and to see what provisions had been made for accommodating race competitors overnight on the 26th. On the same day one of the lead-up races to the “Menzies” was being held. The Leonora-Menzies race over 64 miles (103km) was to be run and many Kalgoorlie riders were competing. We enjoyed a few refreshments and talked around while we were waiting.
The first rider to appear was Bill (often called “Tody” but “Toti” it is) Bonser. The minute he came in sight we knew he had done it again with another great ride from the scratch mark that gained him first place and fastest time. Toti is still riding today, nearly 50 years later, in the veterans’ races in Perth. He is still winning and setting records. We had a long chat while we were waiting for the finish of the 1988 Beverley to Perth. Bill won the Beverley in 1940 and gained the fastest time in 1940, 1941, and 1947. A remarkably fit “machine”.
I had plenty to keep me occupied in the hospital (with the mumps) for there was still some paperwork to be finalised for the Menzies, which was only two weeks away. The race program had been finalised with the last ad copy received and the proofs read. I was also the sportswriter for the cycling column in the popular weekend paper, the Sun. For it I had to provide a race review for the Menzies spread. I had to keep the Kalgoorlie Miner informed on the latest race news as well. The club committee headed by our president, Eric Watts, put a lot of work into finalising all the arrangements for the race, and helping me, when and where they could, with the paperwork. The other committee members included Alan Deas, the Treasurer and Senior Handicapper, Fred Lafferty the former secretary, and Les Cugley and Bill (Toti) Bonser who were the riders’ representatives. They were helped by Tom Weatherburn, Harry Parry, “Gus” Hebbard and Bill Annear, a former race winner.
Time waits for no man, and race day, 27 August, duly arrived to be greeted by a full-page spread in that day’s Sun. A full page in those days was a page twice the size of a page in a 1988 paper like the West Australian. The headlines were:
MENZIES CYCLE RACE TODAY
CHAMPIONS WILL RIDE 81 MILE COURSE
FOR STATE’S RICHEST PRIZE LIST
RECORD NUMBER OF 92 ENTRIES RECEIVED
Part of the story read:
“Mention of the goldfields road classic is not complete without some comment on the road. During the first five or six years the term “road” could hardly apply to the bush track, rough, ripply and sandy, that connected Menzies to Kalgoorlie, and the stretch from Menzies to Comet Vale was a wheelman’s nightmare, being almost axle deep in sand. In recent years, however, the road has improved, although it is still so far from perfect that the cyclist heaves a sigh of relief when he reaches Broad Arrow and bitumen, instead of bumping over ripples and skidding in ruts, and ploughing through sand.”
Sun, Kalgoorlie, Sunday 27 August 1939, page 6 – Menzies Cycle Race Today. Source: E D Cash Collection and Trove
All my race notes for the press were written while I was down in the dumps with mumps, and I could use that as an excuse for not tipping the winner but I won’t. I gambled on the weather being more suited to the middle-markers than the backmen but that was not the case on race day. In my two page-length columns I went through the field, rider by rider, and then tipped four for the places out of the big field. My tip for fastest time was George Hebbard. There were bets on the result. SP bookies had a market. Eddie Oates, who had his shop next to the Exchange Hotel, thought that George would be hard to beat and kept him very safe but there were good odds about the other riders in such a big field.
The conditions on the day suited the scratch markers right down to the ground for the more difficult the race was to ride, the more their class and experience gave them the edge. However, the bad roads, floods, and strong winds, did not deter 82 riders from facing up to the starter. The limit marker, A Sanders, rode off at 9.50am, and the race was on.
The road from Menzies to Broad Arrow was in very poor condition. Heavy rains had flooded many sections of the road where it ran through the lakes country north of Broad Arrow. The slippery road caused many riders to fall as they slithered about on the greasy surface. Punctures also took their toll. Strong winds that blew continuously from the west made the going hard for riders as they battled on against the elements along their way to Broad Arrow.
One of the casualties was the South Australian champion Clarrie Haupt who rode off scratch. He fell about five miles out of Broad Arrow but after attention to his cuts and bruises he jumped back on his bike and rode on. When the riders hit the bitumen they still had 24 miles (39km) to go. The scratch markers were now up with the leaders and when the headwinds changed to a tailwind the pace was clapped on. In Kalgoorlie over 2,000 people had gathered in Hannan street well before two o’clock to see the race finish, timed for 2.15pm, outside Jack Krause’s Grand Hotel.
It was George Hebbard who did best in the race to the line to win the 1939 Menzies and set a fastest time of 3hrs 43mins 35secs. This was 10 minutes slower than his record-breaking time in 1938. Harry Wheatley was second, P Sawyer third, C Kelly fourth, and an unlucky Clarrie Haupt, off scratch with Hebbard, fifth. Half the riders finished. The rest of the field pulled out with cramps or punctures, damaged machines, or as a result of abrasions or some other injury. They were brought into town by trucks and cars in time for most of them to see the finish of the race.
For winning the Menzies George Hebbard received 75 pounds ($150) cash, a Swansea cycle frame, and the Silver Prince Cup. Fastest time honours brought him another 25 pounds cash, and a Marshall Brothers cycle frame. The prizes and trophies for the race were presented at a dance held in the Caledonian Hall on the following Tuesday night. Most visiting riders stayed over for it, but where two or three could not be there we gave them their prizes early.
The greatest road rider the Eastern Goldfields Cycle Club had ever produced, George Hebbard had his career cut short soon after his good win in the Menzies because of the cessation of cycling after War was declared a week later on Sunday 3 September. Many sportsmen at the peak of their careers in their chosen sport had their plans changed almost overnight. George lived in Mount Hawthorn after the War and his three sons Colin, Neville, and Bob later played football with West Perth. Colin, the eldest, also played for Essendon in the VFL.
The race of the year was now over but there was much to do for in my case the donors and advertisers had to be followed up as the monies due were not collected pre-race unless volunteered to me. We had great support and were appreciative of it. The advertisers for the souvenir program included Norseman and Coolgardie people in business who were all known to me. Letters of thanks had to go to more than 60 donors of trophies or cash. Tommy Williams gave all the photographs and Dunlop Tyres the time medallions and feed bags. Supplies for the feeding stations were generously donated. We were helped out by Cadbury’s, Plaistowe’s, Mills and Wares, J and W Bateman, and by the fruit and markets people, Percy Weedon, Ike Shields, and the Producers Markets. It took a variety of people to see to the riders’ needs and make success a reality.
The cycle dealers took most of the advertising on the full-page spread in the Sun and just for the record I mention them here. Malvern Star centred their copy around the youngest of the Norris brothers, Alf, who at 20 had established a great record in Wheel Races and other Championships. Friendly Jack Johnston had his Austral Cycles shop in Boulder Road and his advert offered a “British and Best” cycle with a “Guaranteed For Ever” certificate for 10/1 ($1) deposit and 3/9 (38c) a week. The Harris Scarfe and Sandovers Rainbow cycle was sold by Syd Alman at his sporting goods shop in Hannan Street and for 6/19/6d ($14) you could have a fully-equipped bicycle with electric lights. The days of the kerosene and carbide lamps had still lingered on in Kalgoorlie. Everybody in the bike game played their part in the race success.
The Healing agent was Bert Bingley, a former President of the EGCC, who had his business down at 264 Hannan Street. Bill Moritz the Australian cycling champion rode a Healing and the firm’s ad carried a Moritz sales message “Turn Miles into Smiles”. Bert was a real good guy who I came to know fairly well, and I was pleased to be able to meet members of his family in later years in Perth. Bert’s popularity and his work in the community earned a just reward when three weeks after the Menzies he was elected to the office of Councillor in place of Harold Kingsbury who had resigned to take the position of Town Clerk for the Kalgoorlie Council. Mr Kingsbury had been 25 years with the Goldfields Water Supply.
The three shops up from Bert’s were the Marshall brothers, Bert and Ken, who built their own name brand cycle on the premises at 258. W J (Bill) Lucas’ agent for the “Lucas” cycle on the goldfields was Bill Slatter of Hannan Street, and he weighed in with an ad for the Sun. Swansea Cycles took a full page in the souvenir program. They had their own shop at 73 Hannan Street where you could buy a racing bike for 11 pounds ($22), roadsters $14, and ladies bicycles for $14. “Every cycle guaranteed for ten years”. Howard and Les Baldwin, who I knew right down the years, made the bikes at Fremantle and had the satisfaction of knowing that 60% of the riders in the 1939 Menzies rode a Swansea.
The Silver Prince cycle works built the Silver Prince and Silver King bikes at the factory in Boulder Road. The Maritana Street shop was run by Jack Silverthorne, a Menzies veteran who rode off the 1-minute mark in 1928 and off scratch in 1930/1931. In those three years “Tim” Hudson gained the fastest time honours so Jack had some tough opposition there. He got the urge again in 1937 and 1938 but in those years rode off 12 minutes, unplaced.
Cycling on the goldfields gets a good run in these pages because the sport has been a part of the mining town life since the early days of Coolgardie and the running of the first Westral Wheel Race. The riders have come from all walks of life and in later years many made their mark somewhere within the local community. Some finished up in politics and government. As individuals they were easy to get on with, but at the same time they were not afraid to be critical at meetings, and some of them never let the handicapper rest. Cycling is one of the toughest sports in the world for it needs guts, fitness, and endurance to a high degree, so as far as the Menzies goes I still salute all those who took part. I could possibly list all the 1939 races later.
The excitement of the Menzies overshadowed another courageous cycling feat. Two young riders left Perth on the Friday before our big race, on a Malvern Star tandem bicycle fitted with a three-speed gear, and headed for Kalgoorlie 372 miles (595km) away. Like the riders in the Menzies they had a tough ride. The young cyclists had to ride in heavy rain and hail and in very cold weather. They had to battle with the same corrugations that Hubert (Oppy) Opperman had to bump over on his Perth-Sydney ride in November 1937. Herb Elliott was the manager for the effort and he had the boys well equipped for their successful distance ride.
The boys made good time in the conditions but had some problems. On the last half of the trip they lost a fair bit of time when the official car following them got bogged. When it disappeared from sight the lads had to turn around and go back to find it, and they finished up helping to dig the car out of the mud before they resumed their ride. Around 7.30pm the two riders and their tandem passed through Coolgardie and headed for Kalgoorlie 39km (24 miles) further on. Over this last leg tiredness began to take its toll and the boys started falling asleep in the saddle. They would wake and find themselves off the road but luckily they had no falls. They reached Kalgoorlie at 10pm having ridden the 372 miles in 31hrs 48mins. A good night’s sleep refreshed them and I think they were up about noon to see the finish of the Menzies.
A week or so after the Menzies the club relaxed at picnic out at Lake Gidgie about half-way to Broad Arrow. I have a couple of photos from there with Naomi and me in one, and Tommy Norris, Eric Watts, Fred Lafferty, Les Cugley, and Kevin Johnston in the other. I feel sure the photos were taken on the same day, but it is possible that one was taken at Lake Kopi, near Kurrawang.
The last race for the 1939 road cycling season was held about the middle of September, probably the 10th, and it was the Senior 25 Mile Road Championship. The scratch markers included six of the State’s best cyclists. They were George Hebbard, the brothers Alf and Tommy Norris, Eddie Barron, Vin Willis, and Toti Bonser. The race was run as a time trial with the riders leaving at intervals of three minutes, and a sealed handicap section was run as well. Clarrie Haupt clocked-up fastest time of 1hr 2m 56s, Hebbard’s time was 1hr 3m 2s and Tommy Norris took 1hr 3m 55s. Great riders all three.
The Eastern Goldfields Cycling Club was gearing up for the coming track season at the Kalgoorlie Oval now that the Menzies and the championships had been run and won. My paperwork had been all tidied up and I was pleased about that. Physically I was still a bit weak after three weeks down with the mumps and I was a sitter for the next “bug” that hit Kalgoorlie. Now it was German measles. The epidemic of mumps and measles did hit the local schools hard. At the Kalgoorlie Central School 400 pupils out of 600 were away from school, and across all schools 50% of the children were ill.
Cycling resumed when the track season got underway a few weeks after the road season ended. The first Tuesday night programme at the Kalgoorlie Oval was on 31 October. The events included both cycling and athletics and good crowds followed these two sports. I remember some of the runners and jumpers who performed well in their events. One of the girls was Glennis Halford, whose family were at Credo Station. The Halford’s were a remarkable family for in the early days they had travelled by bullock wagon from South Australia across the Nullarbor, driving a herd of cattle with them. At Bulong, outside Kalgoorlie, they set up a dairy and supplied the town with milk. Later the Halfords pioneered Credo Station. I remember chatting with Mr Halford (W.H.C.?) from time to time when he came to the Post Office. He was a small man but lean and wiry.
Glennis did well in the women’s sprint events, and Jack Faichney and George Rasmussen ran well in their races. One successful high jumper was Jack Blockley who worked at the Clerk of Courts office and later was appointed Clerk of Courts. He lived in Perth after the War and finished up with the State Electricity Commission. After the War I often chatted with him at our Terrace newsagency. I used to see him nearly every week for a good part of the 1950s and early 1960s when he took his lunchtime stroll along St George’s Terrace, often with his boss Jim Jewkes. In his later retirement years he lived at Swan Cottage Homes and was at that location till he died in 1987, not long after his wife died.
The track season lightened my club secretarial duties a little but I was still kept busy. On race night I was able to fit in the job of race commentator but found after a few weeks that I was having a little difficulty in picking out riders along the back of the track where the lighting was not too brilliant. I went to Ron Willis, the Hannan Street (later Mt Hawthorn) optician, and he soon found out my problem. I needed glasses for that sort of work so while they were being made we passed the commentating position on to Bill Chappell, as I recall. He did a good job and carried on till he wanted out. Someone else with the “gift of the gab” was available and I think it was that well-named chap, Jack Maggs. He went on to become a top commentator in other sports as well.
Soon after I arrived back in Kalgoorlie from the city (on sick leave from NY day to 22 January 1940 after a bout of gastroenteritis due to stress from by job and cycle club duties, after which Doug decided to resign as Secretary) I received a letter from the Eastern Goldfields Cycle Club which read:
I have been instructed by a meeting of the club to write you, accepting with the deepest regret, your resignation from the position of Club Secretary and also express our sincere thanks for your enthusiastic interest in the club and all the hard work which you have done for the club.
We are pleased to see that you have returned to Kalgoorlie and hope that you will not find it necessary to sever your connection with the club completely, but will be able to find time to follow the sport as in the past and possibly to be able take some less onerous position in the Club.
With appreciation of your services, Yours sincerely, Fred Lafferty, Acting Secretary.
It was nice to receive such an appreciative letter from the Club thanking me for my services. Like others before me I had been a short term occupant of the position but certainly in a momentous year for the Club. The 1939 Menzies had been WA’s richest cycle race ever and it was to be the last Menzies till after the War.
The Eastern Goldfields cycle club had been formed in 1926 and up to my time as Secretary there had been several people in the job over the years. The Secretary in 1927 was Chas Egan whose name is permanently remembered in the naming of the “Chas Egan Memorial Race Menzies to Kalgoorlie” for his continued outstanding service to the Club over a number of years. The outstanding person in the Club in my years was the President, Eric Watts. Sign-writing was his trade and I seem to remember him more in his spotted overalls than in anything else. He was a top-class tradesman who always had plenty of work. Eric was a strong President who was never afraid to say what he thought at meetings, but he was well respected and all the riders appreciated his contribution to the success of the EGCC.
Cycling – Kalgoorlie (1946)
Another Saturday night in June saw me at a smoke-social in the South Kalgoorlie Fire Station Hall. It was put on by the Eastern Goldfields Cycle Club to welcome back all the returned servicemen who had been involved with the club before the war. I had readily accepted the invitation sent to me by the President, Eric Watts, who had filled that position when I held the job of secretary. Before the war it was the biggest cycle club in Australia so there was a good roll up for the reunion. I still see some of the riders of those days when we join the crowd and the officials at the finish of the Beverley to Perth bike race. Some of them are still riding in the veteran cyclist races and breaking records.
Cycling – Later Years
In later years Doug was patron for the League of WA Wheelman (between 1965 and 1971) during his time as a WA State and Federal politician.
Letters – Various – From: League of WA Wheelman, Glenn Lester, Bill Long Cycling Promotions – To: Doug Cash – and Reply and Press Release – Vic Browne’s Perth-Sydney Cycling Record. Source: Doug Cash Collection
Files from the Doug Cash Collection – Personal – Cycling: