Riding a Harley-Davidson Sidecar Around Australia the Hard Way

Two old bikers set out to circumnavigate Australia on an old side-valve Harley and side-box, to re-enact a similar ride around Australia in 1929.

AROUND AUSTRALIA the Hard Way is a fascinating book about two intrepid motorcyclists who set off on a brand new J-model Harley-Davidson in 1929 to circumnavigate Australia. Jack Bowers and his friend Frank Smith accomplished this incredible journey in just over 11 weeks under the most atrocious conditions. Around Australia the Hard Way tells the story in great detail and is certainly worth reading.

This article is not so much about the original book but the extraordinary chain of events which led to a re-enactment of the original trip and a second edition of this wonderful book going to print.

Back in 1958 Graham Felton and his friend John (Sassy) Sinclair took a 1942 U-model with side-box on a 6500 mile ride from Sydney to Darwin then down the middle to Adelaide, Melbourne and back home. This was a hugely successful trip similar in some ways to the trip Jack and Frank did 29 years earlier although quite a bit shorter in total distance and certainly enough to wet the appetite of these guys.

It was during a visit to Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum in 2002 to check out an exhibition of the history of Harley-Davidson in Australia that Graham saw a copy of Jack Bowers’ original map and became all fired up to do a re-enactment of the trip.

The first thing to do was find Sassy who had disappeared in the 23 years since these guys had done their trip. He found him okay; he was pretty much where he left him.

Graham planned to make this trip a fundraiser and chose the AARF (Alzheimers and Aging Research Foundation) for his charity. The reason was twofold. Graham had lost his mother two years earlier through this debilitating disease and was therefore keen to direct any money he raised into research to help solve the mystery of this disease. The second reason was that the 21st of September is World Alzheimers Day, the very date that Jack and Frank rode into Sydney at the end of their epic journey in 1929.

The wheels were in motion for a recreation of the original Around Australia the Hard Way and Graham wanted to promote the trip as much as possible. It was when he went to purchase a quantity of the books to send to potential sponsors that he found it was out of print with no apparent plans from the original publisher (Kangaroo Press) to do another run. An enquiry to ‘the out of print’ book service yielded just one copy at three times the cost of the original. Graham then had some makeshift copies run up and spiral bound just to keep the ball rolling.

The word was out that Graham was looking for a suitable bike for the basis of this trip; ideally a 1200 cc U-model, a great workhorse and eminently capable of hauling the huge side-box that he planned on hanging off the side. A breakthrough came at the 2003 Harley-Davidson 100th anniversary at Homebush when Graham caught up with a friend who was instrumental in helping him locate a suitable bike; eventually a deal was done and Graham was once again the owner of a 1942 side-valve Big Twin.

He was now on a roll, and as luck would have it, he met up with Peter ‘The Bear’ Thoeming, Editor of Australian Road Rider magazine. Peter had written the Forward in the original publication of Around Australia the Hard Way and was keen to help with a rebirth of the book if at all possible. It was agreed that if Graham could get permission from whoever had the rights to the book, Peter would reprint the book as a Bear Face Books publication. Unfortunately, Jack Bowers, who was about 90 when he completed his book, passed away in 1999 aged 94; Frank had died in 1993 aged 85.

Jack’s daughter Antonia (or Toni as she prefers) was located in Queensland and she now had the rights to the book. She and the original publishers kindly gave permission for the reprint to go ahead.

Graham and Sassy went on to do a very successful re-enactment of the 1929 trip starting off at Olympic Park in Homebush on the 4th July 2004, 75 years to the day after Jack and Frank headed out. On 21st September, World Alzheimers Day 2004, all Graham and Sassy’s hard work came to an end 75 years down the track from when Jack and Frank rolled back into town, but that’s another story…

Around Australia the Hard Way is an easy and thoroughly enjoyable read. It is available through your local bookshop and also at Redgrave Motorcycles (02-9484-9900) who are delighted to have it on the shelf.

Richard would like to thank Graham Felton for his help, dates and details to make this article possible. What’s next Graham?

Compiled by Richard Nicholls @ Redgrave Motorcycles.

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