I was Alone Pushing a Bone-dry Motorbike

Road Tales by Kelly Ashton

SINCE ITS 1979 release, the great Aussie movie Mad Max has become a cult phenomenon, even making it into an authoritative list of the 100 greatest movies of all time. Indeed, until the now-nearly forgotten Blair Witch Project ambled into view, Mad Max was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the highest grossing vs. cost picture ever made.

All very impressive, but this yarn is not about the movie, the script, or even Mel Bloody Gibson; rather, it’s about the night I saw Mad Max, and brother, what a night it was! Mind you, if you grew up in Sydney in the 1970s, rode motorcycles, drank to excess and chased wild women, every night was a pearler.

The day started innocently enough. Saturday morning down at the Brookie Rex, the local watering hole in Brookvale, on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. However, ‘just a normal day’ was how they all started out—excessive alcohol consumption, bikes and youthful exuberance always conspired to make each 24-hour-period in my young life a memorable event.

The usual suspects would’ve been there: Cruisie with his Kwakka, Tim and Rocky on their Trumpies, Davo and Gazza on their Suzukis, Kev on his Norton, and me on my AJS.

All the expected stuff happened that day down the Rex—drinks were drunk, drunks were argued with, the odd scuffle occurred, and even a lap of the bar by motorbike—the trick was to come crashing through the bar doors, ride around the central bar as quick as you could (you usually had to spin up the back wheel to get around the top corner) then pray that two of your drunken mates would remember to hold the doors open to effect your escape. Then it was a simple matter of parking the bike, dashing back inside, picking up your beer and appearing innocent as Keith Williams, the Manager, came barrelling into the bar red faced, fuming and screaming bloody murder.

Two unusual things happened that day, both setting the course and both involving Gazza. Firstly, Gazza mentioned to all who would listen there was going to be the world premiere of that new bikie movie called Mad Max at the Warriewood drive-in.

We’d all read in the bikie mags about the upcoming movie but a world premiere in a drive-in sounded like bullshit then, and still sounds like it now, but that’s the story we were fed, and for the purpose of this yarn, I’ll keep believing.

“Turn up on a motorbike and they’ll let you in for free!” explained Gazza.

“I’m IN!” was shouted back in unison by every tight-fisted bastard I drank with.

The next ingredient for a good night dropped into place when Gazza won the meat raffle. Instead of mild joy, he spat chips of displeasure.

“That’s the crappiest meat pack I’ve ever seen,” he moaned. “It’s all shit and I wouldn’t sell that, let alone eat it.” See, Gazza was a butcher just out of his apprenticeship and very disappointed with the measly meat pack. I stepped in and offered him his $2 raffle stake back, and became the owner of a meat pack, with fatty sausages, best neck, tiny T-bones, and a well-turned leg of lamb.

The day drunkenly meandered into darkness, and people were itching to get on the bikes, rev out to Warriewood drive-in and see a free movie.

Now, as it turned out, the whole bikes-in-a-drive-in gig wasn’t thought completely through, proving to be a stupid concept comfort-wise. But having a good time in the ’70s was about adapting, improvising and overcoming all obstacles between this place here and a great night.

As people were staggering to their bikes, Kiwi Kev, whose Yamaha triple was in pieces being painted, came up with a great idea: “Ma-a-a-a-a-ate…” he said. “You’ve got a meat pack—I’ve got the Hibachi—let’s have a barbie at the drive-ins!” (a Hibachi was a small… arrgh, forget it, it was the ’70s, okay?)

While the main pack of about 25 bikes headed north to the drive-in, I blasted south to my place with Kiwi Kev and the meat pack riding pillion. The idea was to grab the ute, head down to Kiwi Kev’s shack and grab the Hibachi, some coal and a few potatoes to bake.

Included in the loose plan was the slicing up of the lamb leg, as I knew the movie would be over before the Hibachi even ‘warmed’ a whole leg. Some feeble attempts with the world’s bluntest knife failed to slice the lamb with surgical precision. The patient’s chances of surviving the operation diminished when I cut the unfortunate leg bone in several places with the workshop hacksaw. I’d washed the grease, grime and rust off in hot, soapy water first, of course—I’m not silly.

Sadly, the once-proud lamb leg looked like a removed tumour; it was no longer the shining jewel in a tawdry, $2 crown, but a clacking, crunching shapeless mass of red ick. No matter, it was flung into the ute which Kiwi Kev then drove to his place, grabbed the Hibachi then motored out to Warriewood.

The joint was already rockin’ when we arrived. The lads had secured prime real estate right in the middle and were a lot more pissed than when we last saw them at the pub. As usual with impromptu sessions, the ute became the bar with all the ice-filled communal Eskies now full of beer cans. The ute was also the barbecue table once the Hibachi was fired up and a few snags and T-bones thrown on.

Master Butcher Gazza saw my desecration of the holy lamb leg, immediately began berating me in Rehctub K-lat (butcher talk… arrgh, forget it—ask a butcher… suffice to say he called me a K-cuffing T-nuc). Gazza called for a knife and some light. Numerous helpers flicked their Bic’s; one clever dick held a Mini Maglite torch on the scene and a knife of sorts was produced. The medical miracle Gazza performed by torchlight with no more than a blunt pen-knife was awe inspiring. From something that could pass for a train wreck, he produced about six or seven lamb steaks which were promptly sacrificed to the god of hunger.

Dear readers, please take this information in: It was the (alleged) first public screening of Mad Max, the (alleged) bikie movie starring Mel Who?; there was enough alcohol to give a frenzied cricket crowd bad manners, and seeing how all motorcycles were allowed in for free, it was never going to be your average, family night at the drive-in. But this night was weird and kept getting weirder. The free entry for bikes had brought a lot of two-wheeled terrors to Warriewood that night, but the various groups were scattered about the site with the all-good-n-holy groups down the front, us tousled-haired ragamuffins with cheeky grins in the middle section, and the really naughty ones down the back—just like back in school!

But it didn’t matter whether they’d arrived by motorbike or car, almost every person at that screening of Mad Max at some point in time drifted into our shabby, gravel strewn and humped campsite, pleading for a morsel of BBQ’d meat or a beer. When you think of the crap served up as food in the drive-in snack bar, it’s no wonder they were drawn to the wonderful aroma of an Aussie barbie. We felt sorry for them for sure, but sent them packing empty-handed. After all, you only feed those you need.

By the time the main feature had started, we were all so elephant’s trunk I’m surprised anyone remembered anything of the film, but yeah, it dragged us in; one by one the rowdy shouts died down and all were mesmerised by Mad Max. For me, the scene that did it was when Max got off the gas pedal in his big, black Interceptor coupe and let the Toecutter get further ahead on his Kawasaki… until he went straight into and under the front of a farken big Kenworth semi-trailer. Oh man, the full-screen close-up of the Toecutter’s eyes just before impact, just as he got the visit from the “Uh-oh” Squad, was worth the price of admission. Well… worth more, really. (Just as another aside, the name Kenworth was derived from the fact that if one hits you, your life is FAR-KEN WORTH NOTHING.)
Spookily, Mad Max was set a few years in the future when gangs ruled the highways and petrol was getting scarce. Back in the 1970s, militant unions ruled the fair state of New South Wales and petrol was already scarce. This was due to the frequent and extremely unfair tactics of various unions who would call a petrol strike at any time. And on that very weekend of the Mad Max screening, New South Wales was in the grip of a massive petrol strike. It didn’t really matter to us because we were on thrifty, fuel-efficient motorbikes, right? Yeah, right, except I was running on empty. The old Jazzer was very low on guzzlene.

At movie’s end, as everyone saddled up, it was burpedly decided that we would hit The Flicks nightclub, about a 20-minute ride south at the beachside suburb of Manly. The Flicks, a converted picture theatre, in its heyday was the best nightclub in the world. Downstairs in the stalls was a John Travolta flashing-light dance floor for the surfies and teenyboppers; upstairs in the dress circle, the dope smokers could fry their brains on the natural, almost harmless, free-range Marryjoowarnar of the era; while the mezzanine, where theatre-goers would once buy their large popcorns and choc-top ice creams, had been converted into a piano bar where we scumbag bikies would congregate, hang out on the small balconies overlooking Belgrave Street and hurl abuse at the cop cars as they sped past. And The Flicks featured Australia’s best bands on a nightly basis. It was a shame when The Flicks finally closed down, but the owner was about to move onto bigger and better things, like becoming the infamous Woolworths Bomber, the world renowned extortionist.

But we were still a long way from The Flicks and I didn’t know whether I had enough fuel or not.
I know what you’re thinking, ‘Did he already switch to the reserve tank, or didn’t he?’ What, with all the excitement—the meat pack and the detours—to tell the truth, I kinda got confused myself. The question I had to ask myself was, “Do I feel lucky? Well, do I, punk?”

The answer was a resounding “NO!” as the faithful old AJS spluttered and coughed on its last drops of guzzlene.
I’d taken the precaution of setting off at the head of the pack just in case of this very emergency. As the Ajay jerked and stilted, ever slower, I began frantically displaying the international distress signal of pointing at the tank and shrugging the shoulders, signifying, “Oh shit, I’m outta juice!”

Almost to the man, they all responded the widely-unrecognised return sign of slapping the tank, flashing a big, shit-eating grin and a thumbs-up, which either means: “I’m having a jolly time on my wonderful motorbike,” or “I got juice, up yours, pal.”

But that wasn’t the worst part. No, the very worst part was seeing my own ute drive past without stopping. In the back, probably too close to the still-glowing Hibachi, was a Jerry Can full of beautiful, life-giving super petrol, a siphon hose and even a bloody bike ramp and tie-downs. The man driving was Kiwi Kevin, the world’s best signwriter. He was either: a) looking down and changing stations on the radio; b) deliberately ignoring me like all the rest of those low-life brothel-bred bastards; or c) having another one of his frequent and frightening ‘noddies’ where he would stop in mid-conversation, drop his head down to the left, then three seconds later, snap out of it and carry on the sentence. Five minutes ago, Kev was my best barbecue buddy; right now, he was just another fuckin’ Kiwi driving a borrowed car.

I was alone in the Warriewood valley, out of juice and it was in the middle of a petrol strike. For the young’ns reading this, there were NO mobile phones. Serious. Warriewood in those days consisted of one drive-in theatre, one illegal drag strip (whose finish line I was standing beside), and about a thousand tomato farms most of which contained at least one crazy old farmer named Guiseppe who would respond to the crunch of footfall on gravel driveway with a shotgun and a shouted “Fongooli puttana!” or some such scary drivel.

Back in the ’70s, nightlife wasn’t the vibrant, pulsating sewer that it is today; everything was shut down except for police stations, a handful of nightclubs and even less service stations. In a petrol strike, even the all-night taxi servo stations closed. I was alone, way down in the haunted Warriewood valley and pushing a bone-dry motorbike. I may well have been on the desolate roads of a few years into the future when the gangs had taken over the highways, but it was no good hoping Mad Max was out there somewhere to rescue me.

Now, the mighty AJS was a stripped-down ex-racer, with only rudimentary road-legals refitted, its fighting weight of 307 lbs might’ve been a ton as I pushed that mongrel bastard up a long, steep hill that I’d never noticed until now. At the top of the hill, farmland finishes and suburbia starts, but with another mile or so push to the main road, I decided there must’ve been an easier way.

Adapt, improvise, overcome. I was taking a breather, with the bike leaning against a sandstone retaining wall, when a thought occurred. Parked on some citizen’s front lawn, about six foot above the dormant Ajay, was a car. All that was needed was a siphon hose, and utilising the properties of a vacuum and the laws of gravity, I could ‘borrow’ some petrol. There on the lawn was a garden hose, way too long to do any serious siphoning. My intention was to ‘borrow’ about six foot of hose, but the problem was how to cut it. Oh how I could’ve done with a blunt penknife or a dirty hacksaw now! Sometimes, problems can be overcome through a combination of dogged determination and sheer desperation. With no sharp edges to be found anywhere on the motorbike, I used my teeth and chomped through that accursed garden hose. A furtive gallon was sucked from the tank of the car where it fell gleefully into the tank of the bike. An attack of the conscience saw me leave a few bucks in the citizen’s letterbox, and even re-fit the fitting to ragged end of the ever-so-slightly shortened garden hose. (Did too!) A tickle of the carburettor, a big kick in the guts and the Ajay burst into full-throated song; we were on our way once again—ya-bloody-hoo!

Those brothel-bred mongrels who’d left me to rot on the roadside had stopped at a greasy spoon for a burger en route to The Flicks so they’d not long been there by the time I arrived with another great survival story. I was none too happy at any of their feeble explanations at to why they’d failed to assist a mate who’s failed to proceed, but after a few more beers, who gave a stuff anyway?

At least I was secure in the knowledge that if this fair land of Australia ever gets as ropey as depicted in Mad Max I, II or III, I reckon I’ll have a fair chance of surviving.

written by Kelly Ashton

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